Louis C.K. is one of the best comedians alive, which undermines the breadth of his talent. A lot of the great stand-up comics are no longer with us, but Louis C.K. is not just one of the best alive; he's one of the best period. In 2010, FX gave Louis his own TV show and complete creative control over it. The show, a fictionalized version of his day-to-day life, was titled Louie and it's now one of television's most acclaimed shows. As a huge fan of his stand-up, I was a bit disappointed with the first season. I found it lacking something I couldn't quite put my finger on. I enjoyed the format immediately; the story interwoven with stand-up material. However, those first 13 episodes left something to be desired. Season 2 is an entirely different beast and ultimately a much better show; darker, more emotional, funnier, and each episode seems more thoroughly thought-out. Louis C.K. has found a consistency and rhythm as an actor, director, writer, producer, and editor and he seems more confident with the tone and direction of his show. This season is also much more story-focused, even with one episode centering almost entirely on masturbation.
Watching the first season, I immediately noticed that Louie shares similarities with early Woody Allen films. It's a lazy comparison in many ways; both are comedians based in New York. Their humor is quite different, but there's a strong similarity in tone. The music, the New York setting, the dealings with human nature, etc. Allen's humor and dialogue is different from Louis', but the most substantial difference is simply that Allen's comedy is more refined and sophisticated. Watching this season I couldn't escape what a great idea it would be for Allen and C.K. to work together. Imagine my excitement at the recent announcement that he had joined the cast of Allen's upcoming film.
Moving right along, Louie starts strong in the first scene of the first episode. Like the first season, the show is not preoccupied with a linear narrative thread. It has a loose structure that disregards continuity in favor of self-contained vignettes that stand on their own merit and can be admired individually. With each new episode you can see Louis' growth as a director and his evolving depth as a storyteller. There are poignant meditations on life and death, as well as some quietly hilarious and subtle moments such as an inspired scene with Louie in a subway watching a man beautifully play his violin as a homeless man disrobes behind him and begins showering himself with a water bottle. Several episodes portray Louie's fruitless pursuit of Pamela (played by actress Pamela Adlon) and the two share some nice chemistry. In one scene, Louie professes his love for her in an extended monologue that ranks as one of the most poignant moments of the entire series. His dealings with Pam are generally the most emotionally resonant passages of the show. There's an extended episode entitled Duckling that follows Louie on a USO tour and it may be the most accomplished episode in his repertoire.
Two episodes that really stand out amongst the others are Oh Louie/Tickets and Eddie. The former begins with a rant against the poor quality of modern television, culminating in a face-off with Dane Cook (who plays himself). Many are familiar with the accusations that Cook lifted some of Louis' early material and the episode has the two engaging in a civil, well-written argument about this. The latter episode guest stars comedian Doug Stanhope and its cool seeing two of my favorite comics share the screen together. While Dane Cook essentially plays himself in his episode, Stanhope plays a broken-down comic named Eddie. Obviously, Stanhope and Eddie share similarities in their lifestyle and outlook but Stanhope brings an unexpected amount of pathos and depth to his role that is genuinely Emmy-worthy. Stanhope and C.K. have a strong dynamic together and it seems like there is a genuine friendship there. The entire episode is a triumph.
There are many other celebrity guest appearances. One episode features a humble and self-aware Joan Rivers, with a majority of the episode consisting of dialogue between Rivers and C.K. We actually see Louis discovering his strengths as a writer, as this extended dialogue between the two is mesmerizing. Other guest appearances include Steven Wright, Chris Rock, and F. Murray (all appearing in the finale).
Not every episode is perfect. While the first episode has a wonderful opening and is well-written and uplifting even, there's a long build-up to a joke that ends with flatulence. This joke is both lazy and unfunny, betraying the quality of what came before it. In the episode Country Drive, Louie takes his children to see their elderly Aunt Ellen. Much of the episode is filler (specifically in the driving scenes), but it contains a strong message and a particularly strong stand-up bit about the differences between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
This brings me to the stand-up material. The stand-up bits rarely disappoint and there is some very strong material here. I respect Louis for not using sub-par material in favor of making sure all of his strong material makes it into a stand-up special. There are some gems here, one of my favorite bits being his description of a sexual encounter in the show's second episode. As a comedian, Louis C.K. has this brilliant ability to get right to the heart of a topic with such simplicity. This especially works in his favor in the television format. He recently released much of the material here as an audio special entitled WORD: Live at Carnegie Hall through his website, but even my familiarity with it didn't make it lose its edge.
It's particularly impressive to note what a talented actor Louis C.K. is. As Louie he has established a likable, everyman persona that is a bit more sensitive and less confident than his stand-up persona. He plays a range of emotions in each episode, but the finale really puts his emotional range as an actor on full display. While it's hard to escape this scene's similarity to the conclusion of Woody Allen's Manhattan, it's a hilariously bittersweet ending that shows C.K. using some smart, subtle acting choices to convey his utter devastation.
As a 20-year-old, I find it almost depressing how much I relate to C.K.'s material. That's what makes his stand-up and his show so wonderful. It connects with you on a level that only the best stand-up comedians are able to achieve; the material makes you laugh, it makes you think, and it makes you relate. Louis C.K. is a real auteur, handling all creative aspects of this show and making each episode on a shoestring budget. I think the lack of a cohesive narrative thread actually succeeds in making the show more interesting. With ease, it allows him to toy with emotions of the viewer and cover a broader range of subjects. I applaud Louis C.K. for this wonderful second season of his television opus, as well as FX for giving Louis the creative control that has made Louie one of the most unique, dynamic, and economical shows on television.