Sunday, June 29, 2014

Stop Saying FX's 'Louie' Is A Drama

FX’s Louie is a great goddamned show. Everyone knows it by now; there’s no point in elucidating on that point. But when I talk to people about the show, I always hear one thing that kinda confuses me – people saying it’s a drama with no comedy whatsoever. I really think a lot of these people need to watch the show more closely.

I’m mostly going to talk about the latest season here, since it’s the freshest on peoples’ minds – and it’s the one I most recently watched. If you haven’t seen the whole season, you better just click on something else for now, because oh man are there gonna be some SPOILERS up in this shit. Don’t worry; this will still be around by the time you do finish the season. Unless my blog gets shut down or I die somehow. But those things are rather unlikely.

Now, I won’t deny that it has some serious moments. It’s certainly not just lighthearted slapstick or goofiness all the way through. However, I don’t think the show has ever gone full into drama per se – not nearly enough to say it’s a drama instead of a comedy. I think watching this show and CK’s standup alternatively really brings out one great truth – the show is just an extension of the type of humor espoused in his standup routines. It’s a full-out comedy, with the dramatic elements only serving to enhance the comedy – after all, comedy and drama do not have to be mutually exclusive. We can find laughter in our most somber moments, and we can take our funny moments to mean something deeper and learn things from them. I think CK really understands this and it’s a big part of his show, his routine and why he’s so funny in general.

For those of you who watch the show and are not familiar with Louis CK’s standup, I’ll elaborate a bit: he has a very cynical, witty sort of style, not exactly based around going for big punchlines so much as just letting his jokes play out like run on sentences. When you think he’s about to stop and talk about something else, he gets this goofy grin on his face and just keeps running with the joke, adding more humor and contorting the joke – he’s good at getting a laugh by just taking a situation, playing it out for humor and then going “Hmm, what if…?” and taking it the extra mile. His humor is dark, self-mocking and somewhat underplayed.

The show is a reflection of the types of things CK finds funny – the stuff that inspires his stand-up routines. You get a real sense of his sense of humor and the way his mind works – a weird blend of odd, bad things happening to him, moral preaching (there’s a very feminist-centric episode this season about Louie dating a fat girl) and the absolutely random and bizarre. The show pretty much chronicles the life of Louis CK, except if he was a down-on-his-luck comic rather than a worldwide superstar like he is right now.

I think this last season has people confused because a lot of it was based around Louie’s romance with a woman named Amia, who doesn’t speak English. This is one of the points that I would say is very dramatic – as it actually has Louie’s character evolving over a series of episodes. He and Amia go through happy moments and frustrating ones, and through it they share a very realistic, touching – albeit bizarre – relationship. The scenes of the two interacting even with the vast language barrier – usually just making gestures and doing a weird kind of charades – are both affecting and romantic and very, very funny in a sweet, non-cynical way.

You can see humor in the little things – such as Louie’s reaction when he initially thinks he can’t be with Amia because she’s leaving. He goes back to his room, takes a baseball bat and begins hitting the keys of a piano with it – producing a rather jumbled musical sequence as he works out his rage. The effect is very, very funny. Of course a second later there’s a knock on the door and she tells him she’ll be around long enough to spend more time with him.

There’s also the biggest red flag of them all in terms of this show being a comedy: so there’s this whole really serious, really dramatic sequence where Louie and Amia sleep together, which is a problem because Amia is leaving and doesn’t want to get too attached. While this is all going on, there’s also a huge storm coming that Louie has to go save his family from – which results in some of the more interesting parts of the show from a visual aspect, as the storm makes everything suitably tense and dangerous-feeling. Louie has to leave Amia to save his family, but the two end up patching things up before she leaves with the help of a friendly translator from a restaurant. It’s a touching scene.

Next episode has Louie learning from his helpful doctor buddy that “loving someone means something only after they’re gone, because you can appreciate them more.” So what he does is move on immediately and start going after his old friend/possible thwarted love interest Pamela, recently moved back into town. After so much build-up and drama with Amia, the fact that he just IMMEDIATELY fuckin’ throws it all away and starts trying to get with Pamela again is funny. It’s realistic and relatable, but it’s funny as shit, and totally intentional the way they set up the episodes. If Amia had not been the subject of so many episodes prior, or if she and Louie hadn’t shared the most dramatic moments in the show thus far, it would have lost its comedic impact.

I think what confuses people is that they expect ‘comedy’ to be nothing else but non-stop laughs, and they think any remote infusion of something more serious qualifies the show as a drama. In reality, a big part of comedy IS real life stuff and drama – they’re two sides of a coin; yin and yang. Louie isn’t a comedy like Big Bang Theory where it’s just stupid punchlines made for canned audience laughter – it’s a show about real things and about finding the funny shit in your every-day life. Just because a show (or any kind of story in any entertainment medium) is billed as a comedy, or intended to make you laugh, doesn’t mean it can’t do other things too. A drama can have funny moments in it, and a comedy can have serious stuff going on in-between the jokes. The expectation that something ONLY has to stick to its prominent genre isn’t really an accurate one – ESPECIALLY in today’s very nuanced entertainment culture where things are blended together more than a fruit smoothie by a health and fitness nut at your gym.

I don’t think there’s a real case to be made for this show as a drama. It’s not, really; the closest it ever got to the character progression and development necessary for a drama was this season’s Amia arc – the first two seasons may have a bit of development here and there, but for the most part they’re just really surrealistic and wry vignettes to make you crack a smirk. It’s fine if you watch this show differently than me, and you’re welcome to have a different opinion. After all, variety is the spice of life and art is made to be interpreted differently – yadda yadda. You’re welcome to disagree.

But I think one thing we can all agree on is … “Of Course/But Maybe” should seriously become a party game.

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