Louie: The Complete First Season

(2011) *** 1/2 Unrated
281 min. FX. Director: Louis C.K.. Cast: Louis C.K., Ricky Gervais, Bobby Cannavale, Stephen Root, Tom Noonan, Matthew Broderick, Pamela Adlon.

/content/films/4088/1.jpgAfter taking a shellacking on his one-season, 2006 HBO sitcom Lucky Louie, comedian Louis C.K. wasn't, on the face of it, the best bet for a new sitcom. But C.K. took the auteurist approach to his FX sitcom Louie, not only creating and starring in it, but writing and directing every episode (and editing many). Abandoning the three-camera past for the one-camera present, C.K.'s new sitcom has a looseness about it that could have been fatal but which ends up working in the series' favor. Seemingly conceived on the fly as much as it's shot on the fly, Louie cultivates the unexpected.

C.K.'s credits include several collaborations with Chris Rock (The Chris Rock Show and Pootie Tang among them) and a guest-starring arc on Parks and Recreation, but he's probably best-known as a stand-up comic. The screen Louie closely resembles the real-life Louie: both live in New York City and perform regularly at the Comedy Cellar, both are divorced, and both have two kids. Certainly there are observational roots to C.K.'s profane comedy (interspersed Seinfeld-style with the storylines), but C.K. puts absurd spins on his own existence, with a definite Woody Allen influence. The best example may be the scene in the "Pilot" when Louie's disasterous date ends with the woman escaping by helicopter. But C.K.'s short-film approach gradually becomes more confident and fully realized, culminating in the much-discussed "God" episode that darkly explores Catholic-school education of a certain vintage.

The wildly disparate elements of the first season allow Louie to field-test several sitcom styles, and to succeed at most of them. The domestic scenes with his girls are always sincere and rarely played for laughs, but often put alongside comic business, as when one of Louie's daughters approaches him with a question just after he's been spouting filthy jokes. The daughters stay mostly at the margins, emerging to give Louie's sad and restless life meaning. Mostly, the show explores the anxieties of middle-aged dating (including ill-advised attempts to hook up with an African-American grocery checker and reconnect, via Facebook, with a childhood crush), dubious health and diet (Louie is an ice-cream junkie with a mean-spirited joker for a doctor, played to the hilt by two-time guest star Ricky Gervais), and career (a surprisingly funny film-shoot bout with Matthew Broderick). Bobby Cannavale also shows up twice, as a fellow parent who tries to get Louie exercising.

Louie is at its best when following an idea to its illogical conclusion, as in the weirdly affecting "Bully" episode, in which Louie follows a bullying teen to Staten Island for a late-night confrontation on the bully's home turf. The ideas often fizzle out oddly, but that only seems to add to the sense that—absurd as it all is—it's a warped reflection of real life and its conspicuous lack of tidy endings. And so it is that "God" finds Louie wrestling with and exorcising his memories of being terrorized with vivid and detailed descriptions of Christ's suffering on the cross, the better to lay on him a lifetime of guilt. C.K. daringly allows the show to enter dramatic territory, with Tom Noonan playing it deadly straight as the doctor recruited by boy Louie's nun teacher to give the full, creepily clinical account of the Passion. The story's "resolution" has a couple of comic twists to it, including a suggestion that C.K.'s compulsion for ice cream gives new meaning to "comfort food."

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Aspect ratios: 1.78:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 6/21/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Louie: The Complete First Season comes to home video in a terrific 2-Disc Blu-Ray + DVD set from Fox, using dual-format flipper discs (Blu-ray on one side, DVD on the other). The transfer for the Pilot raises an alarm with distracting aliasing (even on a small monitor, the shimmering on a brick wall drew attention), but subsequent episodes have few digital artifacts; the rest of the thirteen episodes (all shot on digital) turn out to be clean, crisp and detailed, with good color, contrast and texture. It also seems clear that the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixes maximize the source material, which is at times imperfect. The location audio isn't always as well resolved as the interior sound, but dialogue is always clear, and there's some humble activity in rear channels for a bit of ambience.

Series creator, writer, director Louis C.K. provides commentaries for all but two of the episodes, and he's an engaging host. He can comment authoritatively about all aspects of pre-production (including the scripts, which were sometimes half-written when he started shooting), production, and post-production. He's also, of course, quite quick, and keeps the proceedings amusing and self-deprecating.

Also here are five "Deleted and Extended Scenes" (33:54, HD) with Louis C.K. intros and afterword. These are well-worth watching, and the C.K. intros add plenty of info about how the show is constructed.

"Fox Movie Channel Presents: Louie - Writer's Draft" (3:47, SD) is a short but enoyable promo with C.K. explaining his idea for the show.

With the second season hitting screens, this value-packed Blu-ray/DVD release is well timed to boost the audience for Louie.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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