On paper, Louie looks like a typically autobiographical series developed from a stand-up comic’s own material, since Louis C.K. plays a version of himself, a divorced comedian living in Manhattan with his two little girls. But this unclassifiable, astonishing series on FX seems to have taken cringe comedy about as far as it can go. It’s stretched the single-camera format in terms of both length (some stories run 10 minutes, some run an hour) and content. TV Louie often finds himself in extreme situations, whether its traveling on a whim to China, meeting a woman who says she plans to have her vagina removed, trying to talk a friend out of suicide, or taking a beating from a date when he refuses to reciprocate with oral sex.
He pushes cringe comedy past the point where you’re laughing-while-wincing, to the point where you’re laughing-while-fearing for his safety and his sanity. He’s created some of the bravest moments ever on TV, whether its his exploration of how organized religion uses scare tactics to intimidate kids, his re-enactment of his USO tour of Afghanistan, or his reaching out to fellow comic Dane Cook to hash out their long-simmering real-life feud before an audience. C.K. has shown that cringe comedy is capable of addressing the deepest philosophical questions while still making masturbation jokes. It’s hard to imagine where he’ll take the show during its upcoming fourth season, but then, it’s hard to imagine where else cringe comedy can go after three seasons of Louie.