Without giving too much away, in the first scene of the season, one of Louie's kids makes a casual statement that is heartbreaking. The kid doesn't know what she's said is hurtful; she's just being honest. There's zero melodrama in the scene, and Louie's reaction to his daughter's statement is funny because it's both realistic and brutally honest.
He doesn't punish the kid at all, but the rawness of his eventual reaction is painfully hilarious. It's a reaction I can picture having myself.
TV critics often blather on about "tone," and sometimes the vague use of that word covers for the fact that we don't like something but aren't exactly sure why. But I very much like 'Louie' and tone -- quite literally, tone of voice -- is crucial to the success of Louis C.K.'s show, which is even more consistently satisfying in its second season.
In the excerpts from his standup act and in the everyday situations that he depicts in this fictionalized version of his life, Louie is uncompromisingly honest, but rarely in a hostile or aggressive way. He talks about both loving his kids and sometimes wishing they weren't alive in the same calm, wondering tone, and it's that ability to address painful truths with matter-of-fact sincerity and even mild horror is a big part of 'Louie's' appeal.
But don't let the bemused, confused vibe fool you into thinking there's something soft and lazy about this show; there isn't. Both 'Men of a Certain Age' and 'Louie' rigorously deconstruct the dilemmas of life after age 35 with compassion, intelligence and precision. And I'd even go so far as to compare this FX comedy to 'Friday Night Lights' and 'Party Down,' in that all these shows are about the struggle to maintain a least a small shred of hope and dignity in a life that seems determined to wear you down.
Though some season 1 episodes dragged, there's more confidence on display and a consistent feeling of frisky tension in the first four episodes of season 2. You get the sense that anything could happen, from the surreal to the sad, and the sharp turns into fantasy or tragedy always feel earned. That's because we're following the curiosity that animates of one man's lively, intelligent mind, and the ideas that spring from that mind seem more fully formed and richly embellished this year.
Last year, the show usually consisted of two different vignettes loosely connected by on-stage bits, but this year, several episodes explore one theme or idea. I get the sense that Louis C.K., who writes, directs and stars in every episode, has a better sense of what works for the show and what will make for an interesting 'Louie' story.
Dating, working, friendship, the mixed bag of wonderfulness and tedium that is raising kids -- all of these things clearly take up a huge amount of real estate in Louis C.K.'s mind, and watching him tenaciously sort through his reactions to challenges in those arenas is always interesting, occasionally profound and frequently funny. 'Louie' may not be for everyone, but those who find themselves nodding during his self-deprecating monologues will find it hard to look away from this worthwhile show.
A couple of notes:Ryan McGee and I also talked about 'Louie' on this week's Talking TV with Ryan and Ryan podcast.Also, Time critic James Poniewozik has part 1 of an interesting in-depth interview with Louis C.K. here.