01st May2014

‘Louie: 4×01 & 4×02’ Advance Review

by Nathan Smith


I’ve always liked Louie, because as funny as it can be at times, the show has a darker tinge to it that makes it more of a drama at times than anything else. That appeals to me in a nutshell. To me, there’s always something compelling about the darker side of comedy and I find that Louis C.K, in his standup and the series, navigates that sweet spot with aplomb that ensures that both elements mesh well without feeling like one gets leaned on rather than the other. Sometimes, you get episodes like “Subway/Pamela”  or “God,” that really hint at a deep romanticism and deep theological meanings that can be mined from a 20 minute comedy-drama. And other times, you get “Pregnant,” which is just one long set-up to a well-timed fart joke.

That’s the key to Louis C.K’s humor in a nutshell. It’s so important to him to make sure the humor and drama complement each other so well that he took time off (a 20 month hiatus actually, though he stayed plenty busy in the meantime, popping up in American Hustle) to make sure that the show stayed sharp and irreverent, to avoid it from being too workmanlike, and from the looks of the first two episodes premiering on Monday, May 5th at 10/9c, he’s not lost a single step.  There’s a lot that Louis places in these four episodes sent to critics. It bounces from masturbation jokes to searing love stories, and even manages to integrate thriller elements and the horror and paranoia of having a child in this big scary world, and doesn’t break a sweat.

In ‘Back,’ the first of the two episodes that make up the hour long premiere, we find Louis hitting the same marks that make up a standalone Louie episode. It’s really a series of vignettes (the bookending stand up acts, a roundtable poker game that features a metric ton of comedic talent like Sarah Silverman and Nick DiPaolo, which is where the episode gets lot of its crass, but funny humor, and some fantasy elements that the show finds its stock in.) It’s a relatively simple plot for the return though the main plot is tied in a lot closely to the more cursory element of the episode, in this case, the poker game is the trigger for the episode’s plot, and it’s quite funny one at that.

It also allows for a brief cameo by an unrecognizable Charles Grodin (and when I say unrecognizable, it took me a few minutes into the scene to see that it actually was Grodin). It’s funny stuff altogether, I especially love the almost surreal nature that the episode traffics in (for anyone who’s suffered through garbage day, you’ll feel Louie’s pain early on in the episode). But, it didn’t stick to my ribs as much as I’d liked it to, even though I love how they still manage to balance the crass with the sweetness, like in the scenes with Louie and his daughters.

But, in ‘Model,’ the second episode of the hour long block, the humor really managed to connect with the overall darkness with a healthy smattering of awkwardness. It’s a single plot episode, which tones down the smart schizophrenic nature the show trafficked in in the first half, but the way that it builds to the horrifying ending is just plain brilliant. What starts as awkward builds and shifts from that to slapstick to the almost cruel and cold reality of such a slapsticky ending.

To provide an idea of this, imagine if they showed the reality of what would happen if The Three Stooges were very much reality based. But, the ending provides a slow build of horror that C.K nails just right. First, you’re laughing. Then, you’re letting the true awfulness of the reality settle in and when it does you either laugh at the sheer darkness of it, or you just remain gob-struck that C.K would choose to end the episode in such a dark, and strangely hopeful place.

Which, I suppose is the comfortable medium that the show’s writer, director and star seems to shine most comfortably in. Even though it’s his pet project, Louis C.K never shines away from the awfulness of his character’s lot in life. He may get the girl, but it’s short lived, as we see in ‘Model,’ or that he’s still treated as second class citizen by his peers, which leads to a great little cameo by Jerry Seinfeld in the second episode (and I love how they took this nice guy as we know Seinfeld and made him to be an acerbic, essentially awful man).

But it’s this deft balancing act that I keep coming back to, the main throughline with which I want to hang my hat. The show, even though mainly a comedy, is not afraid to do an episode that’s filled to the brim with drama. There’s a moment in the third episode that stunned me in its simple elegance, or even in pure, unadulerated rawness. That Louis (as one of the two parties involved in the scene) doesn’t cut away or even speak (he gets in minimal lines), but instead uses the other actor’s monologue to unfurl and let loose with a deep, searing soliloquy that left me riveted as I watched it. I love that it’s just one long shot, with the camera swirling around the two (I timed it, and the scene is a long shot at seven and a half minutes) and we’re witness to this heartbreaking scene. And then, he switches it right back around with a joke. The guy’s a magician.

Louis doesn’t treat this as a vanity project, he merely treats this as a reflection of how he sees himself, like a mirror at a carnival. He sees all the weird angles and awkward posturing and frankly, he’s not afraid to show off the awfulness of his aforementioned lot in life.  He revels in it. He knows that love is awkward. He knows that parenting is scary. And yet, he makes it real. Maybe sometimes too real. He makes his misery so real.

And we all love to stew in his misery right alongside him, because we still care for him.


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