Louie is one of those shows that no one watches but everyone talks about, and by everyone, I mean critics. When it comes to TV, my wheelhouse is basically those shows and cartoons, so when I noticed Louie on Netflix I decided to find out for myself what all the fuss was about.
I was hooked. A little over a month later and I’ve seen every episode.
Louie is incredible. Incredible enough to vault itself into the discussion for my favorite show ever. Yes, I do have tremendous recency bias: my all-time favorite movie is inevitably one I’ve seen in the past month. Still, this show is fantastic.
The thing that’s great about Louie — the thing that makes it so different from everything else on TV — is how crushingly real it is.
When I say real, I don’t mean realistic. A lot of Louie is truly absurd. But everything is real. Every odd facial expression Louie makes, every beautiful, gross, loving shot of New York, every awkward, direct, absurd conversation is real.
Sometimes binge-watching a show exposes the seams. Not Louie. Its unique way of telling stories never stops knocking you off balance. Louie’s first season was a nice blend of funny, smart, and charming. Louis C.K. could have easily kept spinning variations of those episodes, and no one would have complained. That was more or less Seinfeld’s approach for nine years, and that’s still my favorite sitcom of all time.
But C.K. isn’t interested in settling on one tone or making one type of joke. He’s not even comfortable choosing one length for his stories. Some take up just half an episode. The longest spans six.
As time has passed, C.K.’s only grown more ambitious with the scope and depth of his material. By Louie’s fourth and most recent season, C.K. had become completely at ease with letting long periods of time pass without even the hint of a laugh. It gave him the freedom to do, well, anything.
This approach to making TV has resulted in the most consistently gut-punching show I’ve ever watched.
There are shocking twists in Breaking Bad, but you expect there to be shocking twists. There are hauntingly raw interactions between characters on Mad Men, but you know that’s what the show is searching for. The Office is hilarious, but when you watch The Office, you’re already primed for laughs.
Each episode of Louie hits you on an emotional level you’re not prepared for, because you can’t prepare for it. You never know where C.K. is going to take you. And this is what I mean when I say Louie is the realest show on television. Life doesn’t have a tone. It’s not pleasantly humorous, awkwardly funny, depressing, shocking or beautiful. It’s all of those things and everything else. Louie is a fictional version of Louis C.K.’s life, and Louis C.K. is a real human being. He experiences everything the world tosses around him, and he’s taken on the grueling task of trying to spatter all of it onto the television screen.
Binge-watching a show like this is a lot to handle. You start to see the world through Louie’s eyes. You notice things in your daily life you might have missed before. It becomes harder to glaze over the not-so-nice things people do to each other and themselves, because Louie is hyperaware of all of those things. It also becomes easier to appreciate the things in our lives, both big and small, that we usually are so adept at ignoring.
Now, I have to connect this to sports, because this is a sports column. I could use my new cynical Louie vision for evil and bash the NFL, but that’s far too easy. Yes, the NFL has a lot of problems. If you’d like to learn more, I suggest CNN or The New York Times or The Washington Post. Anywhere but here.
Instead, I want to stop and appreciate a particularly affecting gesture from Thursday Night Football’s game between Atlanta and Tampa Bay, the kind of moment that is easily swallowed up and forgotten in the box score.
It was midway through the 2nd quarter, and the Falcons had steamrolled their way to a 28-0 lead. The game was over before it had a chance to begin. After yet another three-and-out, the Bucs lined up to punt the ball. On the receiving end of the kick was the one and only Devin Hester.
Hester caught the ball cleanly, and, as he has done so many times, weaved nimbly through a few defenders before breaking into the open field and putting on a burst of speed that left the rest of the Tampa Bay defense in his wake. It was going to be return touchdown number 20 for Hester, enough to pass his close friend and mentor Deion Sanders’ record for most all time. As it so happened, Sanders was in the building covering the game, watching Hester sprint down the sideline.
As Hester neared the end zone, he slowed down just enough to put one hand behind his head, kick one leg forward, then the other leg, and back and forth and back and forth. Millions of people around America had the same realization at once. That’s Deion’s move! He’s high stepping like Deion!
It was a touching tribute in a game that has rarely had time to be sentimental lately, and a reminder of what the NFL can be.
2. By Thomson200 (Own work) [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons