Louis C.K. has applied his stand-up comedy to the television format before. In 2006, he starred in the HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, a mostly light-hearted look at a happily married man, his wife, and their daughter. The program only lasted one season, but it was a very funny show that deserved a longer run. C.K. is back on television with the tellingly shorter titled FX sitcom Louie. Not connected to the earlier program, Louie is about a divorced father of two who doesn’t consider himself particularly lucky. All thirteen episodes are currently available on Blu-ray and DVD as Louie: The Complete First Season.
Despite the move to basic cable, Louie is about as deliriously profane as it can be. Even considering that it airs late at night, C.K. – who writes the program – gets away with a shocking amount of sexually explicit humor. Basically, the occasional F-bomb is bleeped (for both the network broadcast as well as the Blu-ray) but otherwise pretty much anything goes. The format is fairly loose, but follows the same basic pattern: two anecdotes about Louie’s life are presented in each episode, bookended with stand-up comedy. Yes, the program is a comedy but what helps make Louie so successful are the liberal doses of serious drama mixed in.
Louis C.K. portrays a comedian named Louis who drifts through his own life, lonely and bewildered. He has a handful of friends who are also comedians. He gets to see his kids on weekends. Other than performing and spending time with his kids, he seems disoriented and unsure about how to spend the majority of his time. His attempts at dating are marked by a general awkwardness. The relatively dry, observational tone is sometimes punctuated by surreal touches; one woman actually flees a first date with Louie by flying away in a nearby helicopter.
The program is a tad uneven, with certain scenarios being weaker than others. Of course, this is a very subjective matter. I didn’t find much humor in the episode where Louie’s mother comes out to him as a lesbian. It seemed forced – written and acted far too broadly to be effective. But this is a rare exception to an otherwise funny and thoughtful program. In a way, Louie is an update of the Seinfeld “show about nothing” format, without a live studio audience or the wacky cast of supporting characters. Much like Jerry Seinfeld, C.K. has a knack for dramatizing his stand-up material, but he does so in a more realistic fashion. The tone of Louie is far closer to classic Woody Allen movies such as Manhattan.
Louie presents a startlingly rich image on Blu-ray in 1080p high definition. As discussed in the special features, the program is photographed with the Red One digital camera. It has every reason to look good when transferred to a digital format. Still, Louie has an impressive film-like quality. The outdoors scenes in particular are sharply detailed, with every freckle on C.K.’s face well-defined. Indoor scenes are much warmer, especially the comedy club sequences that are almost bathed in an orange glow.
Audio is fine, with the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix serving the modest needs of the program. Dialogue is intelligible. Very infrequently I noticed a little harsh distortion during some of the louder, outdoor scenes. But for the most part, the mix is consistently effective in its low-key way. Louie doesn’t require much in the way of surround sound, which results in a front-heavy listening experience. The rear channels are utilized mostly for atmospherics; a little background noise from audience members at the club, or traffic during outdoor scenes.
On the flipside of the Louie Blu-ray discs are standard definition DVD versions. I suppose this might become a more common way to present both versions, but it’s the first time I’ve seen it. As a way of hammering home this hybrid format, Louie is available in two different packages – a DVD case as well as Blu-ray, though both releases are identical and carry the same MSRP. Supplemental features include eleven Louis C.K. commentaries, which are definitely worth the time for fans of the show. C.K.’s commentaries are funny and insightful, deepening the experience of an already great program. There is also a generous selection of deleted scenes and an all-too-brief making-of featurette.