Thursday, July 14, 2011

Louie – The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

From the inventive imagination of Louis C.K., Louie puts a spotlight on Louis C.K.’s everyday ordeals, his quest to find love and his pursuit of humor.  Each episode features a scripted story and a mix of his stand-up comedy, which is original material for the series.  The single-camera comedy is shot entirely in New York and features a unique mix of Louis C.K.’s stand-up comedy and scripted stories.  Louis C.K. serves as executive producer, writer, director and editor for the series, which is a fairly impressive feat especially considering how good the show is.

Film (5 out of 5 stars)

Louie is a very funny show about a somewhat fictional version of Louis C.K.’s efforts to find love and humor in this modern difficult age.  The show is as unpredictable as it is funny and it often goes into politically incorrect humor often.  This is a no holds barred show and there’s plenty of jokes about religion, Jews, race differences, homosexuality, molestation, and more generally taboo topics.  I think he crossed the line with his jokes about pedophilia but I’ve got to say that it’s so refreshing to watch a show so open to taking risks.
The man on the precarious tightrope is Louis C.K. who you may have seen from his stand up routines or on his previous show Lucky Louie.  Abandoning the sitcom three camera setup of his previous show, Louis C.K. has employed a more dynamic style where the camera follows him closely as he navigates his challenging life and career. Some have said this new format is reminiscent of Seinfeld, but other than the show is about the life of a comedian that shows his private life as well as his stand-up routines, they have really different agendas.
While Seinfeld excelled at creating humor from absurd artificial situations, Louie finds its humor from how life itself is absurd.   On one episode it could be a first date where Louie gets bullied from some high school students which is a turn off for his date who tells him, ”My mind is telling me that you’re a great guy, but my chemistry is telling me that you’re a loser.”  Later on,  Louie imagines talking to a younger version of himself  who is disappointed with how his future self looks and says so. “You’re fat, you’re ugly…” Instead of taking offense, the adult Louie says, “And you’ll be bald, too.”
“What happened to you?”
“I don’t know, man. [Pause.] You’ll see.”
“This sucks.”
For Louie, a large part of the the humor comes from his self-deprecating ways and the awkward situations he gets himself in whether it’s a disastrous first date, going to the doctor and dentist, his trying to feel young, over-exercising, trying to get his children to go to sleep “I will kill a bird in front of you!”, and his attempts to deal with sharing his children with his ex-wife.  The brilliance of the show is that while these are mundane issues that we all deal with, Louis C.K. always finds a way to make it funny with a wry comment or to subvert the the almost preordained outcome.
The reason he gets away with making the show this subversively funny is because of the deal he made with FX. As he said, “I went [to Hollywood] and I had other networks offering me a lot of money to do a pilot, and I got this call from FX and they said ‘Well, we can’t offer you a lot of money, but if you do the show for us, you can have a lot of fun.’  He was offering me $200,000 as the budget for the whole pilot and I was like ‘So, what do I get paid?’ and he was like ‘No, that’s the whole thing, $200,000…’ I said ‘Look, the only way I’m doing this is if you give me the $200,000 – wire it to me in New York – and I’ll give you a show.  But I’m not pitching it, and I’m not writing a script and sending it to you first.’”
The show itself is unique in also how it’s presented.  There’s no real continuity or narrative since he prefers to keep things loose to achieve what he wants to achieve.  He took some flack for using an actress for two different roles on the show but those criticisms don’t really mean much to him as long as he gets the results he wants.  On some shows, there some stand-up and two small scenes to make up the rest of the running time, while others take up the whole episode.  As he explains it, “It’s very vignette-y.  It’s very vérité.  All those French words.  I use ‘em all.”
As if all of that wasn’t enough to make me want to watch the show, he also has a ton of awesome guest stars on the show which have included Matthew Broderick, Stephen Root, Ricky Gervais, Tom Noonan, and Bobby Cannavale so far.  Then there’s also the real life comedians that populate the show too including: Nick DiPaolo, Todd Barry, Jim Norton, Rick Crom, Eddie Brill, Hannibal Buress, and Godfrey.  If you are looking for a show that’s a little dark, a little risqué, and very very funny, then you should check out these thirteen episodes.  Usually, shows this original are canceled right away but by some miracle this show evaded that fate and has been granted a second season which I’m really looking forward too.

Video (4 1/2 out of 5 stars)

The show is shot on a Red camera setup and this 1080p (1.78:1) transfer looks good even though it seems somewhat muted but that may also be an artistic decision.  There’s some very nice detail in both the Blu-ray and DVD versions of the show which is a good thing since he likes to do a lot of close-ups.  Color is excellent when allowed to pop up but overall the visual palette is muted.  Black levels are nice and dark and the flesh tones are life-like and consistent.

Audio (3 1/2 out of 5 stars)

Louie’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix does a very good job providing crystal clear dialogue which is what’s most important for this kind of show.  It doesn’t really use the really use the rear speakers much except for some occasional music or for some light ambiance since this is a mostly front speaker kind of mix.  One exception is when Louie is in the comedy club doing his stand-up routine there’s a little bit more atmosphere from the rear speakers.The jazzy music comes through very nicely and is well balanced with the dialogue.

Special Features (4 out of 5 stars) 

There aren’t too many extras on the disc but what is here is good.  While the Deleted/Extended Scenes are in HD, the Fox Movie Channel extra is both too short and in SD.
  • Audio Commentaries – Louis C.K. offers commentary on eleven of the thirteen episodes which includes: “Pilot,” “Poker/Divorce,” “Dr. Ben/Nick,” “So Old/Play Date,” “Travel Day/South,” “Heckler/Cop Movie,” “Double Date/Mom,” “Dog Pound,” “Bully,” “God,” and “Night Out.”  Much like his character on the show, he is self-deprecating, funny, but he’s also not afraid to get into technical details about his show and how he films it.
  • Fox Movie Channel Presents Writer’s Draft - A talk with Louis C.K. about his writing process which is referenced in clips fro the show. It’s very interesting but at about four minutes, it’s way too short.  The good news is that you can get more insight about his process and thinking from his audio commentaries.
  • Deleted and Extended Scenes – There are five scenes that are good enough that I think they should have been left in the show.  Louis C.K.  introduces each scene and talks about the reasons he cut them.  In some cases, there are just extended versions of scenes that weren’t cut.  All together it runs about thirty-four minutes and I thought they were funny.

Final Thoughts (4 out of 5 stars)

Louis C.K. has made an original show that says things that people think but don’t often say.  Louie is also clearly influenced by Woody Allen and this feels like a modern version of Allen’s early movies like Take the Money and Run, Play it Again Sam, and Annie Hall.  By using Allen’s template of keeping things loose, funny, and real, and then adding his own dark humor to it, he’s managed to create a unique way to comment on society which allows him to have his cake and eat it too.  As he says, “I like to keep people off-balance, so I like to give them shit they really like and then suddenly lead them happily down a road to somewhere disturbing.  And all of a sudden they go, “How the fuck did I get to watching this?”  If you want to see something original, daring, and funny, then you should do yourself a favor and check this out!
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