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Louis C.K., who has been a writer and director of numerous comedy shows, has recently been gaining attention for his hilariously irreverent stand-up specials. I love his work and always make the time to watch his specials once they become publicly available. I'm also probably one of the few people on the planet that genuinely enjoys Pootie Tang. With his rising popularity, FX gave him a television show to do whatever he wanted with. Working as the writer, producer, director, editor, and star of the series, Louie shares his humorous, unfiltered perspective on life as a recently divorced middle-aged father of two. The format of Louie is a bit different than your average comedy show. Most of the episodes are broken into two parts that are usually unrelated, but they transition into each other relatively well with bits of stand-up that preface them, or tie them together. It’s a welcome change from the sitcom style of his old HBO series, Lucky Louie.

I'm going to follow the format of Gabe Power's terrific Mad Men: Season Four review by giving an episodic breakdown. Arriving just in time for the second season, this set comes on two double-sided Blu-ray/DVD hybrid discs. I'm not a fan of these dual-sided discs, but they pose no major inconveniences. The DVD side contains the same material, including commentaries and special features. For this review, I will be watching only the Blu-ray format.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
The Pilot starts off with Louie talking about volunteering at his children's public school, which leads to a field trip bus ride that goes awry with funny results. This first bit appropriately sets the stage for the dry hapless humour that the show thrives on. In the second half he covers his cynical views on dating and relationships following his recent divorce. This is demonstrated in a disastrous date, played by comedienne Chelsea Peretti in deadpan form). There isn't enough material to make this bad date stand out among other examples, but the excessively dry approach and a creatively over-the-top end to the date help to make up for it.

Poker/Divorce begins with Louie playing Poker with his comedian friends. What begins as a silly card game turns into a discussion about using derogatory terms for homosexuals (something Louis C.K. has done plenty in his stand-up). I found this portion a lot more insightful than funny. The majority of the episode is dedicated to his divorce and a subsequent attempt to reunite with an old fling from grade school. This heads into awkward territory. I found it funny in an appalling way, but people who don't like uncomfortable humour will find it difficult to enjoy.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
Dr. Ben/Nickcovers his realization that his fitness is on a steep decline. He goes to see a doctor, played by Ricky Gervais. He is ferociously cruel and belittling about Louie's problems and his current physical shape. Fans of Gervais' or mean-spirited comedy should find something to like here, but I found it a little obnoxious and overdone. There's a segment in the middle of the episode where he confronts a waitress at the comedy club about a racist statement she made, which backfires with funny results. This goes into another insightful comedian table discussion about using racist humour in your acts. Unlike the discussion in the Poker/Divorce episode, this one is shorter and has some enjoyable irony to it and it gives his friendship with Nick DiPaolo some screen time.

So Old/Playdate begins with a humorous sexual encounter that Louie has with a younger female fan who is turned on by the fact that he is old. He says things like "I'm older than any baseball player," to turn her on. It’s a great bit with some funny observations. There's a brief scene where he goes to a PTA meeting and shares his realistic thoughts with the group. Afterward, he meets up with one of the mothers (played by Pamela Adlon, who some may recognize as his wife from Lucky Louie). They schedule a play date where they share a glass of wine and discuss some of their secret dark thoughts on parenting. This is one of the more down-to-earth segments of the show. Its not especially funny, but they share some interesting thoughts on parenting and there is some dark humour that I liked.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
Travel Day/South tackles the subject of traveling and the annoyances of airports. This leads to a plane ride from hell. I found this one a little weak. Airport-related comedy is easy to relate to, but it feels like something that's been covered in the comedy world numerous times. Of course, he adds a bit of his own dry sense of humour to it, but it’s not enough to distinguish his views from that of other comedians. Once he reaches his destination, the Deep South, he encounters some fans that corner him in a diner. It’s obvious they want something from him, but they aren't being very clear. According to the commentary track for the episode, this is similar to a situation he finds himself in on the road sometimes. There's not much laugh-out-loud material here until the end, but it’s an intriguing situation and an interesting look at the weird interactions someone might have with their fans.

Heckler/Cop Movie gets underway with the usual opening comedy routine, but Louie is interrupted by an entitled woman who thinks she can participate in his comedy show. On the commentary track, he mentions that heckling is something that seriously angers him, so he usually isn't able to think of witty remarks to cut them down. In the show, however, he barrages her with insults. After the show, she confronts him about it outside, and he tries to guilt trip her. This is one of the shows funnier segments, and it’s clear that the dialogue revolves around his real point of view. The second half involves him getting a role in a movie. The film is being directed by Matthew Broderick, who tries to be nice to Louie but gets increasingly irritated by his awkward performance. Watching him screw up one take after another to Broderick's disgust is hilarious. This segment feels like an episode from the show Extras, particularly in the way it handles the celebrity cameo. It is one of my favourites of the season.
 Louie: The Complete First Season
Double Date/Mom is a fictional story that starts off with his brother trying to talk him into a double date, but he asks too much of Louie. He then meets up with his irritating mother for lunch and she confesses that she is a lesbian. Later, Louie and his brother meet up for dinner with their mother and her new girlfriend; a much younger lively woman. She uses that line many of us have heard from our friends at one point in time: "Your mom is so cool!" This episode was filled with more of the implausible awkward situations that I'm not a huge fan of, but it has some good moments. It would've worked better if some of the humour rang true, or if it had more subtext. Instead, it’s just a bizarre account of family members being irritating.

Dogpound is the obligatory drug-related humour episode. After dropping off his kids with his ex-wife, circumstances lead to him smoking pot with a neighbour of his. Some hilarity ensues, including a scene inspired by Woody Allen's Bananas, and a failed attempt at adopting a dog. The way people around him change as a reflection of his hung-over self is fun to watch, and people familiar with his Hilarious stand-up special will recognize some of the jokes. This episode isn't very thought-provoking like others, but it has plenty of funny moments.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
Bully changes up the format a bit with a stand-up segment about his misguided views of sex as a child. The footage jumps between his comedy act and flashbacks of his childhood. According to the commentary track, the flashback footage was shot for HBO and they allowed FX to use it for the show. Later in the episode he takes a date to a coffee shop where a group of noisy jocks come in and start a loud ruckus. When he asks them to quiet down, one of the jocks gets in his face. He bullies and belittles Louie in front of his date. After they depart, Louie follows the jock home. Instead of the hilarious revenge I was hoping for, the episode turns into commentary on responsible parenting. It still has some humorous touches, but the situation is anything but funny.

Dentist/Tarese captures the awkwardness and general unpleasantness of going to the dentist quite well. Hilarious character actor Stephen Root (who most probably know as "the stapler guy" from Office Space) plays his dentist. After being put under with gas, Louie hallucinates about being in the desert and tries to preach the golden rule to Osama bin Laden. This one has a couple big laughs in it and is one of the more creative segments of the show. In the second half, he tries to win the affections of a store clerk named Tarese, and follows her home nagging her the entire way while she could not be less interested. I didn't care much for this portion. It doesn't aim for many laughs, which is fine, but it doesn't communicate any interesting ideas or observations either.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
God is all about religion and the influence it had over Louie as a kid. There's a flashback to Catholic school where a grim doctor (played perfectly by veteran actor Tom Noonan) teaches children about Jesus' death in gruesome detail, using unorthodox methods. His performance is brilliant, and helped to catapult this episode into my favourites. He guilt-trips them, and as a gullible young boy Louie completely buys into it. This episode has some of my favourite stand-up bits too. His stand-up comments about religion and the Ten Commandments are priceless.

Gym starts off with a strange dream about a sexy newscaster. As he is drifting off, reality and dream become distorted and she begins to say very bizarre hilarious things. Afterward, Louie tries to hit on a friend with unsuccessful results. Gathering up his low esteem, he tries to workout at the gym with his friend acting as a personal trainer, but ends up collapsing from exhaustion. He wakes up in the hospital with Ricky Gervais playing his doctor again. This turns into another segment dedicated to his health being on the decline, but what it lacks in new ideas it makes up for with some big laughs.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
Night Out starts with a brief date scene that seems to be going well, but takes its usual turn and goes downhill after they both admit to having children. After the opening, the show goes into a segment about Louie's nightlife as a parent. I enjoyed watching him argue with his children because he doesn't want to sing a song to put them to sleep. After his kids are passed out, he invites over a babysitter who effusively expresses her sadness for him and begs him to go out and be happy for the sake of his kids. His rather unspectacular night leads to unsuccessful interactions with women and a deafening club scene. The episode isn't bursting with laughs, but I found myself unusually drawn to Louie as a character; especially in the show's final scene.

Overall I thoroughly enjoyed Louie. I sometimes found the show to be inconsistent, with my reactions ranging from feeling completely unengaged by scenes, to being crippled with laughter during others. The episodes with more dry observational humour worked much better than the awkward situations for me. You can see some obvious inspiration from Woody Allen, and despite his incredibly cynical approach to comedy you can't help but love Louie and wish the best for him. I admire his complete involvement in the show and the stylistic approach that helps to separate it from other television comedies. Apparently many people mistook Louie as a documentary-style accounting of true stories, which is not what he wanted, so I'm interested to see how he changes it up in the second season.

 Louie: The Complete First Season

Video


The Blu-ray presentation of Louie is a bit uneven. According to sources and my software, this is a 1080p (h264/AVC) transfer, but it has some aliasing problems that I've come to expect from a 1080i encode. I noticed some very jagged edges and certain patterns (like a distant brick wall or stitched clothing) have wavy, distorted appearances. This nuisance seems limited to the pilot episode for the most part, but it occasionally rears its ugly head in other episodes too. Edges aside, the transfer handles the image depth and the varying color schemes well. Louis C.K. likes to use a variety of lenses and colour filters. Some scenes have a deliberately cool look, and others are much more desaturated and yellowish in hue. The transfer stands up well to all of these colour schemes, and lighting looks good in both dark and bright settings. There is some occasional banding if you look at light sources during the darker scenes, but it’s not very frequent or distracting. Some of the warmly lit scenes have minor haloing, but it’s hard to notice unless you're really looking for it. As a result of the stylistic filming choices, detail is often very soft, but the more natural looking scenes show stronger detail. These are mostly minor issues. Barring the pilot episode's awful jagged edges, the bulk of the material looks great on Blu-ray.

Audio


Despite some minor issues in the video department, I have nothing bad to say about the audio on this Blu-ray release. Like most comedy television shows, Louie is primarily a show of people talking. Dialogue is crisp and volume levels keep the voices easy to hear. Rear channels are mostly just used for ambient noise or soundtrack dispersion. He uses a lot of jazz music. Some of it is licensed music and other pieces are done by singer/comedian Reggie Watts. In slower scenes, the music usually has a more old fashioned sound to it, almost like elevator music. In the commentary track, Louis C.K. states that he was going for the sound of an old record. Sometimes the music spirals wildly out of control to mirror what is happening on screen. The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 soundtrack handles the various instruments and dynamic jazz pieces masterfully, from the shrillest saxophones to the deepest cellos. In the season finale there is a club scene where Louie's character can't hear anything that other people are saying. There is no audible dialogue, and the club music is brilliantly distorted to eerie effect. I felt like I was in a loud club and was starting to lose my hearing. It was frightening and impressive, and completely immersed me in the situation.

 Louie: The Complete First Season

Extras


The only extras on the first disc are commentaries for episodes one to seven. On the second disc we have commentaries for each episode except for ten and twelve, as well as some deleted/extended scenes and a brief behind-the-scenes look from the Fox Movie Channel. No subtitles are available for the commentary tracks or special features.

The Commentary by Louis C.K. was the highlight of the release for me. It’s a very laid back track, with him sometimes eating or answering his phone during it to humorous effect. He gives a surprisingly detailed account of all the technical work that goes into things. He likes to talk about the lenses and camera techniques used to achieve a certain look. If you're ever uncertain of what a segment is really about, or where it came from, just flip on the commentary track. He gives a very detailed account of the segments origins from his point of view. There are a lot of small details I never noticed that he points out. He also spends a lot of the commentary showering the actors with praise. This is exactly what you want from a comedy track. It’s funny, it’s informative, and it deepens your appreciation for the show. I was sad to find that episodes ten and twelve are missing commentary tracks, but it does say "selected episodes" on the box. Eleven episodes are still plenty of material, and fans of the show will find his insight very valuable.

 Louie: The Complete First Season
Fox Movie Channel Presents: Louie - Writer's Draft (3:47, SD): This is a brief interview with Louis C.K. where he talks about being able to tell stories better on a show than in his comedy act. He shares some of his Woody Allen inspiration and talks about how the writing process is constantly changing as the show is being created. He talks about how in stand-up comedy, he can immediately tell when a joke doesn't work, but when he's filming something he will never know until it’s out there for people to see. It isn't a long feature, but it crams a lot of information into the short run time.

Extended and Deleted Scenes (33:54, HD): Instead of having a commentary track over the deleted scenes, Louis C.K. does a full-length introduction for each one and explains why they didn't make it into the final cut of the show. He also adds a closing word at the end of the feature. For the extended scenes, they show the entire segment instead of just the added parts, so a good portion of the material you see here is straight out of the show. It’s all mastered to the same video quality standards as the full-length episodes. There is some funny material here and fans that can't get enough will find a lot of worthwhile footage here.

 Louie: The Complete First Season

Overall


Not all of Louis C.K.'s personalized stand-up routine works in the form of a television show, but fans of his bleak, self-deprecating comedy should still find plenty to enjoy in Louie. Newcomers to Louis C.K. may want to try his stand-up specials first. Though some of the laughs in Louie are few and far between, his refreshingly artistic approach (strongly evoking early Woody Allen) demonstrates that he has a lot of talent behind the camera as well. The Blu-ray transfer is a mess during the pilot episode, but the rest of the show looks great. Audio is very strong, and the extras, while small in number, are very enjoyable. I'm looking forward to the second season.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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