Louie is unlike any other sitcom on TV, if it can even be classed as such. Its creator, the eponymous Louis C.K., breaks traditional sitcom rules, plays around with storytelling techniques and, like Seinfeld or The Office before it, is influencing countless other comedy-drama shows, from Transparent and Broad City, to Looking and Girls. C.K. has solidified his position as the king of stand-up while also evolving into a gifted filmmaker.
From the beginning Louie was never a simple show in terms of its themes, but what started as a set of short films split by stand-up performances had, by last season, grown into a complex series, with multi-episode story arcs. These arcs expertly blended meditations on fatherhood, middle-age, love, childhood, loneliness, with comedy and pathos. C.K.’s show is one of the most innovative out there, truly guided by the vision of one man given the freedom to tell any story he wants, in any way he wants, by the channel FX.
Always looking to change and to experiment, there was a lot of interest from Louie’s (criminally small) viewership in what direction he would take his fifth season. On the evidence of the first episode “Pot Luck”, there is no great change yet, but instead a return to more compressed stories, one episode in length and bookended by his stand-up. It would also seem to indicate a return of the laugh-out-loud moments that got somewhat pushed into the background last season.
“Pot luck” begins with Louie telling his therapist that he just doesn’t know what to do in his life any more, in what is perhaps a veiled reference to his uncertainness of where to take the show from here. He realises in horror though, that his confessions are sending the other man into a stupor – “Oh my god, I’m a boring asshole now.” It shocks Louie into action, and so he decides to finally participate in a ‘pot luck’ evening with the parents of his daughter’s classmates. Yet even when he tries, Louie, ever the sad-sack, just can’t get it right and the world doesn’t make sense for him.
In the first of two wonderfully hilarious yet cringe-worthy scenes, mirroring each other and shot in a flowing one-take style, Louie is warmly greeted and accepted as he enters the ‘pot luck’ party. However, when the chanting begins he quickly realises that the reason he doesn’t know anyone isn’t his lack of attendance over the years, but because this is some sort of cult. Making his apologies, Louie quickly extracts himself from the situation, forgetting his homemade fried chicken in the process.
His welcome to the proper party couldn’t be in greater contrast, with the host, Marina (Judy Gold) grabbing the replacement fried chicken he has bought from KFC and storming back to the kitchen. Louie then proceeds to torpedo his first conversation, hilariously ending a discussion about his daughter with “yeah, she’s better than you”, and is then quickly pushed out of a chat filled with fantastic asides about the host’s surrogate with a withering “it’s private”. Who is crazier, the cult or these ‘normal’ people?
Unsurprisingly Louie is soon out on the street, shortly joined by the surrogate, Julianne (Celia Keenan-Bolger). What follows is the kind of unexpectedly sweet yet uncomfortable situation, and with an ultimately comically bad outcome, that he often finds himself in with women. The pair share an Uber home and, ever trying to be a good guy, he helps her up to her apartment. He asks to use her bathroom, and while he enters the camera stays on the surrogate, he face contorting in sadness as the hormones and her situation get to her, all sound tracked in brilliant fashion to Louie taking a leak.
Julianne unloads her sadness on him, telling him how alone she is, that she didn’t realise how hard it would be and lamenting what she’s lost, like her sexuality. Louie tries to comfort her, relating how hard it was for his wife, he empathises with her, and, in what he assures is a non-predatory way, assures her that she is still a sexual being; that she is beautiful and he would want to look at her all day long. It’s a lovely, sweet moment but, this being Louie, it all comes quickly crashing down when she kisses him and they start having sex right there in the hallway. Soon enough her water breaks all over him, leading to her being rushed to the hospital, ruining the parent’s birth plans. Marina goes off on him and advises that he “do the world a favour and cut off you d**k, and then eat it.” And so continue Louie’s attempts to try and live in the world without it continually unloading all over him.
It may sound like a somewhat typical episode of Louie, but the beauty is in the details, the exhilarating feeling of being in the hands of someone so at the top of their craft. It’s not an episode for the ages, but it’s an exciting platform for the new season.
Louie airs on American channel FX Thursday nights