By Robby O’Daniel
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why “Louie” works so well or opens itself up to endless rewatches, but the FX comedy does.
On its face, “Louie” is a show about a stand-up comic (Louis C.K.), who essentially just talks about his life, and the situations depicted in the sitcom play off some of those ideas. The easy comparison is “Seinfeld,” because there’s a stand-up comic and no easy plot elements.
But “Louie” is not “Seinfeld.” As great as the latter was, part of it is still very entrenched in its origin: ’90s network television. There’s catchphrases, breakout characters, etc. “Louie” is much more grounded. Sometimes what Louis C.K. says in his act is kind of offensive. The show never really pulls any punches, and there are no easy callbacks.
So then why is it funny? Louis C.K. uses his particular brand of humor, one that is not altogether unusual for a stand-up comic, that of pessimistic day-to-day comedy, and expounds on it in humorous ways. To talk about how he doesn’t really think he’s a good actor — ironic considering the platform — comes episode six, “Heckler/Cop Movie,” where Louis C.K. finds himself in a Matthew Broderick movie. He has a simple line, “Your father is dead,” and the humor would not be obvious on the page. But Louis C.K. feigns a lack of insight on the kind of delivery required of a cop to give that news to a civilian, a bedside manner required. Broderick is great as the movie veteran aghast at this stand-up comic’s lack of skill or interest in the profession. Pretend to care, he says.
Other plots deal with simple subjects like dating or health for men his age, but the troubles are relatable or understandable, and Louis C.K. offers a blend of wit and self-deprecating humor that is appreciated. If there’s one “breakout character” from the show — and I use the term loosely — it would be Ricky Gervais’ Dr. Ben, Louis’ doctor. Gervais plays perhaps the worst doctor of all time, as he constantly plays horrible pranks on him through a constant barrage of one-liners, usually about how he has this malady or that.
The best episode of the first season is also its most surprising one, “God.” The episode is surprising because it does not really play for humor at all. It’s more of a dramatic episode. It touches on Louis C.K.’s relationship with religion through flashback, looking at his time in Catholic school and how a nun talked a doctor into showing her class a hypothetical medical autopsy of Jesus after the Crucifixion to illustrate the extent of his injuries.
The scene is palpable with emotion. The scare tactics employed are horrible but believable, and it’s easy to feel strongly sorry for the children involved. Yet it shows the kind of relationship with religion, predicated on fear, that many youth have. The episode is absolutely excellent, and the brave choice to anchor most of the plot on flashback shows the strength of the writing.
While it has some shock humor, “Louie” is a show that virtually everyone can enjoy, as it talks of much of the real-world issues and troubles that face us all. Louis C.K. uses his unique worldview — that of a middle-aged, single, father of two — to show his own perspective and point out the humor in life. In that way, the show is kind of like an extremely funny memoir, one worth checking out.