Louis C.K. is back for another stab at the sitcom. Four years after the complete debacle that was HBO’s Lucky Louie, he’s now writing, producing, directing, and starring in FX’s Louie. This single-camera exploration of middle age showcases material that’s obviously far more personal than anything so far in C.K.‘s career—and is far, far funnier.
Louie seems to be living exactly Louis C.K.‘s life: he’s a newly divorced 40something, juggling joint custody of his two daughters while working the New York City comedy clubs. As in the comedian’s own stand-up, the comedy here often turns blue, but in place of Louis C.K.‘s signature rage-filled rants, Louie performs a resigned sweetness.
This difference allows the series an unexpectedly sharp edge. The first episode, which premiered last week, opened on a round table of comics busting one another’s chops while playing cards. Amid the usual slew of shared insults, “faggot” was thrown into the mix, and Louie asked the only gay comic at the table if he felt offended. What transpired might be the most accessible, thoughtful and, yes, funny discussion regarding homosexuality ever initiated by a straight comic on TV. If C.K. is channeling his own experiences and intellectual curiosities through Louie, then I’m glad he decided to share this one.
The scene’s maturity underlines the usual problem with stand-up comics getting their own shows. For decades, the sitcom market has been saturated by “edgy” comics forced to trade in their dick jokes for the payday that comes with more family-friendly fare. Though Louie does revolve somewhat around Louie’s attempt to parent a pair of precocious daughters, it is decidedly adult. Louie makes no attempt at content concessions (sometimes even when children are on screen), and it features the most vulgar language on a basic cable series, period. But that doesn’t preclude Louie’s ability as a father or suggest there isn’t a tenderness to the way he engages with his world—just that his lexicon is more colorful than Ray Romano’s.
The look and structure of Louie are also more complex than most sitcoms. The series exists somewhere between early Seinfeld and Flight of the Conchords, as the handheld camera tracks two narrative vignettes that are in turn frequently interrupted with relevant bits of stand-up. By combining sitcom conventions with the comedian’s trademark speed and economy, Louie subverts expectations for both.