TV MONTH: Louie (2010 - present)
by Andrew Root
“This is how my brain works: It’s stupidity followed by self-hatred and then further analysis.”
– Louis C.K
Who would approve a show like this? Who would take the structure of Seinfeld (single comedian, playing a version of himself living in New York, each show bookended by standup sets) and saturate it with dark, feverishly self-abasing characters and scenarios? Who would give complete creative control—including writing, directing, and editing privileges—to a single pot-stirrer with a history of delving headlong into palatably uncomfortable topics? It doesn’t make any sense. Why does Louis C.K. have his own show? Moreover, why would he want to devote years of his life to exploring the minutiae of topics like:
- Why he’s bad at caring for his daughters.
- Why he’s a bad actor.
- Why he’s in bad shape.
- Why he’s a slave to his overindulgent personality.
- How he’s playing the standup game all wrong.
- Why he’s a terrible date.
- How he hates everybody.
- How everybody hates him.
- An exploration of his masturbatory shame.
- Why he’s a bad son.
- How the only relationships he is capable of fostering quickly regress into murky, demented psychodramas involving repressed Elektra complexes and runs to the store for blueberries.
Unlike Jerry Seinfeld, who played an idealized version of himself, Louis C.K. mines the depths of his darker side to create a pathologically flawed version – the titular Louie. He reserves the right to call it fiction, but if he’s taking the luxury of reserving that right at all, why not just commit to an entirely fictional character? Why would he confront head-on one of the greatest controversies of his real-life career (that Dane Cook unapologetically stole one of his jokes) by inviting Cook himself onto the program for a not entirely flattering portrayal and a decidedly unresolved conversation? Why would he devote an entire episode to an intensely graphic description of the scourging of Christ, followed by the traumatic wailings of an eleven-year-old? Let’s go smaller: Why did he include a guy flipping off the camera in the opening credits?
It’s stomach-wrenching. It’s difficult to watch. I certainly can’t show it to anyone. What would I say? Picture yourself at a dinner party: Someone shares a story about how their child was bullied at school and they’re just beside themselves about what to do. And you pipe up with a synopsis of Louie’s encounter with those two crack heads on Halloween and how he straight-up threw a trashcan through a store window so the alarm would go off. Congratulations. You have just made everyone uncomfortable. But why do I – like that unfortunate party-goer – burst with the desire to share the demented goings-on of Louie’s everyday life? Is there something wrong with me? Because, honestly, there might be if I actively enjoy something like this.
This is just a bad way to do business. Apparently, Louis C.K. turned down offer after offer for a show because he wasn’t being given enough creative control, which is kind of crazy when you add in a dose of perspective. When the show started, he was a stand-up comedian with a few credits under his rapidly expanding belt, but now he’s demanding that he gets to edit his own sitcom. You know who doesn’t get their own edit? Hardly anyone. In older stand-up videos, he’s not exactly breaking new ground… up until a few years ago when he first called his four year old daughter an asshole. I mean, he gives his daughter the finger in the show! She tells him that she likes living at her mom’s house better and as soon as she leaves to go, he flips her off! And this man is nominated for major awards!
This is the man who was permitted to show a man on screen literally decapitated by a garbage truck. I’m dumbstruck by this not just logistically, or from a standards and practices perspective, but in terms of its debatable dramatic function. Did it serve the story because he then gets to go on a date with a pretty woman? She doesn’t even like him! The whole segment functions to illustrate that shallow women are attracted to aloof men who are headed vaguely upward. The arrogance of using himself to make that point is beyond belief! And at the expense of a human life! He killed someone as the setup for a joke.
So, let’s take stock here: Louis C.K.’s got himself some show business success and he leverages that into a show sitcom wherein he appoints himself as a kind of sympathetic punching bag where for whom the ills of world (including those within our protagonist himself) serve only to illustrate what a bummer the world is. When he flirts poorly, it’s only because the woman he’s flirting with is ungrateful and blind to what a good guy he actually is. When he doesn’t go to the doctor very often, it’s only because his doctor is Ricky Gervais (both in attitude and portrayal). When he shouts down his own mother in the middle of a restaurant, it’s only because she’s been distant, unloving, and… attention-seeking for his whole… life… Wait…
3. Further Analysis.
I might have been a bit of a bummer. Louie does not live in a nice city. He does not have an easy job. He’s divorced, and his kids - in the genuine simplicity and directness that only children have - prefer their mother’s house. He’s lonely. And Louis - his creator - is struggling to do something new, something truthful. Watching Louie be hospitalized because of five pushups rings more true to our current human condition than the affairs of meatheads and socialites on any number of reality shows.
What does it mean to be a character like Louie? He’s an observer—someone with enough capacity to recognize that he lives in an absurd world, but without the means to pull himself out of that world. There are moments when he gets just as railroaded as the rest of us. When his sister goes into premature labour (the longest and most traumatic fart joke ever seen on television), he is a criss-cross of conflicting impulses. His neighbours offer to help, but he also lives in New York and doesn’t know them. He has to choose between his sister losing her baby, or trusting a complete stranger with his sleeping children. God forbid that anyone should have to make that decision.
There’s an old single-panel comic strip called Herman, drawn by Canadian artist Jim Unger. It was similar in style and tone to Gary Larson’s iconic The Far Side, and usually featured one character stoically coping with some kind of absurd situation, from a husband’s bafflement at the giant pair of cymbals his wife brings into the car to keep him from falling asleep at the wheel, to a salad bar attendant whose customers order a lettuce and gin. The strip doesn’t feature recurring characters, just similarly drawn, variously blobby humans (and sometimes animals) who deliver mystifying one-liners and cryptic demands; a classic straight man/funny man formula, but never with the same two characters. Unger has said that none of the characters are the eponymous Herman, and simultaneously they all are. It was up to the reader to decide. I always thought that Herman was the one who took in the madness of the world around him, putting up with it the best he could.
That’s Louie. Louis C.K. has put a version of himself in a myriad of absurd situations, both internally and externally motivated. He’s blessed and cursed with insight, meaning that he hates the cruel world he lives in, but also the twisted, ice-cream scarfing creature it has made him into. And somehow, he’s managed to tap into something relatable. Louie’s an anti-hero of sorts, in the same way 30 Rock’s Liz Lemon is. He’s a mess so we don’t have to be, so that we can admit to ourselves that we’re kind of messed up, too. It’s still kind of a mystery why we like watching him so much. Does Louie speak to a larger paradigm of characters who have a hard time coping with the various side facets and responsibilities of their lives? From Mad Men to Parks & Recreation to Breaking Bad, modern television is littered with characters who just can’t hold it together. You don’t have to look too deeply into the lives of everyday people to see that maybe we’re not as held-together as we like to think.
Louis C.K. has tapped into something compellingly mysterious in the common person. I don’t think we ever realized that we could be this fucked up and still keep going, keep smiling. Because he’s made it his professional mission to constantly surprise himself, the audience never knows what he’s going to do next, but we know that it’ll be based in truth—in some kind of shared experience. Life is hard. It’s really fucking hard sometimes. But what are you going to do? You keep going. If Louie can keep going, the rest of us can, too.
Andrew Root has never watched Louie with another person and he probably isn’t going to. He tumbls here.
- lettyt likes this
- tastybrain likes this
- aclockwork likes this
- sneakingferocity reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom
- sneakingferocity likes this
- prettygoodiguess likes this
- anagoeswest reblogged this from senhoritaspencer
- anagoeswest likes this
- shizzler likes this
- senhoritaspencer reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom
- harrison78666 likes this
- tragos likes this
- off-tonowhere likes this
- thekeri likes this
- syzlak likes this
- cityofbridges likes this
- nafiy likes this
- round23ak reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom
- ecantwell likes this
- osso likes this
- thepusherman reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom
- sarahwrotethat likes this
- afternoondeelite likes this
- achaoticmasterpiece reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom
- achaoticmasterpiece likes this
- restinvermont likes this
- rutabagaparsnip likes this
- venusvandam likes this
- prettysortofmarvellous likes this
- achicknamedbertram likes this
- xhotin likes this
- murmurandshout likes this
- frauwallace likes this
- peakcapitolism reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom
- empiricalmediatheory likes this
- cherylau likes this
- hidingundertrees reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom and added:
- samwise-the-brave likes this
- hummingbirdheartbeat likes this
- ornyxo likes this
- neitherfamenorfortune reblogged this from brightwalldarkroom and added:
- starkickback likes this
- joeybear likes this
- zenthing likes this
- lebkuchens likes this
- thewyattkrutsch likes this
- ohhhmadeline likes this
- tvsfrankswildyears likes this
- becausemypenranoutofink likes this
- thisislobster likes this