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Television Roundup: LOUIE – SEASON TWO on Blu-ray

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There’s never been anything like “Louie” on television.  The closest match is probably “Seinfeld,” but I base that comparison solely on surface details.  Both programs center on lightly fictionalized versions of popular comedians (Jerry Seinfeld, Louis C.K.); both programs elaborate on material from their stars’ stand-up routines.

Other than that, “Louie” couldn’t be more dissimilar from “Seinfeld.”  “Seinfeld” was a show about nothing because its main characters really cared about nothing.  Louis C.K., however, cares about everything, no matter how trivial or strange or embarrassing, and “Louie” reflects his laser-honed insights.

Season One was our introduction to this Louie fellow, and taken together, the thirteen half-hour programs were a primer to understanding his dominant obsessions.  “Hi,” he said every week, “My name is Louie, and this is how I feel about life/death/sex/work/family/dating/God/politics/health.”  With those introductions out of the way, Season Two takes a slightly more focused approach, examining the divide between celebrity and reality.

See, a funny thing happened between Season One and Two: Louis C.K. got famous, thanks – in no small part – to this television show.  All of a sudden, this “comedian’s comedian” went from enjoying a devoted cult following to having a hit show and breaking stand-up comedy sales records (note the success of his self-distributed comedy movie, for example).  Sudden fame can be a very precarious position for a stand-up comic; for every Steve Martin or Eddie Murphy who succeeds in riding that boost to even greater fortunes, you’ll find two or three Dane Cooks or John Belushis or Dave Chappelles: comedians who either couldn’t hack the pressure or who peaked at its arrival and haven’t re-ascended.  Maybe it’s ego, or lack thereof, or maybe it’s the difficulty rationalizing wealth and the backbreaking work/poverty leading up to it, but the comedy world is littered with also-rans and burnouts.

Louis C.K., however, has dodged those perils by incorporating them into his art.  Nearly every episode of Season Two deals with how that sudden fame injection works to corrupt his humanity.  We might regard his Louie persona as the same insecure schlub that he was in Season One, but to many of the other characters on the show, he is now a star.

Sudden, inexplicable events befall him. Fox News has Louie appear on “Red Eye” as an expert on masturbation, and after the program Louie tries to seduce the chaste talking head opposing him.  He does the same thing to Joan Rivers after she consoles him following a stand-up set gone bad.  Louie gets called in on a gig to punch-up an unfunny Hollywood screenplay, and before he and the other writers have even finished their work, Louie finds himself professionally courted and rejected by a powerful movie producer; she likes him when his ideas are commercial, but the instant he starts discussing his dream project (which sounds much like the TV show we’ve been watching), Louie drops off her radar like he never existed.  That experience mirrors an incident in episode two (“Bummer”), where a young starlet contemplates dating Louie to further her own celebrity.  And Louie is no better; at one point, we flashback to a younger Louie whoring himself out on an insipid network sitcom.

Furthermore, Louie’s fame has a nasty habit of infecting the parts of his life that should be separate from his career.  He considers buying a home he can’t afford; poor Louie probably wouldn’t have entertained the idea.  He finds himself propositioned by two depraved swingers (F. Murray Abraham plays the male in the couple, and he’s creepier now than he was in Amadeus), and the only person he can turn to for help is Chris Rock, who plays…Chris Rock.  A simple birthday gift for his daughter – getting her some sold-out Lady Gaga tickets – becomes a stark reminder of the professional enemies he’s made when he is forced to beg rival comic Dane Cook for the tickets.

At times, it’s hard to see the net gain: Louie still can’t win the heart of his single friend Pamela; he still feels inadequate tackling the big issues (racism, courage, fear); he still doubts his parenting skills: the season premiere has his youngest daughter gleefully describing how her mother – Louie’s ex-wife – is better than Louie is, and later on in the season, we see how woefully underqualified he is in taking care of his troubled niece during a time of crisis.

Here’s the thing: a lesser artist would condemn success outright.  Louie might fear it, might not understand it, but he does learn from it.  I think about the end of the “Ducklings” episode, when he defuses an international terrorist incident while on tour with the USO, or the “Eddie” short, where a fellow comic who’s fallen on hard times reunites with Louie just in time to announce that he wants to kill himself.

Louie’s response?  Yeah, life sucks, but it sucks for everyone, so what makes you so special that you can just opt out?

Whatever the confusing effects of his newfound stardom, here’s a guy who must – who can’t – see life as anything other than what it really is.  Somehow, that makes him strong, and makes “Louie” a TV marvel.

Twentieth Century Fox’s two-disc Blu-ray looks phenomenal; C.K. shoots “Louie” on high-def RED camera, and the show’s lush textures come off beautifully on the Blu-ray.  The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio tracks are evocative and subtly immersive.

For supplements, we get a Fox Movie Channel featurette on the Season Two premiere and C.K. giving great commentary on selected episodes.  It doesn’t look like a lot, but this is good, honest stuff.

So is the show.  “Louie” doesn’t play by traditional sitcom rules, but it’s twice as insightful about life’s vagaries.  Highly, highly recommended.

“Louie: Season Two” is now available.  Click HERE for Amazon’s listing.

And one last thing: If you’re interested, the giveaway for this Season Two package is live through next Tuesday.  THIS LINK will take you there.