Louis C.K.: 'Charlie Brown With a Buried Temper'

Emily Nussbaum on the majestic return of Louis C.K.:

The channel gave him an unheard-of deal: a tiny budget in exchange for total control, to the point that Louis doesn't even get notes from network executives. For the first two seasons, Louis wrote, directed, edited, and starred in every episode, and was also the music director. The result was a series that, despite its small audience, has had a broad influence, upending notions of what a sitcom can be. (Among other things, it helped inspire Lena Dunham's "Girls.") Like his standup act, Louis's sitcom is melancholic, profane, and hilarious, shifting in tone from week to week. Scored to jazz, the show can be lushly cinematic (Louis's roots are in independent film), then loose and skitlike. There are slow passages, and sequences that lean too hard on self-pity, but there are many more moments of crazy transcendence, plus a fart joke or two. "Louie" takes risks rare for television, including the risk of not being perfect. 

Season 1 was good; Season 2 was better. Louis plays a lo-fi version of himself, spending his days drifting through New York, brooding, bingeing on ice cream, slumping in wintry playgrounds, like Charlie Brown with a buried temper. As Season 3 begins, he has begun dating, his daughters are older, and he has some money (enough to buy a motorcycle). But the biggest change has taken place offscreen: Louis hired as editor Susan E. Morse, who has worked for Woody Allen. As impressive as the solo-built TV model is, it's exhausting to maintain--and, perhaps for this reason, the third season of "Louie" is a revelation. It's so good I'm afraid to praise it too highly, for fear you'll be let down.

Two points: 

1.) I love Emily Nussbaum writing on TV. She actually makes me want to watch more. 

2.) I love Louis C.K. a lot. My only complaint is the darkness of the show. We live in an era where that's basically the default setting for good art. In television, I find tend to tap out after about three seasons of this. Louie is a great, great show. I love it for the chances it takes with narrative, the open-ended, often unresolved tension of each episode. But sometimes I look at a show like this or Mad Men and have to repress the desire to watch an episode of Superfriends.
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Ta-Nehisi Coates is a national correspondent at The Atlantic, where he writes about culture, politics, and social issues. He is the author of the memoir The Beautiful Struggle.

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