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Saturday, 31 of October of 2020

You’re Ruining Louie for Everyone

Far be it from me to initiate some sort of backlash against Louie at all, but the show has been receiving a lot of press lately, both public and private. Everything from academic television blogs to GQ have been weighing in on the show. My Twitter feed has been populated with takes on the second season in what feels like a monsoon torrent of 140 character comments. Even my relatively small smattering of friends on Google+ adds its two cents worth, posting clips and qualifying the show with pleading recommendations and tallied +1 button taps. The consensus: it’s pretty good.

My saying that “it’s pretty good” is probably funny to you because the praise for the show has become so hyperbolic any adjective not ending in “est” doesn’t play anymore. The greatest show on television. The funniest show on television. Landmark. Important. Sit-com of a generation (although usually those reviews disclaim by saying it’s not a sit-com because it’s SO original and SO genre-bending that it defies the “situational comedy” misnomer).

I’m not here to tell you not to feel your feelings. You have investment in this program and I respect that, applaud it even. All of television is art (no matter who may tell you otherwise) and is, therefore, subjective. I love Gilmore Girls. Some people think that show is either (a) too verbose, (b) too saccharine, and/or (c) for bitches. That last one is a quote. So no one can tell you whether or not you can like, love, or honor a show. I like Louie. I really do.

But you guys have to cool it. You’re going to ruin it for everyone.

GQ ran a story last month on Louis CK that offered pull-quotes from several comedians, including Patton Oswalt, who said being around Louis CK must be like what comedians around Richard Pryor must’ve felt like. Richard Pryor, the oft-exalted innovator of stand-up in the 70s. Those are tough shoes to fill and a pretty monumental thing to live up to.

I can’t really speak to Louis CK’s influence on the stand-up game. But it bears a striking resemblance to how people are treating his show, Louie. To many of the people with voices on the internet (so everyone) who feel compelled to talk about the show (less than everyone), its content can only be expressed in synonyms of greatness. That is a dangerous game. That’s a game I’ve lost before. Imagine touting Eddie Izzard’s Dress to Kill as one of the funniest stand-up specials on record only to have a buddy not even crack a smile during the first 20 minutes (before I let him give up). And the dude was high.

What I want to tell you is that, much as you like it, there’s no way the show can live up how you’re describing it. Even you have to notice the inconsistency, the low-grade production, the similarity to other genre-bending shows like Seinfeld. You and I both know those aren’t bad things but when you tout something as the Single Greatest Achievement in Television in the Last 10 Years, you lose a little bit of credibility when a person expecting to laugh gets treated to Louie’s rant about life to his friend set on suicide. No one benefits from overhype. You are not Louis CK’s Flava Flav.

Allow me to introduce some words into the conversation that aren’t loaded guns ready to explode all over you when your not-as-avid-TV-watching friends ask if they should sit down for an episode.

Ambitious: I think this is the best word to describe the show. What’s compelling about Louie is that it tries so many different things and goes its own way. It adheres to a skeleton formula (there will always be stand-up interludes that are tangentially-related to the content of the episode to help break up the show like early Seinfeld) but, otherwise, doesn’t feel like it has to conform to act structure, happy resolutions, or even comedy beats. While maintaining a semblance of a conventional half-hour sit-com, it bends the rules whenever possible.

As close to indie as television may get: A lot of ink has been spilled over the production process for Louie, how FX gives him a pittance and he gets full creative control. It leads to some really good television and some that misses the mark. Some downright unfortunate choices. But it allows him to pursue an American-style awkward-core heretofore unseen even by watchers of the remade Office. He even pulls some style choices from fiercely “auteurist” and/or indie filmmaking, such as the Subway Soda-Clean-Up scene reminiscent of European cinema or the flashbacks between Eddie and Louie reminding of Jaws (or, later, Chasing Amy). This goes along with it being ambitious but, with so much complaining about good shows not getting a fair shake even when helmed by a showrunners of growing Twitter celebrity (Shawn Ryan?), watching Louie can be like seeing Tarentino win in the early days. Except Louis CK isn’t as much of a jackass.

Niche: Because, believe it or not, it is, particularly in the way it’s presented. It’s a little rough, it flouts convention, and can be really hit or miss (season 1 particularly). While I would love for everyone to love it, the sober fact is that not everyone will and even fewer will adore it. It’s great that you really like it. But maybe let’s come to terms with the fact that flouting convention means something and that’s a show people might reject because it’s something that people aren’t used to. And if we crown great quarterbacks based on how many championships they’ve won and not by their regular season heroics, then maybe we have to be careful about pushing Louie into the ring with its popular, more conventional, brethren. Afterall, this show does lose in ratings to Ugly Americans, “blue skies” Suits, and people that don’t want to flip over during Jersey Shore.

A Pretty Good Show: Are the people saying Louie is the greatest show on television accounting for Mad Men? Breaking Bad? How about ratings juggernauts like NCIS or Big Bang Theory? What’s the qualifier for even “funniest show” on television? It’s troublesome. Problematic some would say. Even to say it’s “important” would be introducing historical context and comparison to other programs. Say what you know: Louie is a pretty good show. It’s ambitious. It’s can be hilarious and sweet and awkward and painful all in the same episode (sometimes simultaneously). But it’s hard to compare it to the rest of television since it is so different from them and they are so different from it.

I’m not telling you to stop writing or talking about it or to even be less excited. But let’s try to keep away from the hyperbolic fringe of language in referring to it. How would you like to know that your review littered with praise usually reserved for divinely-chosen monarchs made someone tune in but soured their opinion of the show? I know you think that you can’t say enough great things about it, that hype is not a worry since the show can’t be exalted enough. The show can win anyone over!

Not everyone. Let’s keep it in check. Don’t ruin this.

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