Friday, 6 June 2014

Has LOUIE lost its funny bone?

Friday, 6 June 2014

FX's LOUIE is one of the world's most creative, daring, thought-provoking, and unique comedies. It's a work of quiet genius at its best, and much of this is derived from the fact creator Louis C.K has full artistic control of the show. He stars in, writes, directs, and edits every episode. It also helps that it's such a low-budget project that FX don't interfere and are happy with it being a low-rated but prestigious cult. For those of us receptive to its unusual charms, Louie is one of the best television shows around. Unfortunately, this long-awaited fourth season sucks.

Louie has always been divisive, so chances are you completely disagree and think the currently-airing fourth season's fine, or perhaps even your favourite. I just find that hard to believe, when you stop to think back on the brilliance of past seasons (hitting its apex in season 2). I quite liked the first season, but it was finding its feet back then, and on reflection had issues Louis C.K resolved the following year.

Why has season 4 failed to resonate with me? Firstly, I haven't been laughing much. Of course, some of the best episodes of Louie aren't particularly funny, as the show has never been laugh-a-minute fare. It can be played surprisingly straight a lot of the time, but you always expect to be quietly amused and intellectually tickled. And there are usually a few hearty laughs thrown into the mix. But this season has been blowing tumbleweeds across my living room since episode 4—when the bulk of the narrative was dedicated to Louie running around a subway looking for his daughter, who'd stepped off the train before it left a station. It was a realistic portrayal of a father being scared witless by his child doing a very stupid thing, but it wasn't in the least bit funny.

And that's fine, I guess, but only to a point... because the next six episodes provided equally scant laughs, as the season began its "Elevator" arc about Louie falling in love with neighbour Amia (Eszter Balint), the Hungarian niece of an old lady (Ellen Burstyn) he helped rescue from a broken elevator. The idea of a middle-aged man chancing a relationship with a woman he can't understand verbally was amusing and cute in places, but was it worthy of dedicating a half dozen episodes towards? That's 42% of this entire season.

Comedy's very subjective by its nature, but drama slightly less so. I don't see why Louis C.K decided to spend so much time on a storyline that wasn't all that interested, endearing, or funny. He must have thought otherwise (of course), in which case I can only argue it was a miscalculation. Part of the pleasure of Louie is not quite knowing what you're going to get each week, but season 4's been dominated by the Amia storyline to a ridiculous degree. Maybe this is why FX have been broadcasting this season in weekly double-bills, to try and cushion the blow of this protracted storyline? The "Elevator" arc has only occupied three weeks of scheduling, whereas it might have lasted six in previous years.

Can Louie still be funny? Of course. I really enjoyed episode 2 ("Model") about Louie meeting an appreciative and beautiful fan (Yvonne Strahovski) after dying on stage at a fundraiser There was a brutally honest third episode about men's attitudes to overweight women ("So Did the Fat Lady"), with Sarah Baker's monologue now being required viewing everywhere. And they managed to coax the legendary Charles Grodin (Midnight Run) out of semi-retirement to play Louie's grouchy doctor! I can't deny the pleasure of that. But the rest of this season's highlights have been random jokes in stories I don't care about.

Many episodes have felt more sketch-y this year, too, which is a worrying sign Louis C.K's struggling for stories and relying on more random Family Guy-style comedy (the intruding garbage men scene, the bizarre weather forecasts). The most recent episode ("Pamela Part 1") even had one of the Louis C.K's stand-up sequences last a good five minutes or more in the middle, as if to fill an obvious lack of story.

There are still five episodes left to watch, so I'm hoping for a big turnaround now the Amia storyline appears to have ended. But considering Louis C.K took a year off from making this show, and we've thus been waiting two years for new episodes, I can't deny I'm disappointed in what I've seen. I only hope I'm in the minority and, for reasons of taste, most other people are happy with the output and don't have the same issues.

I certainly don't begrudge Louis making the show he wants to make (if this season's exactly his intention on reflection), because seeing an intelligent and funny man's peculiar world-view was always what made it special to begin with, but maybe I'm beginning to part ways with his vision?

Mondays, FX | Thursdays, Fox (UK)