FX's Louie is the best possible example of why labels like comedy and drama are utterly useless. It differs in tone, feeling and look from every other modern 30 minute sitcom. This show has countless strong points, both dramatically and comedic but, Louie defies pointless categorization. Even creator/ star/ writer/ producer/ editor extraordinaire Louis CK remarked after winning an award for Best Sketch Show: "I didn't even know we were a sketch show."
The thing that sets Louis CK apart from every other comedian on the circuit is not his jokes. It's his perseverance. To paraphrase something Louie once said: "Comics get better as they get older, because their lives are slowly getting worse and worse." That may not be true for every comedian but, for CK it certainly is. When an old friend from Louie's early stand-up days named Eddie (Doug Stanhope) rolls into town, we get a glimpse of the other (darker) side of stand-up.
They haven't seen each other in years, so the two old friends go out drinking. The evening comes to a head with Eddie declaring that he has decided to kill himself. His career hasn't turned out like Louie's. Eddie never sold out a 3200 seat theater. Eddie was never on David Letterman or The Tonight Show. Yet when he goes on stage, he still kills with a pitch black seemingly off-the-cuff rant. Sadly, in stand up comedy, talent does not always equate financial success.
But that episode wasn't written by a failed comic like Stanhope's Eddie. Remember, folks-- comics like Louie are the minority. Guys like Eddie make up the vast majority of touring comedians. It's the sad truth. Louis CK is more than willing to examine the dark side of his profession, in a not so audience-friendly fashion. This is a far cry from how Larry & Jerry portrayed the world of stand-up on Seinfeld.
Unlike other comics who made the transition from nightclubs to television, like Bill Cosby, Roseanne Barr or Ray Romano-- CK is a natural born filmmaker. His attention to visual detail is unparalleled amongst his peers. As early as 1996, CK was making amazing short films on very low budgets, with comic friends like Rick Shapiro and Todd Barry. His only full length feature is Pootie Tang, a film that was woefully mishandled by Paramount Pictures. The film is a far from perfect (due mainly to studio interference) but, occasionally brilliant piece of work that displays not only his directorial skills but, his screenwriting chops as well. CK feels like a perpetual student of the craft of filmmaking, as his talents behind the camera seems to improve with each passing project.
The show often depicts CK's worst fears. He enjoys indulging his worst-case-scenario nightmares. Example: While trick or treating with his daughters, two creepy freaks emerge from the night and accost them, suddenly backing Louie into a proverbial corner. Something bad is about to happen. Keep in mind; these are the unforgiving night streets of NYC. His daughters are scared. Worse, he is terrified. The way he shoots the scene, we feel genuinely unsettled-- worried that anything could happen next, even a shocking burst of violence. But in the end, I'll admit-- his ability to think on his feet is much better than mine would be in that type of situation.
Like his stand-up act, CK mines endless material from children. A much discussed moment comes when The Who's "Who Are You" happens to come on in the car as he is on a road trip with his bored, complaining daughters. As the song builds, Louie begins to sing along, air-drumming and banging his head. He daughters look on, deeply unimpressed. At one point, he throws his hand back at the girls and screams (along with the song): "Who the f@ck are you?!" The mixture of pure ecstasy and passive-aggression towards his kids is sublimely funny. But he does not use his daughters merely as walking punch lines.
The episode "Night Out" ends with Louie coming home at 4AM from a very unsuccessful trip to a popular dance bar. He is depressed, exhausted and ready to crash. But then –BOOM- his daughters fly out of bed, wide awake and eager to start their day. So: He takes them for pancakes at an all-night diner.
This sequence builds to no comedic punch line at all. We just watch a father eat breakfast with the two most important people in his life-- as the early signs of dawn start to creep over the New York skyline. The simplicity of the scene is remarkably poignant. Another example of this comes in "Duckling" (Season 2), in which Louie performs for US troops in Afghanistan. CK's writing displays an emotional sensitivity that was never noticeable amongst the innumerable rape and poo jokes in his act. (Which I absolutely love.)
The third season starts this week, and I expect good things. From the early (very vague) word on the street, this new season is slightly different than the previous two. In what ways, I do not know. CK has no problem playfully switching gears without warning. Recall that in season 1, Louie had a brother named Robbie (Robert Kelly). In season 2, he has two sisters and no apparent brother of any kind. Breaking the established rules of modern television seems to be the whole point for CK. You're not supposed to do stuff like that, and thus, that becomes the exact reason to do it.
Ya gotta love Louie, even if only for the show's sheer unpredictability. To say, there is nothing else like this on television, would be an understatement. And it's been almost a year since Louie left us at that airport. (Another hilarious pay-off.) Who knows what this next season could bring. Knowing Louis CK, whatever it is-- it will have been well worth the wait. Louie is hands down -- the most innovative thing on TV.
Tony Hinds is a Canadian writer who studied film at the University of Winnipeg. In addition to ShowbizMonkeys.com, Tony has reviewed films for Step On Magazine and The Uniter. You can find Tony on Twitter.