Wednesday, June 30, 2010

TV Review: Louie

HBO – a time-honored vessel for innovation and truth in the modern-day television medium – treated Louis C.K. like trash. While comedies like "Bored to Death" and "Flight of the Conchords" were fresh but low-rent shows that shot on location, “Lucky Louie” had the production value of a cardboard box.

The network gave a multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track to one of the most subversive, brilliant stand-up comedians, and canned it after one season despite a gradual surge in viewership. He has yet to succeed in film or television for the reason that he never had the freedom to mouth off in the vein of his specials, “Shamed” and “Chewed Up.”

Thankfully, Louis C.K. is back on TV in “Louie.” From the looks of it, FX lent him some freedom. He writes, directs, stars, produced and edits the show, which follows Louis as middle-aged divorcee with two young daughters and fading ginger locks.

What ensues is a claustrophobic, caustic series of vignettes that are largely very funny. Some segments daringly venture into darkness through conversation, such as when Louie and his poker buddies interrogate a gay friend (Rick Crom), or fly off the handle with imaginary conclusions. Those fictionalized bits smugly suggests you’re in Louie’s head – his sad life, his twisted dreams, his perverse curiosity – and therefore at his disposal. He can lie to you, take you on detours and break the fourth wall to tell off Marshall McCluhan if he so chooses. Boy, if life were only like this!

More a sketch show than a sitcom, “Louie” features the comic’s stand-up act and leads into a semi-related skit. It’s sharply photographed but still gritty, especially the intimate club scenes privy to essentially to him, the viewer and the brick wall. In the opening credits sequence set to “Brother Louie,” the title character emerges from the Washington Square subway to the evening Manhattan streets, all the while detached from humanity and somewhat pissed off. He eats a slice of pizza, then heads to the Comedy Cellar – the shots playing like a more downtrodden version of Saturday Night Live opening.

In the first two episodes, Louie finds himself on a bus full of kids who are lost in Harlem and Facebook stalking an old classmate with whom he once shared a ‘moment.’ Meanwhile, an old woman flashes him in the hallway of an apartment hallway, and he explains his approval of bestiality. In the aforementioned poker sketch, fascinating truths come out of comedians arguing about elements of their respective acts that are considered taboo.

“Louie” perpetuates a ‘No hugging, no learning’ Larry David-style doctrine of self-loathing while avoiding the structural requirements of a series-long narrative. The format of a comedian using stand-up to lead into scripted scenes dates back to before “Seinfeld,” but the edgy Louis C.K.’s manner is modern, cruel and thoroughly hilarious. This is a huge leap for the comedian and, God help us, director of “Pootie Tang.”

Bottom line: By taking the lion’s share of executive creative control, Louis C.K. has finally found a highly promising vehicle. “Louie” deconstructs the TV comedy form and tailors it to his peculiarity. It replicates the animosity the world feels toward David on “Curb” and takes it even further thanks to a fearless asshole like Louis C.K.

"Pilot" and "Poker/Divorce" = 8.5 out of 10