At one point or another, it seems almost all stand-up comedians get a shot at a full blown sitcom. Some even get more than one. Louis C.K.'s first go around at half hour TV (that made it to air anyway) came in the form of his 2006 HBO series 'Lucky Louie.' Though not a bad effort, the show was canceled after just one season. That brings us to C.K's latest attempt at sitcom success, an FX series simply and appropriately titled 'Louie.' Forgoing the live studio audience of his last endeavor, 'Louie' instead takes the single camera route and sees C.K. go in a more 'Seinfeld' inspired direction, playing a fictionalized version of himself. Also like 'Seinfeld,' the show frequently features the comedian's actual stand-up routine interwoven into the narrative. Thankfully, that's where the similarities stop, and what C.K. ends up creating with 'Louie' is a refreshingly original, oftentimes hilarious, and even occasionally artful sitcom.
The premise of the show mainly focuses on Louie (Louis C.K.), a middle-aged standup comedian and recently divorced father of two young girls, as he tries to adjust to his new unplanned station in life. Episodes are usually structured into two vignettes but some contain just one primary storyline throughout. The first season is comprised of thirteen half hour shows that follow Louie on various awkward misadventures in New York and on the road.
The comedy itself is usually derived from Louie's uncomfortable interactions with the world around him and his attempts to reintegrate into single life while still acting as a good father to his two daughters. Some highlights include Louie's various efforts at dating, his miscalculated decision to start working out, a school field trip gone wrong, a hellish plane ride, and a hilarious adventure in clubbing. The show also includes some great guest spots from the likes of Ricky Gervais, Stephen Root, Matthew Broderick, and Tom Noonan.
C.K. often employs a very self deprecating style in his humor that usually places himself as the butt of most jokes. This works well to undercut and lighten some of the darker aspects of his material which delve into everything from sex and religion, to politics, race, and parenthood in sometimes controversial ways. While a lot of what he says has the potential to offend, thanks to his instantly likeable, underdog persona, the comedy never comes across as mean spirited and C.K. manages to always keep the audience in on the jokes and firmly on his side.
From a purely stylistic standpoint, 'Louie' is also quite impressive, offering a welcome break from most traditional sitcoms. C.K. not only writes but also directs each episode, and the comedian employs a very cinematic approach to the proceedings, with some creative compositions and editing techniques. While some episodes can seem more like a series of simple sketches, a few, like the excellent religiously fueled flashback installment "God," play much more like legitimate short films.
Going along with this, C.K. also experiments with traditional sitcom conventions and isn’t afraid to go in more serious directions. Several episodes feature scenes that aren't really played for laughs at all, and the show has a habit of sneaking in some pleasantly insightful observations about life and parenthood. With that said, the non-comedic elements don't always completely work and can occasionally come across as too deliberate or out of place.
The conversation about homosexuality in the "Poker/Divorce" episode is a great example of both the strengths and weaknesses of this approach, and features some intelligent discussion and pretty explicit humor that wavers between natural and slightly forced. Some of the awkward comedy can also lose its way from time to time with situations that veer a little too far. For me, the episode "Double Date/Mom" is a good illustration of this, featuring some interactions between Louie and his mother that never really connect on a humorous level (and I'm a huge fan of awkward comedy). Really though, that's just nitpicking and considering how subjective comedy can be, I'm sure many might disagree.
Despite some minor bumps along the way, what really ends up making 'Louie' work is C.K.'s uniquely humorous and insightful voice. Not every episode is a home run, but the series gradually finds its footing over the course of the season, blending controversy, absurdity, humility, and intelligence into a truly original and entertaining show. The final scene of the season basically sums up the entire program and perhaps even serves as a sort of mission statement from C.K. himself. After an unsuccessful and embarrassing attempt to enjoy a night out on the town, Louie takes his daughters to an early breakfast, and through this simple sequence, C.K. beautifully and subtlety reveals the true essence of his show and fictional counterpart. This is a man who really only finds purpose and joy from two things in life, his comedy and his children.
At the end of the day, even with some frequently crass humor and offensive material (all of which I love, by the way), there is a genuine sweetness on display here, which elevates this show far above many of its lifelessly manufactured peers. The second season premieres on FX on June 23rd. I know I'll definitely be watching.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings 'Louie: The Complete First Season' to Blu-ray in a 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD Flipper pack. All thirteen episodes are spread over two region A BD-50 discs that feature a dual layered DVD on the reverse side. Some skippable trailers play upon startup before transitioning to a standard motion menu.
Presented in a 1080p/AVC transfer in the 1.78:1 aspect ratio, 'Louie: The Complete First Season' looks pretty good on Blu-ray.
Shot digitally in high definition on the Red One camera, the show has a clean, pristine appearance free of any obtrusive noise. Detail can be very good and though a little flat, a few episodes do offer some nice instances of depth. The show has a slightly stylized look that features colors that can be a bit muted or drab at times. With that said, they still offer an occasional pleasing pop in certain sequences. Contrast is strong but can look blown out. Black levels are mostly consistent with a deep appearance.
While the majority of the season is free of any standout artifacts or technical issues, for whatever reason, the "Pilot" episode features some distracting aliasing. This is most noticeable on microphones, clothing, buildings, and signs. It certainly doesn't ruin the presentation, but it can be a little annoying. Thankfully, these issues are almost entirely absent from the remainder of the show.
Despite some minor technical issues with the "Pilot" episode, 'Louie' looks strong on Blu-ray, besting its original broadcast appearance.
The series is provided with an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track along with English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitle options.
The show is mostly dialogue driven and thankfully speech is crisp and clear. Directionality and separation is strong across the front soundstage but weak in the rears, with only a few faint music cues and effects hitting the surrounds. Dynamic range is a little flat and bass is fairly subdued. Balance between elements is handled well with emphasis placed on dialogue.
While not terribly immersive, the audio here is still pleasing, delivering the comedy with clarity and precision and giving the show's fun, jazzy soundtrack a nice bit of depth.
Supplements include commentaries on eleven of the thirteen episodes and some deleted and extended scenes. DVD versions of the show and extras are also included on the reverse side of each disc. All supplements are provided in Dolby Digital stereo sound with no subtitle options.
Thanks to the likeable persona and creative perspective of its star and creator, 'Louie: The Complete First Season' is much more than your average sitcom. Featuring some hilariously awkward situations, bold humor, and genuinely sweet insights, the first season of 'Louie' is a great start to what will hopefully be a long running series. The video and audio presentations are both solid, and with some great deleted scenes and commentaries the supplements are well worth your time. Highly recommended.