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.