“Louie’s” fourth season came to a rather awkward end Monday, and in the show’s quirky, jaundiced view of the world, that’s not a bad thing. About all that’s missing from comic Louis C.K.’s deeply personal series — on which he does pretty much everything except man the craft services table — is French subtitles, signaling the melancholy tone of a show that’s both meticulously crafted and also at times the furthest thing from a comedy.
Having taken his time between seasons, Louis C.K. (I still can’t figure out how to shorten that) came back with romance on his mind, placing his alter ego in two strange relationships: The first with a woman who didn’t speak English, and the second in a renewed romance with the peculiar, warmth-phobic Pamela, played by Pamela Adlon, who also serves as a producer on the show. (As a footnote, she was also Louis C.K.’s wife in his short-lived HBO comedy “Lucky Louie.”)
Like so much on “Louie,” it’s hard to determine what to make of the Louie-Pamela pairing, although the final episodes did yield a couple of explosively funny moments — including her rather impertinent decision to question the show’s color-blind casting.
Still, a season of “Louie” is ultimately defined more by its bittersweet ambience than anything else, which explains FX’s decision to run episodes back to back, since it’s hard to think of a half-hour series — on its network or anyone else’s — that would go with this rough-edged little gem.
Perhaps foremost, the last two half-hours (and SPOILER ALERT if you haven’t watched) lead to the seemingly inescapable conclusion that this current relationship is both a bad idea and a reaction (or rebound, if you prefer) to the previous one. In both situations, moreover, we see Louie as someone insecure enough to settle for a girlfriend who comes laden with built-in impediments to success — first someone who can’t communicate with him, followed by somebody who won’t.
Notably, all of that was preceded by what also might be as good a half-hour as the series has produced (although Melissa Leo’s horrible date episode is hard to top), in which Louie is pursued by an overweight waitress (Sarah Baker), putting the title character in the unfamiliar and uncomfortable position of rejecting somebody interested in him.
The show also made a poignant detour into the past with the episode in which Louie catches his daughter smoking pot, triggering an extended flashback about his own early experiences smoking and selling weed, as well as his strained interaction with his divorced parents.
Given the numerous accolades Louis C.K. has already amassed — including a record seven single-year Emmy nominations, for the show and a stand-up special, in 2012 — he certainly has no shortage of industry admirers, although “Louie” remains not surprisingly malnourished ratings-wise. Over the last three weeks the program has averaged a mere 500,000 same-day viewers, per Nielsen, and even with the requisite delayed DVR bump, overall tune-in remains squarely in TV’s version of the art-house tier.
Then again, FX has clearly afforded the comic the latitude to make exactly the show he wants to do, and as his relationships this season would attest, life and TV shows are commonly characterized by the tradeoffs we have to make.
For “Louie” fans, at least, that’s a pretty good deal.