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Louis C.K.'s Winning Year of Losing
August 25, 2011  | By Eric Gould


Louis C.K. Is about to wrap up his second season of -- I'm not sure of the right term -- dramedy? Performance art work? Stand-up documentary? A hybrid of all of them?

Whatever it is, Louie (Thursday nights at 10:30 ET on FX) is something uniquely his. And it deserves credit as a TV milestone, for both its structure and its intent...

Louie is an intentional act of subversion, an anti-sitcom that often is as deliberately unfunny as the comedy genre within which he he is supposedly working. It's a double negative of some sort, and the results are positive. Louie, usually, is smart, daring, and (surprise!) outrageously funny.

Or not.


That's one striking thing about Louie. Its themes -- about suffering the lack of love, acceptance and respect -- often are bleak and serious.

His uber-critical self-examination, in itself, is nothing new. Woody Allen and Larry David pretty much have had the corner on that market, and often do it better. And funnier.

But neither Allen nor David has unmasked himself in such a raw fashion, to such an abject, naked degree. Louie is more about the humor that sneaks in around things, and often the drama is in equal proportion to the laughs.

Louis C.K.-- writer, producer, director and star of his own world -- has the ever-elusive, eternally treasured guarantee of total creative control, with FX executives reportedly out of the loop until he delivers each episode.

He plays the polite schlub, maybe at peace with his powerlessness, and he's nothing if not brutally honest about his shortcomings, and his utterly incorrect social impulses.

We've seen his lover break down in tears during sex with him, and witnessed his unrequited love for a woman who is repulsed by him. As the writer of his own alter ego's adventures, he's had other comics revile him for his success, and his daughter casually remark how she likes Mommy's house better.

He recently had an old fellow comic show up from the old days, just to inform Louie he was off to commit suicide.


The show's dark blend also includes verite clips from his standup act, frequent references to his bodily functions, and one episode dedicated to his particular practice of masturbation.

It's this level of investigating his own truth, and unmasking the ridiculousness implicit in it, that separates Louie from the rest. It's Louis C.K.'s cringing honesty -- and his willingness to go into the bedroom, bathroom, anywhere, to find it.

And while other shows, like Ricky Gervais' original The Office or David's Curb Your Enthusiasm have made similar grist out of equally, personally embarrassing material, Louie's is different.

His cringing reality doesn't burst open. It doesn't feast on the plainly dumb or wildly inappropriate. (Larry David once had a sketch about Holocaust survivors.)

Rather, it benignly grows, almost imperceptibly, until it's too late, and you're over the line, way into territory you didn't bargain for. It's that insidious, and that well-crafted, even if you don't care for some of the subject matter you encounter along the way.

In addition, C.K. as auteur has the absurd flair of a Dadaist artist, dropping in Marx Brothers-like non-sequiturs like quick-hit cabaret side acts. These give his cringe material another level of mood that is disturbing -- and uniquely his.


He's created a seemingly placid, but very strange and alienated New York City. It looks normal, and feels normal, but given what occurs around him, it's waaaaaaay off.

In one episode, there was the homeless man abducted into one side of a limo, and replaced with an exact replica pushed out of the other door. More recently, there was the fat, homeless bag man who stripped and bathed himself on a subway platform next to a performing violinist.

LOUIE-Vermeer-1.jpgLOUIE-Come-On-God-1.jpgThe art direction unifies the thing, usually with single camera scenes, a singular, sonorous cello playing and moody, shadowy key lighting borrowed from European art film interiors or a Vermeer painting (above left, compared with Louie, above right). Odd signatures for a comedy. Which maybe it is, or it isn't...

But it works. All too well.

As such, Louie is a rich, compact, 30-minute meditation of powerlessness in an unjust world, bursting with hard, and hard-earned, truths about our most intimate weaknesses. The series is well played, modest, on the mark, and draws from a deep well from which there is, let's hope, much more to come.


For now, there's tonight's one-hour expanded episode, "Duckling," which mines the comedian's real-life USO trip to Afghanistan for inspiration, and for footage. Then, Sept. 1, is the second-season finale, featuring a visiting, sullen niece. Like all other episodes of Louie, it stars, and is written and directed by, Louis C.K.

He's an artist in his own write.

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