Thursday, July 01, 2010

Hats Off to "Louie"

I've never been a particularly fervent follower of Louis C.K., but after his bumbling portrayal of Leslie Knoupe's law enforcement love interest on Parks and Recreation, I made it a point to check out Louie, his new FX sitcom that premiered Tuesday.

While Louie borrows pages from Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm in that the endearingly cynical comedian is portraying "himself," neither Jerry Seinfeld nor Larry David ever held themselves out to be this awkward and hopeless. C.K. portrays a beaten down, sad sack of a man. Mirroring C.K.'s real-life status, "Louie" is divorced at 42 with shared custody of two daughters. TV Louie has few ideas and even fewer options for reinventing his life as a single man. He's acutely aware of his shortcomings and he doesn't have the energy to pretend otherwise. The ill-fated date he goes on in the pilot episode is both cringe-inducing and instantly recognizable to any male who doesn't fit the suit when it comes to conventional dating techniques.

In our next episode, Louie reconnects through Facebook with a formative middle school crush who once commanded him to "whip it out" between cigarette drags and shots of Peppermint Schnapps. While better-adjusted adults would've left such events behind long ago as harmless anecdotes, it's clear that Louie is still hanging on to the humiliation of not having complied with the troubled young deb's command as a defining life event.

Louie trades in the kind of humor that is likely to inflame partisanship. It is most definitely a male-centric show replete with graphic riffs on why it would be okay to have sex with animals if (and only if) the animals were capable of consenting. At the same time, a sticky poker table discourse on gay sex is allowed to evolve into an unexpectedly poignant sidebar about what it feels like for a gay teenager to be called "faggot." Even if Louie doesn't end its 22-minute treatises with standard gift-wrapped repentance, the show deserves plenty of credit for its contradictory-yet-astute contemplation of the modern male condition.


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