Sunday, September 29, 2013

Louie: Season 3 (TV) - Review

It's not controversial to say that Louis CK is the most successful contemporary comedian; it's also not controversial to say he may be the best. I love his standup, but he also has a television show which I somehow appreciate even more. When I first got into Louie, I did pretty much nothing else with my free time other than watch the show, as I was so engrossed. I remember thinking that the first season was absolutely incredible, although I thought, as a whole, the second was just okay. But even during the large rough bits of the second season, it was easy to watch because Louie is truly unique. I recently watched the third season; there are some issues, but overall it is very funny, very moving, and very great. 

Typically, on the surface, the stories told in episodes of Louie are seemingly mundane. Louie follows Louie CK, a fictional character based heavily on the real-life dude who plays him. He is a fat, middle-aged, divorced comedian with two kids and an awkward demeanor. We watch him be a father, date women, and work. Louis CK writes and directs the show, on top of playing the lead role. Popular comedians like Chris Rock and Sarah Silverman also have [great] cameos in the series, showing just how tapped into show business CK is.  

Louie is both a drama and a comedy, and it balances the two remarkably well in the third season. One of the best episodes is the third, in which our protagonist finds himself in Miami for work and befriends a hunky, friendly lifeguard. Against what Louie has always considered his sexual orientation, he gets some tension around the lifeguard, which makes for smart, awkward humor but also captivating storytelling. Another highlight of the season is a two-episode story arc in which Louie dates an eccentric woman with a depressing past - something that really shows. She acts wacky which garners laughs, but her phenomenal acting means that we can see the tortured part of her soul just by watching her facial expression. And then also Louie's reaction to her through his facial expression. This season of Louie can have me cracking up one moment and then tearing up a few minutes later. What I find most remarkable about Louie in general is its intimate grip on realism, and its control of such which allows it to create something that is truly compelling to watch. Much of the humor and drama rests on displaying the realistic in a way that affects.

This is why my biggest complaint with this season is the unrealistic curveballs that get thrown into the mix every now and then for shock laughs. These moments are downright cartoonish: For example, in one episode, a naughty kid whom Louie is babysitting shoves a baby carriage into oncoming traffic, creating a dangerous, toxic gas leak, and Louie's response is to head home and let someone else deal with it. Moments like this contradict and cheapen the actual, realistic characterization of Louie as well as the realistic set up of the show's world. My other complaint, which is lesser but still notable, is that it's not just consistency in tone that isn't properly respected, but also consistency in story continuity. Louie occasionally (and effectively) pulls from past episodes' plots, but sometimes it intentionally goes against past plots just for the heck of it. Continuity flubs can be forgiven when the changes make sense, but these changes seem pointless. Either respect continuity or make each episode its own thing; you can't have both. 

The curveballs really don't happen too often - think once every other episode, more or less, but some episodes are affected more than others. One otherwise excellent episode's climax is one of these moments, making it one of the weaker episodes. The continuity changes are annoying in their pointlessness, but being pointless does mean that things aren't changed in a way that really alters the story. These two things are problems, but not deal-breakers. At the show's best, witty comedy mashes with captivating drama to form a tour de force of exemplary, truly special television; it's just a shame that tonal and continuity inconsistencies bring it down sometimes.