Why you should start watching Louie

excerpt from “Why Louie is the next stage in the evolution of the TV sitcom” by by Todd VanDerWerff

“Television shows that blow apart the rules only come along in a genre every 20 years or so. The last TV sitcom to rip up the playbook and start over was Seinfeld, which was vaguely recognizable as the same sort of show as, say, The Cosby Show, but also seemed so unlike anything that had come before that it took TV (and viewers) a while to catch up to its innovations. Combined with The Simpsons, which debuted around the same time, Seinfeld invented a form of comedy that went faster and faster, that tossed more and more scenes into an episode and crammed them with as many jokes as it could. That evolutionary impulse led to other shows that realized eliminating the multiple cameras and studio audience Seinfeld still had to use would speed up the pace and allow for even more jokes. Something like Arrested Development or Community might seem wildly different, but tracing those shows’ evolutionary roots backward inevitably stops at Seinfeld or The Simpsons. (If there’s a show post-Seinfeld that had an influence nearly as large, it’s probably the original British The Office. While that’s one of the best comedies ever made, however, its influence stems more from presentation—which was a significant break from TV’s past—than it does from content, which was fairly typical workplace sitcom stuff turned up just a touch.)

This isn’t really the case with Louie. There’s really been nothing else like it in the history of television, and it seems likely that as the decades roll on, more and more shows will be influenced by its blend of cynical comedy and genuine pathos, as well as its deeply personal worldview. Because the show is so cheap to produce, other networks are already looking into replicating it in a way that will hopefully garner larger ratings. (HBO already has a somewhat successful comedy highly influenced by Louie in Girls.) Nobody would argue that there aren’t other good comedies on television, but when series creator, writer, director, and star Louis C.K. lost the Emmy for Outstanding Actor In A Comedy Series to Jon Cryer Sunday night, it was somewhat similar to James Gandolfini losing to Dennis Franz or James Spader back in the day: The two shows felt like they occupied entirely different television universes.

Like The Sopranos, Louie’s influence stretches beyond its actual success. (It took several seasons for The Sopranos to become the highly rated hit it was by the end of its run, though it seems unlikely this will happen to Louie, given shifting network models and ecologies.) Those who work in the TV industry frequently cite it as an influence, and in a keynote address at this year’s Montreal Just For Laughs Comedy Festival, Patton Oswalt insisted that networks that refused to look at Louie were behind the curve in terms of what made for good, innovative TV. Similarly, Louie regularly lands on critics’ best-of lists and is one of the best-reviewed shows on TV, and it’s had Emmy success (though the awards mostly seem flummoxed by what to do with it at the moment). And like The Sopranos, it’s never immediately clear which version of Louie viewers are going to get when they tune in from week to week. What started out as a collection of short films about a comedian’s life has expanded and expanded and expanded, until it’s started to feel like the series encompasses the entirety of the city in which it’s set. Louie is at the center of every episode, but the world of the show has gotten surprisingly consistent and much larger.

The biggest difference between the two shows in terms of their place in history is essentially one of scale. It took a while, but The Sopranos eventually grew into a massive hit, right alongside the TV-on-DVD industry from which it benefited. That made it harder to ignore more likely that networks would start looking for their own version of the show, broadening the TV landscape in ways that continue to this day. Louie is both inexpensive enough and popular enough (with certain sectors of the audience) to continue to be renewed, which FX will probably to do until C.K. wants to stop doing the show. But it’s nowhere near a big hit show, and it seems unlikely it ever will be.”

Read the whole article HERE.

And stop by the store to check out Louie: Seasons 1 & 2 on DVD.


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