By Caryn James | James on Screens June 23, 2011 at 1:00AM
The conventional take on Louie, Louis C.K.’s buzzed-about semi-autobiographical sitcom-with-stand-up, is that the show is unlike anything else on TV, but that’s not exactly the case. It’s an M-rated Seinfeld, a darker Curb Your Enthusiasm (of course, Curb has never been as dark as it pretends) .
Louis C.K. does have a distinctive style though, and like his stand-up the series can be startling in it scabrous honesty. It is extremely funny, as long as you have a tolerance for scathing humor that can abruptly turn into frat-boy fart jokes. (Louie begins its second season tonight on FX; the season 1 DVD has just been released.)
The fictional Louie – he spells the name differently, so it must be fake – is, like the real C.K., a stand-up comic and the divorced father of two young daughters. But in the sitcom he has actors playing his family, and his character seems to attract only the most neurotic women. He also might have the worst parenting instincts on television (and it takes a lot to be worse than the goofy-bad grown-ups on Raising Hope).
In the season opener, we see Louie give his five-year-old daughter the finger behind her back after she has said she prefers being at her mother’s (there’s better food.) The gesture is irreverently funny, in the style of the new best-selling book about parental exasperation, Go the Fuck To Sleep. The last thing we need is more sanctimonious good-goody parents on television.
The situation gets edgier when he gives his older daughter a snack – a mango on a popsicle stick – and gives nothing to the younger girl because, as he says when she asks for a mango pop too: Life isn’t fair. People aren’t treated equally; get used to it. C.K. – who writes, directs and even edits the series – lets us judge Louie for ourselves, leaving it unclear whether he’s a congenital doofus as a dad, well-meaning though he is, just thoughtless, or slyly preparing his daughter for the rough realities of life.
In the same episode. Louie’s pregnant, middle-aged sister shows up and the Funny or Die approach to comedy kicks in. We know those Funny or Die guys (including Will Ferrell and Adam McKay) are smart, but sometimes they love to indulge in juvenile humor, and you’re never sure when the punch line will be a gross-out joke.
Some people might say the high-meets-low humor is one of Louie’s strengths. I think the show’s blunt honesty and ambition make it worth sitting through a few dumb fart jokes.