Hysterically honest, awkward, and occasionally surreal, the FX sitcom, Louie, has solidified a spot on the short list of television series that I consider truly brilliant. Just as he does in his standup, series writer/editor/director/star Louis C.K. bravely tackles any issue here, from masturbation to war to racism, and he does so with his trademark comedic candor, applying an analytical eye to topics in order to reveal what is at once both humorous and tragic about them. Yet the series functions as much more than an uncritical validation of Louis C.K.’s comedic philosophies, a trap into which many sitcoms fall. In fact, C.K., as showrunner, lampoons his own beliefs/practices often more fervently than he does any other group’s in the series. Although he may not ultimately side with them in practice or ideology, he still allows those he opposes a voice within the semi-fictional world of the series, and not one that categorically paints them in a negative light.
We find a perfect example of this in episode eight of season two, “Come On, God.” In this episode, Louie faces off against the head of a Christian group against masturbation on national television in his defense of the activity, and subsequently befriend the young woman… sort of. Although this fictional woman opposes an activity that Louie has so often defended and that has become a lynchpin of his standup, he writes the character in such a way that the appealing aspects of her oppositional beliefs are respectfully highlighted. Other programs may have taken this opportunity to frame the opposition’s stance as foolish or ill-conceived, but not Louie. A similar situation occurs in the episode “On Louie/Tickets,” in which Louie sits down with comedian Dane Cook and they discuss whether or not Cook stole jokes from Louie in 2006, which is notably a real-life debate and a bit surprising that C.K. would so openly address in his series. But herein lies one of Louie‘s greatest strengths, for as a result we know that C.K. is ultimately willing to take the series anywhere.
As a result, we never know what to expect. For example, little did I expect a comedic series from Louis C.K., although surely the greatest comedian working today, to have so many transcendently beautiful moments as Louie does. The episode “Pregnant,” for instance, relates an incredibly touching message about neighbors, while the double-length “Duckling,” in which Louie goes on a U.S.O. tour of Afghanistan, surpasses all other episodes in the season in terms of poignancy and sheer emotional effectiveness.
Now, C.K. gets away with a lot on Louie and the series most certainly is not for younger audiences. With incredibly lax censorship, FX only censors the word “fuck,” for which they employ the typical censoring beep whenever it is spoken. While the censorship of but a single word here seems incredibly arbitrary, you can forgive the series this one flaw, for C.K. is otherwise afforded great freedom where the use of explicit language is concerned. For otherwise, Louie often refers passively to such things as “the constant flow of penises into your asshole” in the series’ dialogue without repercussion. However, the home video releases of Louie inexplicably maintain the network presentation’s censorship of “fuck,” something which I believe really should have been removed from the DVD and Blu-ray releases. But in truth, that constitutes the sole complaint I have about the series and its home video release, and it certainly shouldn’t compel you to avoid the series.
Special features on Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment’s DVD and Blu-ray releases of Louie: The Complete Second Season include audio commentary on select episodes with Louis C.K. and interviews with the cast at the World Premiere of season two as seen on the Fox Movie Channel.