Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Preview: Louie Episode One - Pilot


Louis C.K. has finally found a television vehicle that reflects who he is a stand-up comedian in Louie. It is at times profane, uncomfortable, thoughtful, and hilarious. There are laughs of all kinds. There are little smiles when he tells his kids everyone is having French toast despite the fact that their mother doesn’t make them eat it. There’s nervous laughter when he tries to kiss a first date at the door on the way out. And the biggest laughs when the show finds Louie onstage doing stand-up

The show focuses on C.K. as a stand-up comedian trying to raise two young daughters in New York City, a scenario straight out of his personal life. “That’s the only thing I’m comfortable with in life anymore,” he says onstage during the opening stand-up bit. “I know how to raise a couple of kids.”

There are two parts to the pilot episode – a field trip to the botanical garden that never actually happens, and an extremely awkward date – both framed by footage of Louie onstage at the Comedy Cellar, one of C.K.’s haunts in New York City.

“I volunteer not because I’m a good person, but because you have to,” says Louie about his kids’ public school. “Because nobody works there.”

Cut to the bus ride. The driver doesn’t know how to get to the gardens or what to do when the bus breaks down when he literally hits an underpass. Louie is legitimately shocked by the lack of diligence, and equally unsure of himself when he’s thrust into a leadership role to fix it.

“Hey man, what do you have to do to be a bus driver? Nothing? How can you be so god damn irresponsible when you’re transporting peoples’ children?”

The outrage is real, and justified, but it’s not coming from some high-handed lecture or morality play. Louie is afraid because they’ve broken down in Harlem, and his immediate solution is horribly inappropriate, relieving him of the high moral ground. That makes the point that much more effectively.

The second segment – the show doesn’t weave all of its plot points into a nice little sitcom basket – shows Louie going on one of the most awkward dates ever committed to film. He does everything wrong from the start, dressing up too much, not planning a romantic evening, and smiling uncontrollably when his date looks at him. None of it is really his fault – he just can’t help himself.

This is one of the best points about the show. In a traditional sitcom, Louie would wind up at home in front of the TV or talking about the date with friends. Here, the woman is taken away by the most literal and absurd form of deus ex machina you’re likely ever to see on television. Then we see what the real Louis C.K. would have done after a date like that – write some sharp, original stand-up comedy about it.

There is a sensibility to the pilot unlike anything else on television (see Louis C.K. finds a perfect fit at FX for his thoughts on this). Before he broke into TV, and before it was an easy and popular thing to do, C.K. was making short films. The pilot has that same roving feel as a stand-up set. It can go anywhere, alternate between gritty reality and flat out odd, and begin and end whenever the subject demands it.

This is clearly a better show than Lucky Louie, C.K.’s attempt at twisting the traditional sitcom format on HBO, and it deserves a much longer look than the single season C.K. got from that. Lucky Louie is dead, long live the real Louie.

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