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Louie Season 5: Louis CK returns with fresh cringes

Louie Season 5

Louie Season 5
Created by Louis CK
Premieres April 9th at 10:30pm (ET) on FX

Louie returns Thursday for a fifth season of life lessons and awkward experiences. The loosely structured yet acclaimed FX comedy, given free reign by the network, comes back true to form while still finding the ability to surprise its audience anew. After a Season Four filled with some mini-arcs that missed the mark, Season Five returns to the episode model of earlier years, deploying episodes and through lines in a seemingly random order that still finds a way to make perfect sense. The show doesn’t go as far as completely abandoning the abbreviated story arcs CK has come to rely on, but after a stretch of almost looking like a more traditional half hour cringe comedy, Louie is back to its old ways.

In the first four episodes (those made available to critics) Louie deals with everything from past-due pregnant women to a bevy of unexpected conversations with Pamela, who he is still dating, to a particularly out of the blue bus stop interaction that leaves him embarrassed when discussing it with his daughters and girlfriend. Not everything is handled as adroitly as possible, but that is the charm of both Louie the show and Louis the man. By wielding control over all aspects of the show’s creation, Louis CK has to roll with the punches, but also gets to rise with the tide, and the characters get to follow his lead instead of the other way around.

This feeling of vacillating quality is more apparent than ever this season for both good and bad. A climactic interaction with Pamela in the fourth episode, after the previously mentioned bus stop attack, is incredibly uncomfortable to watch and at first look seems more politically incorrect than necessary. The think pieces will flow throughout the internet like toddlers at a Chuck E. Cheese’s birthday party, everywhere at once and incredibly messy. On second watch, the discomfort doesn’t disappear completely, but is replaced by an understanding between the show and the audience that it isn’t supposed to be a smooth viewing experience and to embrace the feeling that everything isn’t quite right. It is crazy, but not at all surprising, that five years in, Louie is still uncovering new ways to force its audience against the rock of enjoyment and the hard place of averting their eyes.

Unfortunately, every uncomfortable storyline doesn’t reap the same results in the early goings. In the season premiere specifically, Louie suffers a similar issue that it ran into in last season’s “So Did the Fat Lady”. As a white male shepherding his own TV show in the current landscape, Louis CK at times runs away with his ability to put whatever he wants on screen. In this case, he suffers from an overzealousness to tell other people’s stories. Is it nice that, in this case, a pregnant woman is able to say what’s on her (and probably many other expectant mothers’) mind? Absolutely. Is it a nasty reminder of the current television landscape that her tirade happens in service of a middle-aged white man’s understanding of her situation and then is immediately followed by his misogynistic and patronizing response? Even more so. It is now a repetitive occurrence for Louie to co-opt females that are less than traditionally attractive to the male gaze to make a point about their lives. It is hard to fully appreciate the magic he creates when he insists on undercutting it with masculine overstepping once every few episodes. Only so much of it can be written off as part of the character before CK himself starts taking the blame.

That’s not to say there aren’t fun parts early on. Louie’s daughters don’t make many appearances, but the ones they do are as magnetic as usual. As the actresses age, they increasingly gain a level of confidence on film that only makes their giggles and curiosity towards their father even better. Michael Rapaport guest stars as a police officer and ex-boyfriend of Louie’s sister, essentially a more frazzled version of his Friends character Gary (the timelines might even work out). His frantic energy is impossible to turn away from, and his and Louie’s “adventure” through New York City results in on of the best episodes of the series, full stop. There are ups and downs over the first chunk of the season—some that can’t be ignored in the larger context of the show—but at this point, no one should be caught off guard when Louis CK goes a step too far and makes television better in the process.


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