Sunday, July 8, 2012

Commiserate with Louie The Complete Second Season

Louis C.K. is a very special type of guy, and fans can finally see that in FX's Louie, which recently released its second season on Blu-ray and DVD. Impossible to summarize succinctly, each episode is its own short film, usually finding Louie (Louis C.K.) in a situation where his life is miserable and he tries to persevere, but only succeeds in a limited way, as he does not possess a cheery dispensation.

Louie is a comedy, but the laughs are had at Louie's expense more than anything else. The situations that happen to him are humorous, in a schadenfreude fashion. The way he is so honest and open amid people who are typically closed off is refreshing, though it doesn't always help him along. It's also artistic, with continuity abandoned in favor of the tale that is being told. What siblings Louie has or the actresses playing his daughters may vary, but each episode is so thoroughly good that no one cares.

Louie is very funny, but often in ways that make the viewer feel bad for laughing, or groan internally when something negative hits home. Underneath the laughs are painful insights into how the world works, and the essential qualities of mankind. It makes for an odd combination for a sitcom, but also a welcome, enjoyable one. Louie isn't like anything else you'll find on television. A large part of that may be credited to the extremely small budget and vast control Louis C.K. has over the project. He is being allowed to illustrate his voice on the air, not forced to work by committee, and it's a privilege to see the results.

Louie questions conventions. One of the themes of the show is fatherhood. Louie's parenting style is an interesting one, casually imparting the cruel truths of the world on his young children. For instance, in "Pregnant," Louie gives one daughter some fruit and not the other. The hungry child says she "gets" something, too, but Louie says, no. Her sister is lucky right now, and she is not. No one "gets" anything, and life will never be equal and fair. While all of this is accurate, the flippant way in which he speaks to the girl causes a bit of cringe. Is Louie doing her any favors by not protecting her from reality, or is he just needlessly upsetting a kid? Either way, it's intriguing, entertaining television.

Because Louie is such a bold and innovative project, he attracts some serious talent to appear on the show. In the season two episode "Joan," Louie meets comedic legend Joan Rivers (herself). This occurs while he is working a lounge at a Trump hotel and casino. She has a stage show, and he approaches her after her act to compliment her. She invites him up to her suite to talk, and the two discuss why Louie just quit a steady job over stupid reasons when gigs in their field are so hard to come by. The night ends with a very awkward romantic hookup.

Joan seems to stand in for Louie's other half as he argues with himself. Their words could easily have happened completely inside Louie's head. His instinct is to quit this job that he loathes, especially if they won't let him be himself. But Joan is recommending what is best for Louie, and he is wise to listen to her. It's slightly surreal.

Louie is just as strong without the famous faces around. In another season two episode in this set, "Duckling," Louie goes on a USO tour to the American troops in Afghanistan. When he lands, he discovers that 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.

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 the 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'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 that 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 part realistic look at life, with a dash of Louie's style tossed in. "Duckling" is a true artistic achievement.

"Joan" and "Duckling" are just two examples of the episodes in this two disc set. Each in uniquely different, and there are eleven more to explore.

Louie The Complete Second Season is sorely lacking in extras. Louie does provide a pretty neat commentary for the first five episodes, but not for any of the last eight. It's like the project of adding the talk tracks was abandoned early on, and I very much wish that he had kept going, especially for "Duckling." There is also a four minute featurette at the Louie season two premiere, where reporters speak with C.K. and one of the actresses that plays one of his daughters. That's it.

Extras aside, this is an awesome set, well worth the purchase. Whether you want to relive these fantastic episodes, or are just discovering the series for the first time, it's a valuable buy. There is no need to watch them in order, or even see season one first. Just jump right in!

Buy Louie The Complete Second Season, on sale now, and watch fresh episodes every Thursday on FX.

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