NOTE: The following post contains spoilers for season 1 of Louie as well as some very light spoilers for season 2. But you probably don't watch that show and subsequently don't care. Oh there's a mild Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind spoiler thrown in there somewhere too. Deal with it.
The phrase "it's the best show on TV" is now uttered as frequently as phrases like "good morning," "how was your day?" and "please put the powerful hallucinogenic drugs away, Congresswoman Bachmann (I mean, it's the only explanation, right?)."
And as is the case with popular phrases, its overuse has robbed it of considerable power. Well that, and choices like these. So I've made my own private pact to only use the phrase "best show on TV" in cases of rare, Wire-level, sustained brilliance.
This, of course, means that I have to choose my words carefully with the following sentence. FX's Louie is the bes...greate...most interesting show on television.
I could prattle on for hours about what makes the show so grea...interesting, but many critics far more talented than I have prattled aplenty on almost every conceivable topic regarding the show. But there is one aspect that I still don't think gets enough play when discussing Louis C.K.'s masterpiece.
Louie operates under a radical principle: continuity is stupid. Continuity can get in the way. The only consistent aspect on Louie is Louie himself. Everything else reserves the right to change toward any purpose at any moment.
Here is an example.
In the episode "Double Date/Mom" Louie's relationship with his mother is strained and it is hinted that their relationship has always been filled with conflict. Then in the episode "God," a young Louie shares a scene with his mom in which she wisely teaches her son about the mysteries of religion without any hints of condescension or malice.
And speaking of "God," Louie's mother is played by the same actress who portrays a date in the episode "Bully" who is turned off by Louie's cowardice when confronted by a young bully. This is either a huge oversight or an Oedipal statement....or it could be something else entirely. Louis C.K, himself, commented on the A.V Club recap for "God" and said this regarding the casting of his mother:
Amy Landecker had read for the mom. I hadn't seen it. She subsequently got the part for Bully, which we shot pretty early in the season. (sorry I know the timeline is a mess here) Anyway I watched her audition for God and she just nailed it (sorry) . No one else came close. So I decided I don't care that she was in this other thing. This show doesn't really function as a series. I don't think of it that way. I use what I need to tell each story.
I bolded the third to last statement because I think it's of particular importance. There are many purposes of art and many things we seek from it. But if we all had to boil down what our expectations were for the culture we consumed, I think the general consensus would be that we want it to make us feel something...anything - excited, depressed, furious, titillated, etc.
I've always thought that Louie has been closest in tone to the movies of Charlie Kaufman (Being John Malkovich, Adaptation, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind). And I think it's because Kaufman has a similar investment of impact over clarity. Like Louie, Charlie Kaufman movie's are weird but not just for weirdness' sake.
Jim Carrey once did an interview while promoting Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (I have no idea where this interview is now but I'm 95% sure it exists. Somebody please try to find it) in which he pointed out what he thought made the movie particularly special. He spoke about the scene where his character is deep inside his own subconscious and is reliving a childhood memory in which he succumbs to peer pressure and hammers a wounded bird to death.
It's incredibly strange but also incredibly affecting. In the interview (DEAR GOD, PLEASE SOMEONE FIND IT!), Carrey mentioned how you could only see a scene like that in a Kaufman film. It wouldn't make sense for another "normal" movie to suddenly flashback to a character doing something so small yet seeming so huge. But it makes sense in the context of a Kaufman movie because very little actually makes sense in a Kaufman movie.
Louie is like that. Louie can hit all of those "little Jim Carrey kills a baby bird" moments because it sees no reason not to. What Louie is trying to accomplish, either consciously or unconsciously is to prove that there is no reason for continuity to get in the way of good art. If William Shakespeare could have somehow hammered home the theme of youthful desperation and passion in Romeo and Juliet by randomly making Romeo a velociraptor in the third act, why shouldn't he?
We live in a time where TV is continually shaking away the constraints it has placed on itself - the constraints of commercial breaks, the constraints of FCC regulations, the constraints of serialized plots. But Louie will get credit for being one of the very first shows to not be constrained by continuity and plot consistency.
That's why it's the bes...greate...most interesting show on TV.