Is ‘Louie’ this generation’s ‘Seinfeld’?
Don’t you love it when journalists…OK, bloggers…throw out preposterous headlines in the form of a question, just to get you to click on the article and find out, inevitably, that the answer is a simple “No.”? Like “Is the Airbag the Most Dangerous Part of an Automobile?” No, no it isn’t. But thanks for making me think it might be and tricking me into reading two lame paragraphs. Or “Is Harry Potter Actually Communist Propaganda?!?” Nope. Just a book about wizards. But good effort. Well, you might think that comparing FX’s new show Louie, starring comedian Louis CK, to the historic brilliance of Seinfeld could easily qualify as one of these headlines. But…you’d be wrong.
Seinfeld was the definitive sitcom of the 90’s, both in ratings and style. The dominant mode of the period – and yes, this is gonna sound snooty for a second – was post-modernism, and Seinfeld had that in spades. Irony, detachment, lack of meaning, collage, non-linear storytelling (think Pulp Fiction) – all post-modern. And all Seinfeld. I mean, they had a backwards episode for crying out loud. If that doesn’t show a disregard for meaning and the rules that came before, I don’t know what does. And writing a show that is proudly “about nothing”, well that’s post-modern, but to say that it’s about nothing while the characters are making their pilot Jerry, the show within the show that is actually a play on the show itself and is ALSO a show about nothing, well that might be the most post-modern thing ever.
Louie of course does none of these things, which is why the two shows are so alike. As Seinfeld typified the style of 90’s, Louie does the same for this period we’re in now…whatever the hell that is. It’s dark, a little sad, alternately extremely truthful and totally absurd, and hilarious. In fact, just about the only thing it has in common with Seinfeld is that its built around the greatest stand-up of its time. If you don’t know Louis CK, well then, you really should. He was the head writer of The Late Show with David Letterman during its prime and an original writer on Late Night with Conan O’Brien. And his stand-up is vicious. As evidence, watch his epic “Everything is Amazing and Nobody’s Happy” piece on Conan.
Hilarious, sure, but also great cultural criticism. Basically, as good as it gets. And it looks like his new FX show could be a weekly 30 minute installment of that goodness. It’s a little uneven at the moment, but it’s just finding it way – much like Seinfeld did in its first season. But – and this where the two shows meet – Louie has our national voice nailed. We don’t what the fuck is going on, the world is a mess, the economy is in the toilet that toilets use when they need to go to the bathroom, and we’re fighting, I think, six wars right now? Or, sorry, seven? But also, in all that, there’s hope. There’s the potential for improvement — an optimistic new President, and universal agreement that we’re all getting really tired of being in the crapper. We recognize things suck, and we’re really hoping for a turnaround. That’s Louis CK’s show, in a nutshell. Of course, he’s talking about trying to get laid even though he’s overweight and balding, about trying to raise two kids post-divorce, about trying to get his Doctor to stop joke diagnosing him with AIDS. But the style, the attitude, the voice, it’s all 2010 America.
That’s what our sitcoms should be now, because that’s the times we’re in. Complicated, sad, funny, and truthful. Frivolous, disposable comedy just doesn’t seem quite right anymore. Seinfeld was the show for that era, and hopefully, if FX gives it enough rope, Louie can be the show for this one.