“Louie” is back for a new season, and I have a review of the premiere coming up just as soon as I talk like the Penguin from “Batman”…
“I just don't know how to live life anymore.” -Louie
After the structural ambition of last season, which included a six-parter, a three-parter, and an hour-long flashback episode that aired in the middle of the three-parter, Louis C.K. seems to be taking a back-to-basics approach with season 5. I've only seen the first four episodes, and for all I know the latter four will all tell one complicated story that won't even be completed until season 6 (or possibly function as a belated sequel to the episode with the ducklings), but these first four are pretty simple and lean. They combine the relative structural simplicity of the show's earlier seasons (along with a return of the original opening credits sequence, which he abandoned late in season 3) with the deeper emotional complexity (and technical mastery) of the more recent ones. I don't need the series to be anything other than what C.K. wants it to be, but if this is the approach for all of this season, it seems a nice balance.
Doing largely standalone stories also allows C.K. to again abandon any pretense of continuity, which he couldn't really do last year. Season 4 ended with Louie and Pamela finally connecting romantically, but we pick up this year with him as a single man. At first I wondered if the idea was that they had broken up during the hiatus, but it ultimately doesn't matter. This is just a “Louie” short story about a moment in his life when he's particularly lonely and miserable and depressed – so much so, even his therapist gets bored and falls asleep in the middle of their session.
Louie hasn't completely lost his ability to do things, as he again demonstrates his ability to cook well – and as Louis C.K. the director demonstrates his ability to make food preparation exciting and beautiful – but he's just not connecting anywhere. The shrink's bored by him, the people at the prayer circle he mistakenly goes to are much friendlier to him than most of the people at the pot luck, and even when fellow parents engage him (like the question about violin lessons), he can only engage in a brusque and off-putting way. Even his skill with the fried chicken doesn't add up to much, as he leaves it behind at the prayer circle, and the plate of KFC product gets complimented in its stead.
The only person he ends up able to connect with is the only person at the party who feels less like a functional human being than he does: the surrogate, played very well by Celia Keenan-Bolger, who makes a great impression in only a few minutes of screen time. Their brief encounter has echoes of several past “Louie” stories, including the incident with his pregnant sister in the season 2 premiere. There, he was trying very hard to help her deliver her baby safely when she wasn't in labor at all; here, he is in no way trying to induce labor, but it happens anyway, all so one of the moms can yell at him. It's a reminder that even when Louie can make a connection, it's likely to blow up in his face through no fault of his own. Is it any wonder he's become what he describes as “a boring asshole”?
A funny yet melancholy start to the new season, and I liked the device of the banjo player linking the different scenes together.
What did everybody else think?