Really good comedies donít come along very often and when they do so on television, they usually turn to shit in a few years. So thank god for FX finally giving Louis C.K. another show. Whatever you might have thought of ďLucky Louie,Ē (I enjoyed it, others didnít, most simply did not watch), this show is of the opposite approach. Itís still about a man with children and self-loathing, but, instead of a ďback to basicsĒ sitcom that grossly exaggerates how poor a working white couple with one kid can possibly be, itís centered very heavily around stand-up and it feels like Louis is using all of the ideas heís had over the years to fill out the rest of the episodes without worrying about coherence. And it works, because, as you might have heard, heís pretty funny.
I’ve heard people reverently compare his stand up to Richard Pryorís in terms of quality. I donít generally like stand-up all that much so I donít feel reverent about any of it. Maybe because I’m not so stupid or ignorant that a comic (any more than a rock lyricist) could present me with a way of looking at things that I found groundbreaking. I just want them to present their own outlook entertainingly. Louis usually makes me chuckle more than most guys, so itís fun to watch. Woody Allen seems like a more reasonable comparison, and itís one Louis seems intent on making with some pretty heavy allusions. As Iím sure Louis realizes, nobody can touch Woody, but Louis is a worthy apprentice. A lot of the episodes seem based on that Marshall McLuhan premise from Annie Hall. What if you were really handed the will and the ability to fully carry out on what you are thinking and all social barriers were magically removed? Which is sort of to imagine life as a stand-up act.
So, in case you arenít familiar with Louis C.K. at all, his basic shtick is to up the ante on ďtell it like it isĒ comics who tell us that there is no God or that the Spanish American War was unjust to almost the maximum possible level, but Louis makes it personal instead of about politics or some other shit that he doesnít understand. Maybe his best known line is, “the other kid we have, she’s four, and she’s an asshole.” There was a point during one episode where I thought he might, on national television, admit to the fact that he has considered molesting his daughters. It would have been through his character, but all of the characters say what the real Louis thinks. Asked what the worst thought he’d ever had about his daughters was, he begins talking about when they turn eighteen and… he pulls back at the last moment, but the fact that I even thought this was possible says a lot. Itís probably also why the guy widely thought to be the best stand-up comic alive had to wait so long to get a second shot at a show and then, only on FX. Itís all for the best though, because anything heíd have done on NBC would have probably been terrible.
So from one episode to the next, people fade in and out. All of the characters, other than Louie, are peripheral characters, occasionally playing an important role, then going back to the background. Itís basically Louie and a parade of Apus and Ralph Wiggums. Having given himself carte blanche, Louis makes one episode surrealistic and the next a more standard spoof on social realities and the next bittersweet, though there are usually elements of all three. The opening credits might appear right off the bat, or they might show up seven minutes into a twenty-two minute episode. His daughters, who he would never dream of molesting, seem like they are going to be central characters, then they disappear for episodes at a time. We donít know if his mother is dead or alive until she shows up to announce that she is a lesbian, even though the real outing is in her depiction as a self absorbed, unloving cunt who is making a last grasp at attention. Maybe making this kind of show is cheating, but it doesnít bother me. I was laughing out loud for minutes when Louis was sedated at the dentistís and had this vision while the doctor was face raping him.
So you can hopefully see all of the directions in which the show is pulling. Thereís the stand-up comedy, that Woody Allen stuff I mentioned, some fairly earnest observations, some flippant ones, surrealism, extreme bluntness about the suckiest aspects of life and so on, plus the occasional bit that, even given the show’s open format, is too forced and indulgent, like Louie taking on a heckler and saying everything every comedian has ever wanted to say to a heckler even though nobody else gives a shit about hecklers. ďDo rude people bother you at your job?!Ē ďYes! They do Louis. At every job I’ve had since high school! And if I called the cunt a cunt Iíd be fired and probably not be able to get unemployment, you cunt.Ē Rather than trying to squeeze that all into a consistent narrative, Louis just gives us his best material or the material he most wants to give us. I donít know, maybe if the show runs for eight years it will gradually create a narrative arc that a more typical show would create over one year. That would be pretty cool and make for a more experimental but less good “Peep Show.” More likely we are getting a creative show we can run through once or twice for some real laughs, which I don’t mean as a putdown at all because that is a rarity.