Lucky Louie, Season 1, Episode 1: “Pilot”
Written by Louis C.K.
Directed by Gary Halvorson
Aired on June 11, 2006 on HBO
Louis C.K.’s current series, Louie, is unlike anything on T.V. The show’s cinematic style, unpredictability, and the way it remains difficult to define make it a unique outlier in the T.V. landscape, even in a world with shows as idiosyncratic as Transparent and Girls. In that context, the first series he created, Lucky Louie, almost seems like the work of a different writer: it’s presented in the style of classic sitcoms like The Honeymooners, and its multi-cam set-up was filmed in front of a live audience.
Despite its traditional appearance, Lucky Louie tackles topics and uses language which would be unthinkable in the shows it’s inspired by, which can be seen through much of its first episode. It starts with the “Why?” gag of the cold open, in which his daughter’s question, about whether or not she can play outside, leads to him explaining his past of smoking pot and cutting class. From the beginning of the scene, there’s no doubt about where it’s going, but Kelly Gould’s adorable, wide-eyed performance keeps it from going stale.
This style of vulgar humor resulting from set-ups in which one wouldn’t expect it continues after the opening credits sequence, where Louie and Kim are hosting a birthday party for Lucy. She receives a Barbie doll, which gives Kim the opportunity to make a feminist statement about the toy giving young girls an unfair standard for female beauty. Her soapbox declaration is undermined, however, when Lucy receives a black Barbie from their neighbors, Walter and Ellen. The contemporary perspectives on gender and racial issues reveal one virtue of Lucky Louie’s approach: it’s hard to imagine The Honeymooners being quite so explicit, and C.K. allows us to imagine how it would handle feminism and racism in 2015.
Ralph and Ed also wouldn’t have been able to discuss their inabilities to masturbate without their wives knowing, which relates to the incident that kicks off the A plot of the episode. After being aroused by a picture of Jessica Simpson in a celebrity magazine, Louie goes to a closet to masturbate, where Kim catches him and tells him that they’ll have sex for a week. Although Louie is briefly excited, his coworkers, Mike and Rich, inform him that Kim is just trying to get pregnant, which Kim confirms.
Here, C.K. doesn’t quite use his contemporary perspective to its full potential, as the idea of a woman trying to take advantage of a man through sex feels as old-fashioned as the style he imitates. As is often the case in C.K.’s comedy, he is the butt of the joke, but it still doesn’t escape rehashing gender clichés. Although he has the advantage of analyzing the issue from a modern day lens, he doesn’t use it to its full potential.
The same is true of the B plot, in which Louie struggles to make Walter his token black friend. Again, the show doesn’t condone Louie’s skewed perspective of the world, but doesn’t explore its flaws, either. Viewers laugh at Louie for only wanting to be friends with Walter because he’s black, but there’s no deeper exploration of how it makes him feel. As with the MRA-esque politics spouted by Louie and Rich, they mock the ridiculousness of the privileged without providing insight into the effects it has has on those they abuse.
That being said, “Pilot” still provides plenty of opportunities for laughs, as well as a glance at the relationship between Louie and Kim. The use of a multi-cam, live-audience format in the 21st century appears to have much more potential than the episode mines, but it makes for an effective introduction to Lucky Louie’s style.