Too Good To Be Ignored: Louie’s Superb Second Season

In general, I’m not a fan of making big and sweeping statements aimed towards a large group of people, but, in 2010, when the genius first season of FX’s Louie debuted, I’m not sure most critics “got” it. In saying this, I’m not demeaning these critics as much as I am highlighting that Louie requires a different sort of disposition than almost every other show on television.

Catch Louie's 3rd Season on FX

Take a look at the season review by Glenn Garvin of The Miami Herald: “Louie is so low-key that it has no discernible pulse. To say it’s unfunny is accurate (profoundly so) but also beside the point: It’s un-anything.” I don’t want to accuse Garvin of being wrong, per se–it seems more like a misunderstanding between Garvin and show creator/comedian Louis C.K., as if the former were looking for something (laugh track? linear development?) that simply wasn’t there. A similar incident occurred with the first season of another of my favorite shows, The Wire, known for its unusually methodical structure and pacing: in 2002, The New York Times called the pilot episode “choppy and confusing”; four years later, the same newspaper labelled it “beautiful” and “brave.” In other words, The New York Times “got” it. As Louie jumps up from its solid but unimpressive score of 70 to a much more fitting 90 on, audiences and those who know just how brilliant this show is are seeing a trend: critics and even the Emmys are finally “getting” Louie, a show that walks a tightrope between accessible humor and complete disregard for convention.

With the show’s second year on television, which ended September 8th with the episode “New Jersey/Airport,” we got to see the consistently magnificent C.K.–who stars in, writes, produces, edits, and directs the show–lean ever-so-slightly closer to the latter of those two elements: there’s nothing else like it on television. The first season of Louie was in turn hysterical and profound (sometimes simultaneously) but still tiptoed around conventionality, whereas this past season C.K. dove headfirst into what might be termed the television avant-garde. In one episode, he’s discussing the concept of sacrificing art for income with Joan Rivers; in another, he indirectly causes the death of a mentally ill bum and still tries to make time for a date afterward. If The Wire is famous for intertwining plot threads that span throughout the whole series, then Louie should be famous for just the opposite; each episode occupies its own separate world. Some are hilarious [“Come On, God,” “Country Drive”], some are more serious [“Niece,” “Eddie”], and all of them are subtly linked together by the adroit and discerning artistic eye of Louis C.K. and, of course, the character Louie (pretty much C.K. acting as himself), who’s on-screen approximately 99.9% of the time. Louie is beautifully disorienting in a way never before seen on television. The way in which C.K. weaves together intense personal dialogues, beautiful photography of New York City, realistic relationships that are both painful and affectionate, and occasionally pure surrealism (check out the beginning of “New Jersey/Airport”) is almost dizzying in effect, and sometimes I’ll have to actually pause an episode and absorb all that’s been thrown at me.

What makes it all the more confusing is just how compulsively watchable this show is despite its artistic and thematic hyperactivity, as even the most jumbled and weird episodes are never less than a joy to watch. Mid-season highlight “Oh Louie/Tickets,” moves from a failed attempt at a sitcom to a disappointing family birthday to a confrontation with Dane Cook about jokes that may or may not have been stolen from C.K. It may be a contentious claim, but I’m pretty sure that no other show could pull off a plot development so bafflingly strange and still make it all seem natural. Louis C.K., whose standup comedy interspersed throughout each episode is consistently hilarious, simply has that kind of mind, and the superlative second season of Louie displays it in full form. I can only hope that mainstream audiences will follow the critics’ leads and start “getting” it.


-Alex Robertson, Arts Editor

Posted by on September 23, 2011. Filed under Arts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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