Season three of Louis C.K.'s show Louie hit the air on Thursday night while riding the crest of a tremendous wave of momentum. C.K.'s profile has bubbled up in the last year with huge sales of his comedy album and his tour, which sold $4.5 million in two days. As with many things in C.K.'s world, it's not just the product but the process that's important: he sold his comedy special exclusively on his website and did the same with his tour tickets. By cutting out Ticketmaster, C.K. not only made more by directly selling his tickets for less; he also flouted tradition for the benefit of all.
That dedication to making things work better carries over to his show, which premiered Thursday night. The show is as good as it's ever been—biting and darkly funny, with moments of absurdity abutted with moments of stark truth. The scattershot presentation of the show, with its minimal emphasis on continuity and structure-free narrative, makes it unlike anything else on television and allows C.K. to focus on whatever is engaging him at that particular moment. Thursday night, communication was on his mind.
From the moment the narrative portion of the show began, we saw a Louie unable to communicate properly with the world around him: he couldn't interpret the street signs where he parks, which had hilarious and disastrous consequences. The problem continued all episode, which was a slew of missed connections and general communication breakdown. The street signs, the reverse breakup scene where Louie can't say a thing, the obstructed phone call with his ex-wife, the scars on the motorcycle salesman, the threats from the motorcycle gang. The only moment of clarity belongs to the emergency room doctor who treats Louie; his disdain for motorcycles is the only statement in the episode which is unequivocal and precise. In a lesser show, or a more normal show, Louie would heed that example and learn from it, but here he can't. He ends the episode as he began it, having his emotions dictated to him by someone else.
The key here is in the different ways C.K. communicates with us, the audience. In the stand up scenes, we get a forthright Louie—a Louie saying exactly what is on his mind. This week's bit, like so many others, centered on masturbation. Masturbation seems to be a subject he returns to often because it hits on a lot of anxieties—getting older, loneliness, sexual frustration and humiliation—and because it is something one never discusses in polite society because it's raw and real. (This website does not fall under "polite society.")
In his stand-up bits, we get unadulterated Louie. We see exactly who he is—a fat, bald masturbator. In the narrative parts of the show, we get the opposite: a Louie who can barely get a word out living in a world where nothing is exactly clear. It's this dichotomy that makes the show, and C.K.'s comic presence, so fascinating. Here's hoping season three of Louie can keep it up.