It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say Louis C.K. has changed the medium of comedy, creating a stage that allows for looser storytelling with a tone that’s self-deprecating and familiar, but also more socially conscious. With a new program in development at FX with called “Better Things,” directed by C.K. and starring and written by longtime collaborator Pamela Adlon, along with news of his fourth standup special for the channel, his popularity and presence has never been more strongly felt. The fifth season of “Louie” debuts at 10:30 tonight, a follow-up to what many critics agreed was the show’s strongest and strangest year yet. Cinematic in scope, Season 4 contained episodes that played out in dramatic and epic arcs, expanding on his style and pushing the limits of television in structure and scope. The last half of the season moved into a more personal version of storytelling that probed into the creator’s mind, leaving a string of episodes that could be the most serious work Louis has done to date.
Having painted a dreary picture of the show, it’s worth noting that the humor is still intact – self-effacing as ever – and the show balanced important topics while generating laughs.
Despite the New York City setting being such an integral part of the show, C.K. got his start here. In a January email published after having to skip a show at Madison Square Garden he mentioned how he came to comedy in his earlier years:
I’ve been on comedy club stages probably more than I’ve stood on any other kind of spot in my entire life. I started in the Boston comedy scene, on ground that had been laid by great comedians like Steve Sweeney, Steven Wright, Barry Crimmins, Ron Lynch, Kevin Meany, Don Gavin, back in 1985 when I was 18 years old. I skipped college (still regret it), worked shitty jobs (will never regret that) and spent every single night at any comedy club in Boston I could finagle my way into. I would watch every single comedian and I would BEG to get on stage.
Back in November he surprised fans with four impromptu shows at Davis Square’s Somerville Theatre, all of which promptly sold out. Having built a solid career cornerstone in theaters in the Boston area, C.K. has helped The Comedy Studio, the Harvard Square club where he got his start, stay afloat, using the venue to practice his comedy specials. Boston actors have shown up on his show, including Robert Kelly, who plays his brother on the show, and Episode 8 of the third season focused an entire storyline in Boston, where Louie goes to visit his dad. He’s been performing in Cambridge since the 1980s, and it’s nice to see him continuing to return.
The season premiere of “Louie” should be atop any must-watch list. The similarities to “Seinfeld” might be there, but I’d wager that while it’s the more widely popular show, it will be “Louie” that is remembered as game-changing. C.K. plays with the premise of opening episodes with his standup, then spending the meat of the episode in moments of his life – like “Seinfeld” – but while both shows feature curmudgeon characters dealing with the more mundane moments of life, C.K. builds his character with a true sadness, and his hands-on approach is felt. No corners are cut, and there are no apologies when people are left feeling secondhand embarrassment (such as this writer). If he wants to write an episode on parenting, he does; if he wants to challenge societal norms and perceptions, he does. If he wants to write a mini-movie of an episode that features him as a kid with a cat-loving Jeremy Renner, he does. He’s a fearless creator and has upped the ante for anyone who’s trying to create and run their own show. His comedy is a little uncomfortable, a little blatant, but it works because of how he’s delivering it.