In its fourth season, Louis CK‘s excellent, experimental, auteur FX series Louie reached new artistic heights. Louie is a show that has always been good, yet also finds ways to get consistently better. Last season’s “So Did the Fat Lady” was one of Louie‘s most lauded episodes for the time and voice he gave to a powerful, one-off female character, and his run of “Elevator” episodes were a dreamy, surrealistic journey through the strange world he creates so cinematically.
The fifth season of Louie — which will run for only 8 episodes — doesn’t carry over that same tone from Season 4, though, and is far more grounded in its reality. For fans of the last two seasons in particular, it’s a little disappointing, but it’s easy to move on, thanks to the show’s renewed comedic devotion. In fact, it signals that turn from the start by bringing back its title sequence, which as been missing since Season 3.
The new season starts out with a great episode, “Potluck,” that is truly hilarious. Relying on cringe humor and Louie’s penchant for accidentally getting caught up in things (its vibe is very Curb Your Enthusiasm), Louie’s odyssey around town is scored by a banjo-playing street musician. Like Curb‘s “Frolic” theme, by Luciano Michelini, it sets a playful, whimsical, and almost carnival-esque tone that augments the absurdity and humor of the situations (none of which can be described, or the jokes will be ruined).
It’s also worth noting that the first four episodes of the season (available for review) don’t feature any flashbacks, like in prior seasons — one that Louie attempts is shut down immediately by Pamela Adlon. This is a world lived in the now. Pamela, though, is again a central figure in Louie’s life, but there’s a lot of time given to her militant cynicism about relationships, juxtaposed against Louie’s optimistic desire to have something more. It’s reflective of how Season 5, and Louie himself, seem dominated by strong women and sad men. Like in “So Did the Fat Lady,” Louie ends up being lectured by a number of different women, and even beaten up by one. Maybe it’s a subversion to some of his issues with women in the last season, although his work isn’t typically reactionary.
Louie spends reluctant time talking to his brother, Bobby (Robert Kelly), and an obnoxious ex-boyfriend of his sister’s, (Michael Rapaport), who lament about how women aren’t interested in them, and that they are being left behind. That theme carries over to yet another lecture Louie endures from a young, female business owner who gets to the root of why he feels uncomfortable around younger people: “because you feel like you aren’t needed.” He agrees, and shuffles off.
Louie as a series has always been tinged with melancholy — it’s woven into the fabric of the show. In one of the series’ best moments, the Season 3 episode “Daddy’s Girlfriend Part 2,” Parker Posey (his manic love interest) goes on a rooftop with him. Her perching there fully distresses him; there’s a good possibility should might go over. But there’s a particular moment when her face, which had had a smile plastered on it for so long, slowly begins to fall as she looks out over the city. It was a crushing moment in its simplicity, and was also one of the most beautiful scenes ever broadcast.
Season 5 is a move away from those kinds of ponderous moments, and for fans, that’s either welcomed or disappointing news. The season is certainly funnier overall, even though the lectures and monologues are a little tiresome, especially regarding Louie’s relationship with Pamela (it all feels like ground covered many times before, aside from one scene that takes the season’s male/female domination subversion to a surprising conclusion). Like in past seasons, though, some of the episode’s best vignettes are the shortest, and are ones that take a banal situation and turn it into something operatic and absurd. They also, rightfully, keep Louie as the focus, and not as the foil.
There’s a sense in this new season, though, of a passing of the torch. It almost feels like Louis CK doesn’t think he should have the floor anymore, so he’s giving it to others. The problem is, he is the one who holds all of our empathy and interest. The way his alter-ego earnestly bumbles around the city, trying to just be a decent guy as he’s provoked, prodded, and occasionally punished for things he doesn’t deserve, is the comedic tragedy that draws us in. If Louis CK is indeed thinking about passing on the mic, we should in no way be ready or willing to let him. No matter how his storytelling changes, it never stops being good.
Rating: ★★★★ Very good — Damn fine television
Louie Season 5 premieres Thursday, April 9th at 10:30 p.m. on FX.