No broadcast network would touch “Louie” with the proverbial 10-foot pole, and for FX, that might be the strongest endorsement of all.
Having made its bones in drama, the channel has struggled to find comedies of equal stature. Despite inroads and niche hits like “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” — and the high-profile Charlie Sheen vehicle “Anger Management,” which is really off brand for the network — “Louie” is the first half-hour that genuinely feels as distinctive as FX’s hours.
That’s not to say everything in “Louie” — written, produced and directed by comic Louis C.K., and incorporating snippets of his stand-up act — works. The show can be strange, slow and maddening, but stick with it and you’ll also be treated to poignant, offbeat and occasionally, riotously funny.
In this case, that last description has little to do with the June 28 season premiere but certainly applies to the second episode, when Louie goes on a terribly awkward, wonderfully odd and nearly pay-cable filthy blind date with guest star Melissa Leo. While the term “instant classic” is bandied about too loosely, I’d say that half-hour comes pretty damn close.
Later in the five episodes made available in advance, there’s an uncomfortable interlude in Miami (which is funny, if a tad strained), followed by another high-profile guest, Parker Posey, as a mysterious woman Louie asks out.
Louis C.K. isn’t a natural actor, necessarily, but he does have a sense of rhythm that makes this more like a European independent film than your average TV comedy — especially in the guy-oriented realm FX occupies. Comparisons to “Seinfeld” are inevitable, perhaps, because of the structure, but the tone is much closer to Woody Allen in his moodier days, before he fled the continent. (Notably, the show’s scheduled running mate, “Wilfred,” is moderately watchable but never completely satisfying — a one-note joke that’s difficult to sustain.)
“Louie” already earned its star an Emmy nomination, putting FX comedy on the map in a way the channel’s comedies haven’t been previously. And while the program will never be a mass-appeal hit (indeed, seems calibrated in its sad-sack manner to thwart mainstream reach), it’s such a unique commodity one suspects if the channel’s top execs are smart (and they generally are), they’ll keep “Louie” around for as many twisted adventures as its star can muster.