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Louie: TV Review

"Louie"
FX
Louie C.K. in "Louie"

The Bottom Line

A fictional look at the life of Louie C.K., based kinda-sorta on his own, filled with outrageous laughs, a DIY sensibility, no creative interference and the kind of ground-up originality that's so simple and hilariously true that it almost shocks you with how naturalistic the show is.

Premieres

10:30 p.m. Thursday, June 28

Still TV's greatest comedy, with observational humor, a sad-sack life, a fearless look into the mundane -- FX's "Louie" is a thing of original beauty.

The first season of Louie on FX was like landing on a familiar but completely foreign planet. It was a television show that didn’t look much like anything that had ever come before it. There was this loose, almost improvisational feel to it but you never once thought that series creator Louie C.K. had his eye off of any detail. It was a comedy about a comedian’s everyday life, so it was always funny but never in ways that were predictable but often in ways that were jaw-droppingly hilarious. And right there in front of your face, when you didn’t think it would happen and were surprised by its impact, there was this sweetness, this completely real humanity to it.

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In all honesty, that first season felt like Louie C.K. had pulled a heist on Hollywood.  You couldn’t believe the show was ever green-lit.

In the second season, you had a bunch of new people coming to check out the buzz and the early adopters worried that what they’d seen a season before was a fluke or something that would be taken away from them, like FX made a mistake and wanted to recall it.

But no – Season 2 of Louie was tremendous and painfully funny and crazy with originality. And it was even better than Season 1.  He was now a star – always had been with is stand-up comedy career and writing for television. But this was a different level because Louie was the prototype DIY show, where FX sent Louie C.K. the money and left the creator, writer, star, director and editor alone to do his work. When you get that level of respect as an artist, people tend to be in awe.

(It certainly seems that maybe Lena Dunham took a look at what Louie was doing and it fueled her to do whatever she wanted with Girls, because both of those series are clearly the most original on television.)

So as Season 3 of Louie kicks off on Thursday, June 28 at 10:30 p.m., the question most people should be asking themselves is, “Why the hell am I not watching this show?”

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It’s no secret that Louie is more cult than barn-raising hit. But the beauty of the show is that you don’t need to have seen one frame of the first two seasons to immediately get what’s going on in the series.

It’s about Louie, a divorced comedian and father of two really cute and perceptive girls. Louie has a hard time figuring out life, which can easily crush him. He has even more difficulty finding love, or even someone he can really communicate with. He’s an accomplished masturbator. He’s a man who at once says the wrong thing directly and also the right thing wrapped up in a flurry of words that seem painful for him to conjure and then speak. He’s surprisingly sweet. He’s a devoted father. His observations on life leave him thinking that the black clouds will one day clear to reveal even darker black clouds, this batch complete with life-zapping lightning.

And that’s really the beauty of Louie. You pull for him, even when you want to strangle him. He’s the sad sack in all of us, the person we become when we’re overcome with doubt or can’t seem to do anything right. Louie is king of the mojo-less. He’s just a guy trying to get through the day, period.

Having watched the first five episodes of Season 3, Louie is as great as ever and seems to be shifting into a higher gear, when no one thought that option was even available.

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But here’s the thing – it’s nearly impossible to describe an episode of Louie precisely because so little happens. Each one has him doing stand-up as his job. Sometimes what he talks about there is what we see, sometimes not. For instance, he marvels that he’s heard every joke imaginable after 25 years in the business except for the one his daughter told him that day. He can’t break up with his girlfriend – it’s not even clear that he wants to – so she has to do it for him. He’s set up on a date. It turns very weird. The whole concept of the show, and the premise for each episode, is minimalist, which leaves room for exquisitely uncomfortable scenes (the second episode, featuring special guest Melissa Leo looks to be an instant classic). It also lets the show breathe and that’s where the naturalism – this show’s secret trick – comes from. But perhaps the best element of Louie is that it doesn’t feel obligated to be punch line heavy or even every-other-scene funny. The series has earned the right to be about whatever small adventure Louie C.K. goes on. Look no further than two odd, funny and touching episodes (the fourth and fifth) featuring Parker Posey in this season. Both feature the by-now familiar offbeat rhythms of the storytelling and what constitutes an ending to a scene (or an episode) in Louie, which still seems odd (because we as viewers are so schooled in the norms of 50-plus years of television).

In its third season Louie is the gold standard for comedy and it remains both ridiculous and humanistic as ever, like a show handed over to a guy who didn’t want to make something the way that everybody before him had.

Email: Tim.Goodman@THR.com

Twitter: @BastardMachine