My wife, I’m told by die-hard Larry David fans, hates Curb Your Enthusiasm because I misguidedly tried to indoctrinate her via a mini marathon of first-season episodes. You can’t do that, apparently, because David’s brand of obsessive-compulsive misanthropy and have-to-watch-from-the-corner-of-your-eye awkward humor, when taken in doses larger than 60 minutes or so, is enough to incite violent rage. I bring this up because Louie, the latest attempt at making a TV star out of genius stand-up comic Louis C.K. (the force behind HBO’s declared-failed-too-soon sitcom experiment Lucky Louie, and, um, Pootie Tang, cough) should come stamped with a similar caveat, only instead of pissing you off, a Louie marathon is more likely to end in a murder-suicide.
Fans of C.K.’s miserabilist stand-up act or Lucky Louie’s humor-in-hopelessness won’t be surprised at Louie’s bleak outlook, and it’s no shock his worldview’s only darkened since his divorce. What is sort of startling, though, is the depth to which FX allows C.K.’s attempt at mass induced depression to sink. Far from the network’s established envelope-pusher It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia — which basically plays out like Friends-meets-Cheers with huffing jokes and the word “shit” — Louie is 22 minutes of C.K.’s low-budget short films, tied together only by the main character. Louie, like the guy playing him, is a 40-something stand-up comic and divorced dad coping with single-parenting, middle-aged dating, and the ever-tightening grip of death’s cold hand. Mostly that last one, a theme made clear in the first episode from the faux-disco theme song till the bitter end, which features C.K. onstage, riffing on a childhood memory of his dog being put to sleep. The end result is something like Seinfeld as directed by Todd Solondz.
C.K. was recently indirectly responsible for NPR’s Fresh Air being banned from Mississippi airwaves when his explanation for wearing a shirt during sex upset the sensibilities at the Mississippi Public Broadcasting station, and Louie definitely reduces the number of Carlin’s verboten words to three or four (with plenty of “dicks” and “assholes” thrown in for good measure), but the language is less likely to offend sensitive viewers than the subject matter of the jokes themselves. Comedy has always scored laughs by broaching topics not discussed in polite society (dongs, mostly) but C.K. delights in uncovering new panic buttons to push. The shock comedy standbys get a good workout of course — the third episode features Ricky Gervais as a doctor who can’t stop making jokes about AIDS and cancer diagnoses, for example — and racism, homophobia, and bare male ass cheeks all get their time to shine. Like C.K.’s stand-up, the show functions best, however, on a combination of bizarre black comedy (like the psychoanalyst who halts Louie’s session by wondering aloud why the news of someone’s death gave him, the therapist, an erection) and painfully funny bits on the sad realities of aging, self-loathing, parents’ secret resentment of their children, and why human interaction can be as scary as the idea of dying alone.
Also, it’s hilarious. Did I mention that? •
Louie airs Tuesdays at 10p.m. on FX. Watch online at fxnetworks.com.