Friday, August 26, 2011

Louie and a "Duckling" travel to Afghanistan

     Last night, FX presented the first hour-long episode of Louie. To do double length, there must be a big idea to fill it, and there is. "Duckling" finds Louie (Louis C.K.) going on a USO tour to the American troops in Afghanistan. When he lands, he discovers his youngest daughter has hidden a duckling in his luggage, a class pet that Louie was taking care of the night before, with a note that it will keep him safe. Louie is frantic, whether it be because he is afraid he will be caught with the duck, which he hides, or because it's an innocent life dropped into a very dangerous situation. But in the end, his daughter's prediction proves true, and the duckling diffuses a hostile situation, saving Louie.

     Louie doesn't often tackle anything too serious or scary. Setting the main character in a war zone is quite a risk, but one that pays off handsomely for the brilliant series. Louie still delivers his trademark humor, some of it material heard before. But in the new setting, with the weary audience, it plays fresh all over again. There are no attacks or shells hitting any of the camps Louie stops at, but that doesn't take away the very real threat that something might happen. Thankfully, it doesn't. Louie returns home intact, though slightly more aware, along with the audience, of what our men and women in uniform face every day, and the conditions they must endure.

     It's a humbling experience, to come face to face with the soldiers. One that would not typically take place in a sitcom. Which may be why Louie chose to shoot "Duckling" in a more cinematic fashion. The camera shots and the picture quality do not feel typical for an episode of Louie, but rather, feel more crisp and grand in scope. There's definitely a different tone, and while I cannot say for sure, it appears the episode was filmed on location in the Middle East, even if some (if not all) of the events are staged. One part tribute, one more realistic look, with a dash of Louie's style tossed in. "Duckling" is an artistic achievement.

     To use the innocence of a duckling to ease tension is a brilliant move. Louie gives credit to his real-life younger daughter for the idea of the episode in the ending credits, and if so, it's a true "out of the mouths of babes" treasure. "Duckling" doesn't focus on politics, or why our army is overseas. It is about the harsh reality, and how something cute and simple can appeal to human nature in everyone. As the armed Afghanis sit down with the American troops to pet a baby duck, there is a real connection. Louie leaves the duck with the locals, and viewers are left with a comforting assurance, though not spoken, that the creature will be well taken care of. A spot of light in a dark situation.

     It may be easy to underestimate Louis C.K. and what he is doing with his own TV show. But if you watch it, it is clear he is doing something groundbreaking. "Duckling" may not be the typical Louie episode, but the impression is given that there will be other hours that bend the mold in an already unique show. Very good work, indeed.

     I highly recommend that you buy Louie The Complete First Season, and then watch new episodes Thursdays at 10:30 p.m. ET.

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