Judge Daryl Loomis is neither a parent nor a teacher, but he still knows that a PTA meeting is the best place to pick up a date.
"It's very vignette-y. It's very vérité. All those French words. I use 'em all."—Louis C.K.
Despite being one of the best comic writers in America today, Louis C.K. Hasn't had a lot of commercial success. After writing for Letterman, Conan, and Chris Rock, and success on the stand-up circuit, he had one failed program and one pilot that never got off the ground. But now he has a critical success on his hands, and a moderate commercial one, to boot. Louie is one of the funniest shows on television, different than anything else in the format, and a great showcase for one of the very best talents in his field.
Facts of the Case
A semi-fictional Louis C.K. slogs away on the comedy circuit while trying to raise his two young daughters and maybe find a woman to give his heart. All 13 episodes of Louie: The Complete First Season are presented over two discs.
• "Pilot" Louie accompanies his daughter on a field trip, but an incompetent bus driver make that difficult. Later, he goes on a disastrous first date.
• "Poker/Divorce" A friendly poker game turns into a frank discussion about sexual orientation. Meanwhile, Louie tries to cope with his newly legal divorce.
• "Dr. Ben/Nick" Louie goes to the doctor, a friend of his from high school (Ricky Gervais, The Invention of Lying), whose bedside manner leaves a little to be desired. That night, he sees his friend Nick DiPaolo perform on stage, only to wind up in the emergency room after a fight.
• "So Old/Playdate" After a performance, Louie is approached for a quickie by a gorgeous young woman with a thing for older men. In a more reasonable move, he goes to a PTA meeting and finds a playdate for his daughters.
• "Travel Day/South" Louie runs into typical airport issues while traveling to Birmingham for a show. After he finally gets there and performs, he is accosted by a uber-fan and her insane brother, who want to keep him for their own.
• "Heckler/Cop Movie" While performing one night, a loudmouth audience member tries to sabotage Louie's show. Guess which wit wins. Later, Louie is guilted into acting, his most hated thing, only to find mockery at the hands of Matthew Broderick.
• "Double Date/Mom" Louie's brother has a new girlfriend who is a big fan of the comic and wants brother to invite Louie into a three-way. That night, Louie's hard and mean mother drops by unannounced to declare herself a lesbian.
• "Dogpound" Louie is so lonely after dropping his daughters off for a week. To get him out of his pizza and beer rut, his neighbor invites him over to get stoned. Afterward, he adopts and older dog for companionship, only to have it die upon arrival.
• "Bully" After having his date ruined by a high school bully, Louie stalks the kid back to his house and tells on him, only to have the kid's dad use the same violent tactics against the boy.
• "Dentist/Tarese" Louie's fears of the dentist are confirmed as his doctor gets decidedly inappropriate while Louie is gassed. Later, he tries to court an African-American grocery clerk who calls him out for his prejudice.
• "God" Young Louie (Sawyer Swanson) is horrified by a graphic medical description of the suffering of Jesus, only to have his mother refute the tenets of Catholicism.
• "Gym" After being unable to perform simple tasks in getting his daughters ready for school, Louie enlists the help of a friend and trainer. When they get together, both realize just how pathetic Louie really is.
• "Night Out" Convinced by his babysitter to go out on the town, Louie tries to make himself feel cool, but only looks stupid when he chills with the young comics. Coming home, he sees again that his heart lies with his girls, and he'll do anything for them.
The standup/sitcom routine has been popular since Seinfeld, but never has a television comedy been so tightly controlled by the artist as Louie. Louis C.K. created the show, but also writes, directs, and even edits each episode on his own. His scripts are approved by nobody and there is no audience testing; he wouldn't have agreed to the show otherwise. How he doesn't collapse from exhaustion is anyone's guess, but the results are exactly how he wants it, take it or leave it. I love the show's combination of dark humor and family comedy and, though it doesn't seem like that mixture would work very well, therein lies the genius of Louis C.K.
Each episode follows a similar format, but there's a lot of fluidity to it that keeps the show loose. There will be a combination of Louis C.K.'s stage routine, recorded in front of live audiences at either the Comedy Cellar or Caroline's in New York, and dramatized events from his life as a comedian and single father. The order of the mixture varies, sometimes there are two plot lines and sometimes only one. The basis in reality and tone of those plots varies pretty wildly, as well. In the episode "So Old/Play Date," we find a natural and sweet story of a lonely middle-aged divorcee trying to find somebody with whom to spend some time. The same concept is taken in a different direction in "Bully," where Louie is humiliated by a child, only to find evidence of the horrible cycle of abuse. Dark stuff, indeed. The show is of consistently high quality, but you never know what you'll get episode to episode. It falls right in with his stand up, which will go from deeply honest to completely vicious at the drop of a hat.
I already knew that Louis C.K. was a strong writer, but I was surprised by how solid the whole package is, given that he does it all himself. It's nothing flashy, but he makes solid choices throughout, especially the way he presents himself as deeply imperfect and never any kind of hero. He's just a guy that makes dumb decisions, just like the rest of us. He gets solid performances out of mostly children and small time actors, while the various celebrity cameos, including Gervais, Stephen Root (NewsRadio), and Tom Noonan (The House of the Devil) are universally hilarious. If you haven't seen Louie yet, now's your chance to start; it's fantastic stuff.
From Fox, the complete first season of Louie fares very well, but its setup is a little strange. It is a combo Blu-ray/DVD, which has become increasingly common, but instead of having each format on separate discs, the two discs are flippers, with the Blu-ray on one side and DVD on the other. Aside from having to change discs for the second half of the season, it doesn't really matter, but the logic of the move totally fails me. Regardless, both formats look pretty good. The Blu-ray is obviously superior, with good depth of field and excellent color balance. It's not a pretty show, necessarily, but it looks really good. The DVD features a perfectly acceptable image if you don't have a Blu-ray player. The sound mix is pretty well the same on both formats. The stand-up scenes are front-heavy but, even during the story parts, the surround sound is very light. The dialog and music are well-balanced, though.
The extras aren't copious, but I enjoyed them. Most of the episodes get their own commentary from Louis C.K. He's not being his comedian-self, though he's inherently funny, and instead of adding more jokes to the table, he talks almost exclusively about the production. It turns out that the guy is a nut for cameras and talks extensively about his use of Red technology for the show. I was expecting jokier commentaries, but got surprisingly interesting technical ones. The other meaningful extra is about thirty minutes of deleted scenes, each complete with an introduction from Louis C.K. Unlike most deleted scenes, which are tiny and pointless tidbits of extra information, here we have complete additional scenes and unrelated sketches that couldn't fit in the show. They're no less funny than the shows themselves, so are completely worth watching. The final supplement is a very short Fox Movie Channel piece on the show, which is pretty worthless.
Louie may not be quite the funniest comedy on television—difficult with a show like Parks and Recreation on the air—but it's certainly the most unique. Fiercely independent and often savagely dark, it's hard to believe a show like this could stay on the air. Since FX has approved the show for at least a second season, I'll just enjoy it while it lasts.
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