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I was genuinely confused by this show for a couple of weeks. I think I may have figured it out, and it might be one of the bravest comedy choices to make it to TV in a long time.

Louie, which made its premiere on FX a few weeks ago, is the brainchild of Louis C.K., long-time television writer for Saturday Night Live, Letterman, Conan, and Chris Rock, as well as a respected stand-up comedian. The show consists of moments ostensibly taken from Louis’ actual life which are preceded by short bits of his stand-up routine, usually providing some frame for the narrative. These moments are calculatedly uncomfortable and usually revolve around the failings of Louis’ life: divorce, relationships, his body, and his rotten, rotten soul.

Louie says and does things that nobody could ever be proud of and almost everybody can relate to, if not in reality than at least in thought. There is not a racist, sexist, or misanthropic depth that goes unplumbed. And while the exploration doesn’t flinch, it’s certainly not a celebration of the depths. In fact, there isn’t much about Louie that feels celebratory. It’s a show rooted in some really deep shame.

What I do not understand about the show are reviews like this. As much as I love Ken Tucker’s work and generally trust his opinion, I have to respectfully disagree with this one-line quote. Louie is a much more melancholic and pathos-drenched piece that it is a laugh-out-loud comedy. Maybe it’s more a commentary on my own life than is prudent, but suffice it to say that these moments have such a ring of truth at the core of them that it gets in the way of the laughs.

Which isn’t to say that I haven’t laughed. Once or twice an episode, a truly bizarre and usually rather outrageous string of jokes has me in stitches. That’s a pretty low laugh-per-minute count, which usually spells disaster for a modern television series. As much as I hope this show finds an audience, the cynic in me thinks that it’s probably a rough sell to most viewers.

Eventually I began, sometime after watching the third episode, to wonder if the raw emotion that makes up the meat of Louie isn’t somehow the elaborate set up for the actual laughs. All of the pain could be the way that the viewer is invited to feel along with Louie’s life, thus providing either complicity with or a plausible excuse for the truly awful, hilarious things that he sometimes says. If so, it’s a pretty remarkable length to go to recruit a viewer. One can imagine it backfiring in situations where the offense being taken turns into resentment for feeling a part of something this transgressive.

It’s also quite a length to go to sell a joke. That combination of humor without borders and what feels like honest soul baring makes for a show that inspires winces, some laughs, and is really compelling as a glimpse into the inner life of a professional performer. So, if you have ever taken offense to any joke in your life, skip Louie. Otherwise, it’s worth your time to come suffer and occasionally laugh. Somewhere in the catharsis is a really interesting show that has me hooked.


Written by ireviewsomething

July 9, 2010 at 10:16am


with 2 comments

Let me pitch you a terrible idea for a show.

Modern Western, set in the South, with the fastest gun in the all these here parts as the steel-jawed lawman.
Oh, and we’re going to populate it with nobody you’ve heard of.
You won’t make it without a star?
Fine. I liked Deadwood. We’ll get Timothy Olyphant, who played a steel-jawed lawman Seth Bullock, to play the part.
Not enough? Ok, Lost’s Mr. Friendly and Doug E. Doug, but that’s all you get.

Except here’s the thing: the combination works. Justified is one of the best new shows on TV, second only to David Simon’s latest on HBO, Treme. Part of that is undoubtedly due to impressive scripts by Elmore Leonard, who both wrote the story on which the series is based and many of its scripts.

Most of that success comes from Timothy Olyphant, who has found seventeen different ways to slow burn as U.S. Marshall Raylen Givens. Raylen has been on what can most charitably be called as a bad run of luck, mostly of his own making. The series opens with him killing a murderer who had the temerity to ignore the 24 hours Raylen gives him to leave town. That trope, the lawman giving the man in the black hat a day to vamoose, isn’t just a knowing nod to the Western roots of the series. In fact, Justified seems to have as its first season goal to take down each of these cliches, while sometimes turning them on their head. Think you’ve seen all that the tense standoff between multiple outlaws and the sheriff before all of them slap leather might have to offer? Wait until you see what Justified does with the moment and its aftermath.

Were it not for the unhappy luck of premiering during the same year as the remarkable Treme, this would be the breakout hit of 2010. It’s a good day when I wake up to find a new episode on my DVR.

Written by ireviewsomething

May 10, 2010 at 11:49am

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