The fifth season of the best show on television is on, and no, it’s not Game of Thrones. In August 2009, comedian Louis C.K.’s “Louie” got picked up by FX and it has slowly evolved into the most original, dark, and consistently funny show on television. Louis C.K. is one of the funniest, and possibly the most culturally significant comedian working today. Some of us might be familiar with his stand-up acts and his take on modern technology and human selfishness. However, much to my surprise, he and his show remain relatively unknown in our part of the world. Part of the blame may be laid on the fascination of the Indian audiences with shows like The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother– whose laziness and over-reliance on corny humour has been killing comedy for the past few years. With comedy on television at an all-time low, Louie‘s unique blend of cynical comedy and deeply personal worldview has proven to be extremely influential, as it inspires a new breed of sitcoms that rely on true humour rather than laugh-tracks to evoke a genuine response out of their audiences.
In the show, Louis C.K. gives a surrealist account of his own life as a comedian and single father in uptown New York; struggling with parenthood, love, his body and everything else a middle-aged man supposedly struggles with. The only source of joy in his life are his two daughters, and as they grow up, he keeps getting this feeling that he is being alienated from their lives. His children are not his only problem as he is a complete train-wreck when it comes to women. The women in his life are cartoonishly crazy, and thoroughly unstable; making it impossible for him to have a stable working relationship with any one of them. His professional life has also plateaued. Failing to replace David Letterman on the Late Night Show, he works in comedy clubs at nights- leading a thoroughly unsatisfying life, barely able to make ends meet. More than anything, Louie is a tragic figure, struggling to succeed at life, while failing at every turn. But every once in a while, Louie manages to produce this moment of pure genius which transcends its status beyond your average sitcom. For instance, in one of its episodes, Louie is seen struggling with the idea of dating an overweight woman. The way in which Louie, the director/ writer, deals with this scenario is absolutely breathtaking. The show might not deal with extraordinary problems, but the manner in which it engages with its own unique issues, and comes up with its little tidbits of everyday wisdom certainly makes it a special TV experience.
Louie also succeeds as a sitcom because of its constant need for reinventing itself. One week it is a surrealist exploration of the entertainment industry, and the next week it takes up melodramatic undertones. But each week, Louie shares this idea that elements of comedy are present in all of our human interactions- comedy is all-pervasive. In all of this, what is truly outstanding is that the show still stays true to Louis C.K.’s roots as a stand-up comedian. Nearly all the episodes have him performing an act on stage, with the act serving as a sort of transition from one story to another. The influence of Woody Allen on the show is evident from its quirky, idiosyncratic characters to its inextricable link to the city of New York. Another person who has had a resounding impact on the overall feel of the show is bizarro filmmaker David Lynch. Lynch has attained iconic status in the world of cinema for his use of the ‘dream sequence’. Influence of Lynch’s Twin Peaks series can be clearly seen as Louie uses surreal dream-like shots to exaggerate all that is absurd in the show. Having Lynch guest star in a couple of episodes also helps.
There have been some genuinely funny TV shows like Arrested Development and Community in the past decade, but their roots can eventually be traced back to either Seinfeld or The Simpsons. What makes Louie distinct is the unique vision of its creator. Much like Jerry Seinfeld in the 90’s, Louis C.K. has complete creative control over his show, allowing him to take risks which he normally wouldn’t have been able to take. But it is the chances he has taken that has allowed Louie to blossom into the best show on television.