This piece is less of a review or critic; it’s more of a brief look into what I love about Louie and what Louis C.K. has done with the role of a showrunner. In the spirit of the show I didn’t preplan extensively what I was going to write and instead just put down whatever came into my head.
I love Louie for reasons I dislike many sitcoms. It has no standard structure, no clear rules within the show’s universe, and an inconstant cast (many of which are reasons why Glee is such a mess). And yet it uses all this qualities, which would normally be considered flaws and turns them into great assets. With each episode of Louie you never know what you’re going to get. One episode is almost entirely a flashback, another is a few laughs somber drama, and others can be just purely funny. Community may play around with structure and the conventions of a sitcom, but Louie challenges the notion of what it means to be called a half hour comedy. Sometimes a plot covers a whole episode, others may take up only a third, and then the episode plays out as a series of short films.
Each episode is only quasi-related, often with little in its world kept consistent. In season one Louie has a brother, but it’s said in season two he simply doesn’t. The same actress who plays Louie’s date in one episode, plays his mother in a flashback in a later episode of the season. There’s no meaning or reason to why it’s the same actress. Its simply because Louis C.K. liked the actress and decided to cast her again. The show is used to explore the comedian’s mind, rather than explore a narrative tale. The only thing in the show’s universe that appears to be safe is Louie’s a single dad with two young daughters, he cares about his kids, and he’s a stand up comic (all of which is true of C.K. himself). Anything else is fare game for the show to play with.
But despite the show’s apathy for constancy, it never feels like the episodes don’t belong together, as they each all share the same distinctive vibe and moody atmosphere. While the tone may not actually be consistent, C.K. makes it feel as if it is, whether the episode is more funny or dramatic. The world of Louie is one that’s a little lonely, perhaps a bit messed up, sad and melancholy, yet never without hope. The show isn’t bleak, but rather feels like it’s taking place on a cloudy day with just a hint of sunshine. For me personally I find the show plays best when it’s watched late at night and into the early morning. There’s something that just works when the show’s somber atmosphere is paired with the quietness of the late night.
Where Louie is significant from other shows is it being the ultimate culmination of the power of a showrunner, taking the role to the next level by becoming a full auteur. Louis C.K. not only stars in the series, but also is the writer, director, producer, and editor of every single episode. Nothing occurs on the show that isn’t 100% decided by him. To make the pilot FX gave him 200,000 dollars and told him to do whatever he wanted. AMC as a channel prides themselves on the freedom they gave their showrunners (perhaps too much freedom in the case of Veena Sud and The Killing, but that’s a whole other subject), but even the network’s flagship auteur Matthew Weiner of Mad Men doesn’t have the same level of creative freedom C.K. does, as shown by Weiner’s recent struggles with the channel over issues such as budget, number of cast members, and length of each episode. C.K. on the other hand was able to use his goodwill with FX to convince them to double the budget for the season two finale, allowing him to set the episode in Afghanistan (though shot in Texas and California).
According to James Poniewozik’s profile of the comedian for Time titled “Louis CK’s DIY TV”, he keeps almost none of the show’s budget for himself, taking only the union minimum for his paycheck. He sees the show as an advertisement for his stand-up, using that as his main source of income. And in that case, Louie is one of the best ads I’ve ever seen.
Louie airs Thursdays at 10:30pm on FX.