Comedian Louis C.K. has always been painfully funny (emphasis on “pain”) — at least on the stage. Most would argue that the HBO sitcom Lucky Louie failed to translate the C.K. brand of comedy to the sitcom format, though the sparsely titled autobiographical Louie is an entirely different creature: half standup, half sketch comedy.
Hit the jump for a review of the first four episodes, the first two of which premiere Tuesday June 29th at 11/10c on FX.
C.K. is credited as writer, director, even editor in the first four episodes. He brings a lot of himself to the sitcom, borrowing from his life as a standup comic, as a father, and as a miserable middle-aged white man.
The show incorporates filmed segments of C.K.’s standup act, filmed more intimately than you might see on a Comedy Central special, which loosely set up vignettes (two per episode) that cover such comedic ground as:
-Louie goes on a date!
-Louie chaperones a field trip!
-Louie goes to the doctor!
C.K. is infinitely more comfortable on stage, or at a poker table with his comic friends, than trading lines with a more seasoned actor off a script, but I say that as someone who enjoyed his affable recent turns in Parks & Recreation and The Invention of Lying. I hesitate to suggest that either section is more enjoyable than the other: the standup portions are more consistent, but the one-acts add a vital flavor to the format. In the episodes I’ve seen, potential flow/pacing issues have been sufficiently avoided.
Louie is very, very funny, but that’s not all it is. For what is effectively a sitcom, there are moments that Louie eschews comedy. A physical altercation between C.K. and fellow comedian Nick DiPaolo grows from a legitimate argument, and is not played for laughs. C.K. asks gay comic Rick Crom, with utter sincerity, whether the use of the word “faggot” in his act is offensive, then lends the stage to Crom to monologue. I would invoke a notion of the bittersweet, but such a description feels more like a kiss on the cheek that doesn’t capture the visceral effect of the show.
It’s not like misery hasn’t been tapped for comedic purposes before, but the frank, autobiographical nature of the material is a bit unnerving at times. When C.K. the character mulls over a specific date for his suicide, what kind of red flag should it raise to the life of C.K. non-fictional human being? I feel for silly for asking, but it’s to the show’s credit that I buy the authenticity enough to feel concerned.
For the sake of my conscience, the show is peppered with flights of whimsy that keep the show in touch with the absurd. When a helicopter alights on the waterfront in episode one, it is both a perfect coda to the scene and a reminder that for all the soul-baring, Louie is still a work of fiction.
Riffing on the possibilities of marriage, C.K. jokes that the “best-case scenario” is that you meet your soulmate (“you even argue well”), you get old together, and then she dies. In my best-case scenario, Louie is my television soulmate: it escapes cancellation, C.K. remains in favor with his muse, and the freshness of the format never grows stale over the course of, say, five seasons. And then, Louie dies. But the thing is, even if C.K. might not agree, that sounds kinda great.