May 30, 2015

TV Retrospective: "Louie" - Season 5

Left to right: Pamela Adlon and Louis C.K.
The last time that we saw Louie in season four, he was experiencing happiness in ways that weren't all that pleasant. Having come off of a season that featured plots around obesity and rape, he attempted to turn his absurd humor into a prolonged art form where everything tried too hard and the results were muddling with occasional shines of Louis C.K.'s initial brilliance. In a way, hearing that season five was conceived after C.K. smoked weed seems like the perfect antidote and a return to form in a half baked sort of way. It is his shortest season to date and because of that one of his most consistent. Is it the best? No. However, it proved that the comedian knows how to make an impact all these years later with some of his strangest episodes yet.While it seems like another arbitrary cut, the genius of the season unfolded in the show's dedication to surrealism with "Untitled." It was an episode where a hallucinogenic tone set in as C.K. tried to get to sleep. From there, it became a dark look into his psyche with enough bizarre imagery to make the entire episode gif-worthy. Most of all, it reflected what the season was inevitably about. It was about an insecure comedian trying to be accepted and feel that in his own life. Much like how season opener "Pot Luck" established that he was a boring person, it felt like the season as a whole was about disproving the statement. The results, as seen in "The Road: Part 2," were a little bit of both.
At this point, C.K. has become his own form an institution and the idea of him needing to challenge himself seems silly. However, the fictional C.K. is rooted in a world of conflict in which he is an original among hacks. The woman he inevitably loves, Pamela (Pamela Adlon), doesn't want to go steady. His children are aging and developing their own personalities. He has become a giver instead of a sharer in ways that are off putting and may make his insecurities more present. There's even an extended presence of his brother Bobby (Robert Kelly) that brings home some stranger, more personal family moments.
One of the biggest benefactors is that Louie remains incessantly Louie, even when its grander themes play out. He is still experiencing the discomforts of life, even some publicly shameful. The show hasn't really changed that much from its earlier days. It may be more assured in most places, but it still manages to provoke humor in its quasi-comedy/drama format. It is a world of an artist who is tired of making art, but too committed not to. C.K. exists in a world where all he can do is reflect and hope that something better comes along. It's just that after seasons of potential opportunities, it's hard to really believe that fictional C.K. is as bad off as he is.
Yet his suffering is essentially what keeps the show entertaining. In the two part finale "The Road," he experiences a series of mishaps that range from annoying coworkers to helping a lost child. He is unable to get the luxuries that he wants, even if he feels that he is above what he gets. Whether or not it is true, he manages to exist in a world where he is accepting old age and his midlife crisis with more of a shrug than a big, glorious conflict. His issues lie more in his need to be responsible and even take care of his somewhat irresponsible family. All he really needs is thanks. How does he get it? By having a roommate pass out after drinking too much.
Whether or not it seems forceful to find deeper meaning in Louie is likely its own joke. Sometimes life is just life. However, what C.K. continues to do is find ways to make the joke funny in his quest to live a life that is outside of the 9 to 5 realm. To strangers, it seems like a good life. To him, he is constantly worried about small things. Sometimes it's just perception and others its literal struggles to keep your stuff together. The world of Louie may not be the most deliberately funny, but it does come profoundly honest thanks to its confident structure and ability to embrace change in familiarly crass fashion.
If there's any complaint about Louie at this point, it is that this was only eight episodes. While there are some redundant themes that likely have turned off audiences, the fact that the show can still pull off episodes as bizarre as "Untitled" all of these years later is an astounding achievement. C.K. is an artist whose acclaim hasn't gone to his head and the show is better for it. Even with the Emmy wins, he continues to challenge himself. It may not always work, but the show stays fresh as a result. There is nothing expected of him, and it may be the way it was always intended. Louie is the portrait of life. Sometimes life just doesn't make sense.

Overall Rating: 4.5 out of 5

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