Critic's Notebook: The Creative Evolution of Louis C.K.

Louis C.K. - Getty - H 2016
Getty Images

Louis C.K. - Getty - H 2016

There was a truly wonderful but also unnerving moment over the weekend, both exciting and deflating to hear.

Louis C.K., the man who created one of television's best and most consistently surprising comedies in Louie on FX, who then turned around and dropped the dramatic Horace and Pete on a surprised world via the internet, told THR's Scott Feinberg during his Awards Chatter podcast that there most likely would be no more Louie. But he also left open the possibility that the show could return, in a different incarnation, some time in the future. (Listen in full below.)

While that latter bit offers the tiniest bit of salve, the notion that Louie is essentially over after five seasons is a debilitating blow to television and the people who watch it (especially those who watch it for a living). But the part of this news that is, as noted above, "truly wonderful": that one of the medium's most innovative creators is very clearly going through a period in his life absolutely bursting with ambition and creativity.

More than anything, Horace and Pete made Louie, after five seasons, unnecessary in its current story iteration to the man who created it. And Horace and Pete, while still very much alive, contrary to reports, has opened up more doors — not just of opportunity, but inside C.K.'s percolating mind.

Here's what he told Feinberg about doing more Louie (which was already on "extended hiatus," as agreed to by C.K. and John Landgraf, who heads FX): "I think the guy that I played on the show, the just-divorced, kinda underwater dad/struggling New York comic — I don't think I have stories for that guy anymore. … But the show is autobiographical, so what John Landgraf and I have always thought is that it may come back with a different set of stories from a different angle a little further down the road. And I don't know where that's from yet, so it just depends on if it writes. I think, for me, if I'm on TV again doing a single-camera show, it's Louie. But I don't know. I have no idea. I needed to not know if I'd ever do it again — I needed to feel that way — so that's the way I feel right now."

Those are the words of a creatively restless, but also creatively assured and motivated, artist looking forward, not backward.

If you look into the construction of how he worded his response, there's a lot of "maybes" and "what ifs" that lend it that distinctly unlikely to happen vibe. And while that guts me as a critic, I'm ecstatic about the vitality that C.K. is displaying in creating things for, well, every conceivable outlet. He's already executive producer on two FX shows — Baskets and the upcoming Pamela Adlon vehicle, Better Things — and he's co-creating, co-writing and co-voicing an animated series with Albert Brooks, also for FX, along with thinking up ideas for movies and beyond.

Here's a great bit from Feinberg's interview where C.K. sounds like his creative impulses are excitedly untethered as he discusses the possibilities in front of him: "I'd love to make a Broadway play. I've had lunch with Broadway play producers who have said, 'If you write a play, we will put it on.' Horace and Pete is like a play — and we could adapt it for Broadway, we could do that. I'd like to do a new piece of material too. Maybe both. I'd like to go back to what I just did with Horace and Pete, and try that again."

C.K.'s career has always been about invention and new directions. It traces ambition from one idea to the next without ever seeming worried about or derailed by failure. When Landgraf and FX allowed him to make Louie completely by himself with almost no interference and certainly no muffler, it seemed to open up his mind to not only what could be possible from within, but how he could tinker with outside structure as well. This is best illustrated by him selling tickets and presenting his own product on his website, cutting out the middleman, then taking that to an entirely different level with Horace and Pete — which was this brilliant dovetail of personal creativity and fearless curiosity about the possibilities of "what if," logistical problem solving, execution and a dogged inclination to do it by himself and keep it quiet from even the people closest to him.

That's what I mean about wonderful — there's nothing quite like watching an artist produce work under the influence of bursting creativity and to watch that person be further invigorated by the success that each project brings. There's so much written about an artist's fallow period and the sense of loss that entails for the culture. We should also be attuned to those people who are in the grip of regenerating ideas and what a sublime state that must be to work in.

It's certainly where C.K. is right now. And if that means the end of Louie, so be it. I would rather follow artists who not only embrace change but attack it. Because even if they fail in their pursuits, at least they're not stagnant or content. That doesn't further art.

And I'm optimistic that C.K. is at the right place with FX. Landgraf has always understood that C.K. is a rare talent and has thus been nurturing and understanding in their relationship from the start. In fact, it was Landgraf, speaking to television critics in Los Angeles in January, who provided insight that was the most encouraging about the future of Louie, when he said this: "You know, to tell you the truth, we also had a conversation about, maybe this is a show that you’ll do periodically for the rest of your life, you know. Maybe this is a show you’ll do in your 40s, 50s, 60s, 70s, God willing your 80s, you know. Maybe it would be one of those odd television shows that will have 15 seasons over 40 years."

I could get on board with that. In the meantime, just watching C.K. create in the present is rewarding enough.

(Click above to listen to this episode now or click here to access all of our episodes via iTunesPast guests include Steven SpielbergAmy SchumerHarvey WeinsteinLady GagaWill SmithKristen StewartSamuel L. JacksonBrie LarsonJ.J. AbramsKate WinsletRidley ScottJane Fonda, Michael Moore and Sarah Silverman.)