There’s something amazing about “Louie.” From the moment it debuted in 2010, it separated itself from everything else on television. The series operates on a dismal budget as a way to make it financially viable for FX and give its creator, writer, director, star and editor Louis C.K. (“Lucky Louie”) the ability to work without network interference. This leads to a show that is about whatever the comedian desires. Sometimes, the stories are hysterically funny (like the Season 2 episode “Pregnant”). Other times, the series tells thought-provoking stories (like last season’s “Into the Woods” and “So Did the Fat Lady”). Four episodes into the fifth season, nothing’s changed for the show. It continues to mix up its tone in a way that creates a fascinating series.
Season 5 Premiere — Four episodes screened for review
Thursdays at 10:30 p.m.
As usual, “Louie” follows the life of a fictional version of Louis C.K. (referred to as Louie). He performs stand-up, dates Pamela (Pamela Adlon, who played his wife on “Lucky Louie”) and raises his two daughters. Louie’s various roles are built into the first four episodes of the new season, which include Louie attending a potluck, going to a cooking store, running into his sister’s ex-boyfriend and spending some time with his brother.
Within those stories, “Louie” shows exactly how funny it can be, and how it can tackle some more serious topics as well. The first episode, “Potluck,” falls under one of the funnier ones in the group. Louie’s scene where he has sex with a surrogate (played by University alum Celia Keenan-Bolger, a Broadway veteran) is incredibly uncomfortable, but C.K., per usual, finds humor in that discomfort. However, the season’s third episode features two of the show’s most intriguing stories. In the cold open, Louie talks to a millennial, and the result is a scene that is both hysterical and makes Louie look sad in a new way. The second half of the episode has Louie running into his sister’s ex, played by Michael Rappaport (“Justified”), an unlikeable man. Rappaport and C.K. are brilliant in creating their relationship, in a turn that could easily earn Rappaport an Emmy nomination for Guest Actor in a Comedy.
However, “Louie” ’s storytelling doesn’t just shine in the stories-of-the-week. It also does a wonderful job of telling the ongoing story of Louie and Pamela’s relationship. Though the show did multi-part episodes in the past, it didn’t really approach serialized stories until last season, which ended with a three-parter about Louie’s unfolding relationship with his ex-girlfriend Pamela, and two of the four episodes continue that storyline. Adlon and C.K. have fantastic chemistry, and C.K. uses that to construct some brilliant jokes (look out for a scene in a movie theater). However, it’s the dramatic aspect of this arc that is more notable. In a way, these stories are sad in the manner in which they play out, but on the other hand, they show two people who genuinely have feelings for each other, which makes the end of the fourth episode that much more powerful.
There’s nothing else that matches “Louie” ’s perfect balance of tones on television. While a few other shows have tried to copy the model (most notably “Maron” at IFC), none have come close to matching the pitch-perfect mix that makes the series special. Hopefully the low premiere ratings are still high enough for FX to continue to support C.K.’s vision because what he’s turning out is truly great.