Tuned In

A Second Look At: Louie

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Louis C.K.’s new FX comedy, Louie, debuted while I was on vacation at the end of the June, so I wrote about it in a pre-holiday blog post the week before. If it got lost in the shuffle, let me remedy that by saying: Louie continues to be one of the best new series of the year, and if you haven’t been watching, I urge you to catch up.

Last week’s episode. “So Old / Playdate,” was probably the strongest yet when it comes to showing the sitcom’s multiple strengths: short stories and long, standup riffs and character pieces, observational comedy and dark, quasi-dramatic set pieces. The opening bit—in which Louie gets lucky with a 26-year-old turned on by how old he is—was a one-joke skit, but a funny joke played out for just the right amount of time. (Sample of their sex talk: Louie: “I voted for Mike Dukakis!” Woman [screaming, orgasmically]: “Who the f___ is he?”)

But the second, longer story was really the show at its best. Louie goes to a PTA meeting and meets a single mom, Pamela (Pamela Adlon, who played his wife in his HBO sitcom Lucky Louie—and who provided the voice of Bobby Hill on King of the Hill). Their kids are classmates, so he invites her son over for a playdate, though she makes certain that he has no romantic intentions: “All this”—she gestures below her waist—”is shut down.” (“It’s OK,” he says. “I won’t be needing any of this for the playdate.”)

Louie invites Pamela to drop her son off, but having nothing else to do, she stays for the playdate, and a very large glass of wine. And in fact, nothing happens—with “this” or elsewhere—although a certain will-they-won’t-they tension is set up. Instead, they have a series of long, funny, and brutally honest conversations about being parents: how uninvolved many dads are (Louie, Pamela says, gets a medal just for “showing up”), their annoyance with other kids and parents at the school, and the secret, dark thoughts that come from devoting hours of your day to the care and maintenance of small human beings.

Then she briefly passes out from too much wine, her son—who’s seen this before—wakes her up to take him home, and they leave. But I hope we’ll be seeing more of her. The episode closes with a standup routine, in which Louis C.K. riffs on how “narcissistic” humans have separated sex from its procreative origins (“Animals must think we’re idiots”) and a shorter vignette with Louie and his shrink.

The show is not always laff-a-minute hysterical (though the standup is consistently funny), but—on my theory that the best sitcoms are not always those with the most jokes—at its best moments it’s better than hysterical. And maybe because the episodes are (all or mostly) both written and directed by Louis C.K., there’s a kind of first-person, artisanal-comedy feel to the show that gives us a strong distillation of the comic’s personality and worldview. [One complaint, which is less about the show than its airing: its unusual story structure doesn’t lend itself well to typical sitcom commercial breaks. Having originally watched the show on screeners, it seems arbitrarily broken up on air. It’ll play better on DVD.]

In tonight’s episode, Louie visits the south. I suggest you join him.