Louie (Louis C.K.) continues his vain efforts to find love, learns that it’s often not a good idea to drop in on relatives you haven’t seen in a long time, has an odd encounter with an old friend, and travels to Afghanistan to entertain the troops.
Louis C.K. did it. He took the time off between seasons of Louie and worked out the kinks, turning a funny but even show into one of the three best comedy series currently be broadcast. The first season was good, but this sophomore season of the FX show is great, a big step forward in quality. It’s still a bit too messily ambitious to be perfect (although when it comes to faults, that’s not exactly a bad one to have), but C.K. is getting awfully damned close to absolutely nailing it.
I caught these episodes when they first aired, but I eagerly anticipated the chance to see them again. They’re that good. And they hold up extremely well under repeat viewings. My favorite episode from this bunch, “Country Drive,” was painfully funny the first time out, even funnier the second time. I can relate to its content (the elderly aunt Louie takes his young daughters to visit reminded me of some of my own relatives, a fact I’m not exactly proud of; the term she uses for a certain type of nut is something I grew up hearing, and learning the term isn’t just a regional thing did nothing to lessen my revulsion), and I found myself laughing in anticipation of what I knew was coming. That’s a rare quality.
Pamela Adlon is credited with helping devise plots for a couple of the episodes here, but C.K. is credited with all of the scripts. He also directed and edited all of the episodes. That was more or less the case with Season One, and in my review of that season I wondered if the workload was too much for C.K., thinking that his being the sole creative force was the source of the show’s unevenness. It now looks as if it was simply another case of a show needing time to find its footing. A lot of great shows have had less-than-stellar first seasons, not actually becoming great until their second years (Cheers, Parks and Recreation), and that’s the case here. Sure, it’s still too early to tell if Louie will end up a truly great show, but there’s no question this is a truly great season.
C.K.’s arrangement with FX remains the same: he keeps the budget down, the network allows him to do whatever he wants. Aside from an ongoing storyline in which Louie and Adlon’s character don’t hook up (which culminates in as great a takedown of climactic airport scenes as you’re ever likely to see), there’s no firm continuity from episode to episode or season to season. Depending on what C.K. is looking to achieve with any given episode, the tone can range from juvenile (one story is little more than masturbation jokes, but they’re great masturbation jokes) to darkly dramatic.
An entire episode here revolves around an old friend of Louie’s (played by Doug Stanhope) who grows tired of getting nowhere in his comedy career and plans to kill himself. There’s no way in hell that sort of thing would fly in a series in any way controlled by a studio; the chance of it being okayed is pretty much nil, and if someone did okay it there’s no way it would play out as it does here, as it’s obviously the work of a singular vision, not watered-down or made by committee. And it works. It jerks you around exactly the way C.K. wants, deftly navigating its emotional terrain.
The same is true of what’s arguably the season’s most talked-about episode. Based on an idea conceived by C.K.’s six-year-old daughter, the double-size “Duckling” finds Louie participating in a USO tour in Afghanistan. Unbeknownst to him, his younger daughter smuggled one of her class’s baby ducks into his luggage, believing it would keep her father safe. The episode includes the obligatory laughs (from both Louie’s standup and his failed attempts at cozying up to a devoutly Christian cheerleader who thinks he’s old and gross), but there’s an emotional undercurrent that runs through the whole story, one that shouldn’t work but does.
Louie keeps pulling out the duck (which naturally catches the eye of the nineteen-year-old cheerleader)--stroking it, giving it food and water, etc.--and what in the wrong hands could come off as nothing more than naked manipulation (as is usually the case anytime a cute animal is brought in) works like gangbusters. The ending alone could have killed the whole thing, but C.K. takes the time to make sure everything is given a proper setup, establishing a framework that somehow allows for a duck to be the fulcrum of a story that contains both explicit references to sex and a potentially deadly run-in with Afghan locals. I watched it all come together in awe of what he had achieved.
As great as it is, though, this season isn’t perfect. There’s one bizarre, surreal episode that plays like a failed shaggy-dog joke. It’s undeniably ambitious, but it doesn’t pay off in any satisfying way. The first half of the season finale plays like filler, taking far too long to get to an obvious conclusion. But so what if it’s not quiet perfect? A couple missteps out of thirteen episodes (most of which contain two stories) is still a good ratio. Besides, where else are you going to see Dane Cook sit down and listen to a fellow comedian (I hate using that word in reference to Cook, but never mind) tear him a new one? That’s definitely my kind of show.
The show is presented in its original 1.78:1 aspect ratio; the 1080p transfers have been encoded with AVC, and the thirteen episodes have been spread across two 50GB discs. I was once again surprised by just how good the show looks in high-def (the airings I saw were in standard-def), slicker and more cinematic than you’d expect from a low-budget show shot with digital cameras.
Detail is solid, depth is good, and colors are reproduced very well. There’s a slight dip in quality when the footage shot during Louie’s standup routines comes in (undoubtedly due to lighting conditions), and the image is occasionally marred by the same sort of mild aliasing, moiré, and banding you find in digital photography.
The sole audio option is a series of DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 tracks. There’s a slight upgrade in the quality of the mix in this season, with the audio being a bit fuller and more open than it was in the first year. Heck, there’s even some pretty good surround action in “Duckling.” Dialogue sounds very good, as does the music.
English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are available.
Louis C.K. provides five audio commentaries. As was the case with the commentaries on the Season One set, these are primarily concerned with the nuts and bolts of production.
Fox Movie Channel Presents (5 minutes, SD) is a promo piece that was aired shortly before this season premiered.
Its place in the grand scheme of television comedy remains to be seen, but as it stands right now, Louie is easily one of the best comedies currently being broadcast.