Television has a long legacy of representing and recreating various facets of New York life to varying degrees of success, though there have certainly been highlights. Seinfeld had coffee shops. The late, great Bored to Death had Park Slope malaise and weed/white wine-fueled literary events. And of course, Girls has everything from warehouse parties to off-off-Broadway theatre. But Louie? With all due respect to the above, Louie has it all.
Self-loathing, late night Ben’s Pizza/Gray’s Papaya runs? Check. Finding an old dude with a vague grasp of the English language in his underwear while enduring a particularly hellish round of apartment hunting? That’s in there. Landing a date with that cute girl who works at the bookstore only to see it finally manifest itself as an odyssey of cross-dressing, Russ and Daughters, and near-suicide? Louie’s got you covered.
Louie, which airs the final episode of its spectacular “Late Night” series of episodes tonight and concludes its third season next week, could probably be considered the first auteurist television program, as Louis C.K. writes, directs and stars in every episode. (He edited them all too until this season – naturally, he covered himself by bringing in Woody Allen’s old editor, Susan E. Morse.) In a deal that has only been the first phase in his continued remodeling of entertainment industry particulars, Louis C.K. gets a virtually insignificant sum of money from FX to make each episode exactly to his specifications. No network notes, no interference – just Louie.
Naturally, this results in a half hour sitcom that can barely be called a sitcom. Instead, Louie exists as a weekly compendium of short films and vignettes, all loosely tied together around Louis C.K.’s blisteringly honest on-screen persona. Louie occupies a space in the television landscape where formula is non-existent, structure is a non-entity, and really, there are no rules. In one week, Louie will have a devastatingly bizarre tryst with a fellow single parent that results in the world’s saddest meal of post-coitus blueberries. The next, him and Robin Williams can trade looks of incredulity as an entire strip club tearfully mourns a fellow acquaintance to the strains of “Sister Christian,” even though the guy was kind of a douchebag. The results are bracing, poignant, and really fucking funny.
Yet it’s this sort of undiluted, freeform, highly-personalized presentation of urban life that makes Louie such a terrific New York show. So much of Louie is about Louie simply interacting with New York – ordering groceries from a bodega over the phone, taking a date to a donut shop, going trick-or-treating with his kids around the West Village. In its general resistance to serialization and total embrace of specificity, Louie operates as something of a fittingly surrealistic manual for New York living.
To be fair, Louie is a show about a lot of things: sex, death, aging, God, stand-up comedy, parenting, and any other number of topics and ideas. (Hell, at one point in the second season, Louie even goes to Iraq.) But more than anything else, it’s a show about what it means to be a New Yorker, and all the strangeness and chaos and joy that entails. Blueberries included.