The Hilarity of Defeat: How Louis C.K. Revolutionized the Sitcom

Standup comedian Louis C.K. spent years toiling on the road, taking advantage of opportunities to reach stardom along the way. And with his FX series Louie, his life as a struggling standup is over (at least for the near future).

Now in its second season, Louie has successfully avoided the sophomore slump that plagues most cutting-edge shows. Instead of pushing the envelope of absurdity to stay ahead of his ever-expectant audience, C.K. has plunged deeper into his character’s oft depressing reality. So while most shows aim to stay ahead of his audience, C.K. uses the autobiographical spirit of the show to keep his audience with him (as painful and awkward as that can be at times).

Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and creator/star of HBO’s Curb Your Enthusiasm, has reigned over the absurdity of humanity since the early 1990s. But after 8 seasons of Curb, David’s TV world tends to grate on some viewers, who are subjected to increasingly rude and unrealistic behavior on a weekly basis (kind of like Seinfeld on steroids).

Primarily set in Los Angeles, Curb takes advantage of the otherworldly detachment associated with the Hollywood lifestyle, while existing mostly on the outskirts of it. While the relentless effort of keeping audiences laughing is to be commended, it is difficult to envy David, whose task is to constantly satisfy audiences that ask, “What the hell is he going to get into THIS week?”

Behold! The face that looks the way you feel most days.

With Louie, on the other hand, the question is more like, “What’s going on with him today?” as if he were a friend who just happens to live in a television. Despite a viewer’s inability to completely identify with Louie’s life as a divorced father of 2 on the physical decline, C.K.’s knack for channeling honest emotional reactions into all of his scenes emphasizes feelings to which everyone who has ever experienced pain or loss has access. Whether he is on an awkward first date, in a passive-aggressive tug of war with his daughter, or professing his love for a friend, Louie invites his audience to go through those moments with him, almost as if to say that everything will be okay. He demonstrates that while life can be difficult (or even unbearable), we are all better off when finding the humor in it.

Of course there will always be room for The Office and Parks and Recreation, How I Met Your Mother and Two and a Half Men, and Weeds and The United States of Tara. But Louis C.K. has carved out an invaluable niche along the spectrum of situation comedies that breaks formula and forces us to realize that less can be much more, and that when life is all we have, what else do we really need?

Louie airs Thursdays on FX at 10:30pm EST.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s