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Louie: Season One

(3 Arts Entertainment; US DVD: 21 Jun 2011)

You know how television pilots usually only represent a vague concept of what the show will end up being? Like when Sports Night debuted with a laugh track and Sex and the City featured man on the street interviews? Well, this is not the case with Louie, Louis C.K.’s second attempt at helming a television show. The pilot is a spot on depiction of what’s in store for the complete series.

The first ten minutes or so, in which Louie is confounded by the irresponsibility of a school bus driver who doesn’t know where he’s going, is hysterical and stirs just the right amount of compassion for the main character’s frustrations. We’ve all been there before, and Louis knows it. What we haven’t done is say what he says (“What do you have to do to be a bus driver? Nothing?”) or act how he acts (stranded in Harlem, he makes all of the African American kids sit near the windows). Louie calls the bus driver on his lack of dependability and, even though his furtive looks to the side combined with his slight stutter show his nerves, he stands up for the screaming kids who have no real voice.

Then comes the second act with a deceptively simple premise. Louie goes on a date. Yes, that’s exactly what Louie does, but some particular oddities befall our hero on his quest for romance. First, his date’s nude neighbor accosts him in the hallway (not normal). Then his dinner plans fall through and he’s forced to go to a pizza-by-the-slice fast food joint (normal). His date goes to use the bathroom and Louie says he’ll go right after. While waiting, a large gentleman pounds on the door demanding Louie’s date leave so he can “take a shit”. The man leaves before Louie’s date sees him, and she assumes it was Louie (not normal). The couple concludes their evening sitting by the water, speaking uncomfortably (normal) before a helicopter lands and Louie’s date escapes what can only be seen as the world’s worst first date (extremely not normal).

Walking you through both of those scenarios robs them of their spontaneous humor, so I won’t do it with the rest of the season. Rest assured, though, what follows takes the elements of those two sections (as well as plenty of Louie’s stand-up routine, a nice transition method between shorts) and expands them. Some segments are simply funny. As with the bus driver, Louie is continually frustrated by the stupidity, ignorance, or lack of interest surrounding him. “Travel Day” is an especially entertaining bit on airlines – surprising in that one would think it had been done to death, both in stand-up and recorded comedy. “Dr. Ben” is also fairly straightforward comedy, but it features special guest Ricky Gervais to add a devilish twist.

Then there are the darker, more deadpan if not straight-up dramatic segments like the now fairly famous poker clip in which one of Louie’s friends explains the meaning of the word “faggot” to a group of fellow stand-up comedians. Though the opening and closing carry punch lines, it’s the enthralling exposition that stands out. Other bits, like “God” and “South”, feel like short films. They’re almost entirely straightforward in their sincere attempt to explore Louis C.K.’s psyche. He plays out his ideas at whatever level he deems appropriate. Whether it’s 100 percent comedic or dramatic to the same extent, the episode feels just as authentic to its writer, director, editor, and creator’s (all Louis C.K.) vision.

That vision, though, isn’t exactly one shared by many. Louis does not seem interested in appealing to a wide audience; an opinion not shared by many network executives and thus making it a wonder FX gave him a shot. I cannot fault anyone who turns the show off or only tunes in sporadically because they only like some of it. Louis’ vision is as consistent as it is varying in appeal. Some people want comedy. Some people want experimental film. Usually the two do not meet, but here we are, a few episodes into season two and it continues.

The Blu-ray/DVD combo pack includes only three special features, but each offers just about everything you could hope for from the man behind it all. In a four minute spot titled Fox Movie Channel presents Writer’s Draft, Louis talks about his interest in blending his two loves: stand-up comedy and short film. He mentions how he hopes watching Woody Allen, another great New York-born filmmaker, influenced his stories. There are certainly similarities, but Louie takes Woody’s more innocent thoughts to a much darker place (not that there’s anything wrong with that). The worthwhile deleted scenes feature introductions by Louis C.K., and he pops up again giving audio commentary for most of the episodes. Anyone looking for something extra here should be pleased with the effort put forth by the show runner.

While not an outright masterpiece, Louie has all the signs of something that could become one down the road. If C.K. wants to trim out the few bits that don’t work and streamline his structure just a tad, his show could become required viewing. He may not want to, though. This is clearly his show and it’s just as obvious he has no qualms with alienating those who don’t dig it.

As it stands, the show is experimental and proud of it. If Louis keeps Louie on the air in this state, he deserves all of our admiration and respect for successfully fighting the powers that be. Either way, it sounds like a win-win to me.


Extras rating:

Ben Travers is an awards season analyst and prognosticator with a devout interest in all things film & TV. Mr. Travers lives in Los Angeles as an experienced writer and filmmaker with an extensive portfolio of coverage, including thorough reporting on the Academy Awards, weekly box office reports, and more reviews written than will ever be read. He is a graduate of the University of Iowa with degrees in both journalism and cinema.

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