Before season 3 starts and more people around the world discover its genius, I thought I’d re-watch Louie from the start and try to find out just what makes it so special. Creator Louis C.K does everything; writes, acts, directs, edits, possibly influences the craft service, so everything you see is his vision, and nothing is tied to convention or network notes or viewing figures which hampers every other show in existence. This one of a kind deal, dubbed “the Louie Deal” by the press is all well and good, but it would all mean nothing if C.K’s vision wasn’t so bleak, so twisted and so funny.
The show initially gained comparisons to the two Larry David sitcoms that made his name; Seinfeld and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Both comparisons have their merits, as Louie and Seinfeld are shows that juxtapose stand-up material with the odd situations that inspired it and Louie and Curb are about bald comedians getting themselves into horribly awkward situations. But both comparisons end up missing the mark completely.
Re-watching this first episode, I didn’t expect to see many traits of the show be on display, but the events shown here map out the themes that Louie would continue for the rest of the show’s run, making it the perfect intro to the show. There’s stand-up, there’s Louis caring for his kids, and there’s Louie dating badly. If you wanted to do the show a disservice, you could say that by and large that’s all it’s about.
Also introduced here is the fact that the episodes aren’t just about a situation that resolves itself by the episode’s end, but are made up of short films broken up by stand-up material. This structure of course would be broken by C.K on many occasions, showing that the show doesn’t have a set structure, but for the show’s first episode it’s quite different to everything else.
After the credit sequence and some stand-up material that introduces the fact that Louie is 41, single and a confident father, the first short film begins. Apparently a true story, it sees Louie with his daughter and the rest of her class get on a bus for a field trip. Louie has to tell the bus driver not only where to go, but how to get there. Louie’s directions get them on a road that is illegal for a bus to drive on, which ends up with the bus hitting a bridge, getting a flat tire and ending up somewhere in Harlem. Louie calls in a favour and gets an individual limousine for each kid to drive home in. End scene.
To introduce the tone of the show this sequence, like most of the best things that happen on the show, works in subtle ways . Not much happens, no characters are introduced, and there aren’t a lot of jokes. But we see Louie spending the day with his daughter, we see Louie getting insulted, we see a surreal ending that is somehow almost plausible and the entire situation, while not played for laughs in the most traditional sense, is hilarious if you think about it. All of these are themes of the show that pop up again and again.
After some more stand up, the second sequence begins, which sees C.K go on a first date with an unnamed character (as most characters are in this show) played by Chelsea Peretti. Is it the worst date ever? It ends in a helicopter ride, so it’s not all bad. But that’s after Louie’s smiling the exact same dicky smile constantly at Peretti on the subway and talking about his daughter’s angry infection on her vagina. While the date is atrocious, everything feels real, which makes the entire thing almost painful to watch, which of course makes it very funny. It’s also the second of two surreal endings, with Peretti’s character getting the aforementioned helicopter ride just to escape Louie.
The episode ends with a joke about Louie having to put down his dog due to a tumour on his snout. According to the commentary, the testing audience hated this ending, saying it was too bleak. While I agree that the joke is incredibly depressing, the way it is delivered by Louie is hilarious. That basically sums up the show – depressing situations played for laughs. It’s no coincidence that as the show gets darker and darker, it also gets funnier and funnier. Did I mention it’s genius?