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Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
hink of the structure of a typical “a guy walks into a bar” joke. The joke teller begins with that first line. Then he tells a short story, through which the audience, be it one person or a roomful, sits stone-faced. Eventually, the story leads to a punchline, and if the joke teller is skilled enough, the audience will erupt into laughter. Even though we didn’t laugh from the first moment he opened his mouth, it’s commonly acknowledged that everything that came out of his mouth was part of the joke. This all seems obvious I’m sure, but in trying to find a new way to talk about “Louie,” it hit me: These episodes are often structured like a joke – albeit a 20 minute one – with the punchline in the final moments. While those first 19 minutes might not be traditionally funny, they’re anything but tedious, and often run the gamut of emotions.
There’s never been a comedy show like “Louie,” and given how cannibalistic television is, it continues to boggle my mind that Louis C.K. gets away with such shocking displays of originality on a weekly basis. The show’s written and directed by and starring the same guy; has there ever been a scripted series that’s so clearly the all-around vision of just one person? Allegedly, even the suits and execs at FX leave him alone. Armed with a solid first season under his belt, and no doubt the confidence that comes with that, the comedian’s comedian sets out to dig even deeper into his psyche for the second block, and the results are painfully hilarious, with an emphasis on the pain.
Trying to sit here and explain what’s going on in this season is a fool’s errand. Things happen to Louie, and he must deal. In the season premiere, it’s a pregnant sister in an immense amount of pain who needs to be rushed to the hospital. Later on, there’s a trip to the country to visit an elderly aunt. One episode, “Eddie,” sees the return of a comic who started out in the business with Louie. This installment is about as dark as the series has ever gone, and adding to that darkness is the fact that the situation ends with a question mark rather than a period or an exclamation point.
C.K. also seems disgruntled with television as an art form, and he takes it to obvious task a couple times, but most notably in the episode “Oh Louie/Tickets,” which begins with him starring in a crummy sitcom that looks suspiciously similar to his old HBO show “Lucky Louie,” only here he breaks down on the set and starts railing against the entire enterprise, as well as his co-star Bob Saget. Eventually he just walks away from it all. Later on in the same episode is the now somewhat infamous confrontation between C.K. and Dane Cook, which is rooted in a real life accusation that Cook stole material from C.K. It’s a brutally honest scene that works because neither man appears to have anything to lose. (How the scene was put together, I’d kill to know.) Another episode features Joan Rivers that’s equally excellent, and with a killer punchline.
But probably the standout episode of the season is “Duckling,” which sees C.K. going to Afghanistan to entertain the troops. For starters, it’s a double-length episode, which is important to know while viewing, otherwise somewhere around the 15-minute mark you might start wondering if the episode is a turkey. And it’s most certainly not. It takes its time getting to where it wants to go and you must have a little patience. This is such a weirdly brave and honest piece of TV (with some serious production value by this show’s standards) that C.K. needs to be careful about not trying replicate its success further down the road, because it’s exactly this sort of fare that could go disastrously wrong, lest the show get preachy. If I’m being needlessly overcautious for “Louie,” it’s only out of love and respect for this show that seems destined to someday change the way networks look at the way a TV series can be made.
Special Features: I wasn’t overly crazy about the commentary tracks on the Season One set, but here C.K. seems considerably more relaxed, and as such, the five tracks – presented on the first five episodes – add up to a nice, revealing listen. But there are only tracks on those first five. It’s as if he finished up the fifth one and just said, “Fuck it. I’m bored doing this.” Sure would have been nice to have a yak track on the Dane Cook episode, or certainly on “Duckling.” Beyond the tracks, there’s a quick Fox Movie Channel puff piece that amounts to less than five minutes of red carpet interviews from a Season Two premiere event.