Since at least The Cosby Show (1984-1992), the sitcom built around a stand-up comedian's persona and material has been a TV staple. Now, in an age when single-camera sitcoms rule the form, Louis C.K.'s Louie eagerly bridges the tried-and-true (insert actual stand-up sequences, a la Seinfeld) and what, for sitcoms, might be considered avant garde (extensive location photography in NYC, surreality, and a tone that ranges from offbeat to pitch-black). After a critically acclaimed first season, emboldened writer-director-star C.K. doesn't fix what ain't broke, and remains agreeably irreverent about his own creation.
Here's how C.K. puts his assurance that you needn't invest in Louie as if it were Lost: “One thing about the show is if you miss the whole first season, it really doesn’t matter. This season has absolutely no bearing. It’s like a whole other product. I don’t have a brother this season. I have two sisters that probably won’t be in the third season. It’s just a whole different group of people. We live in a different apartment than we used to. It’s all different stuff.” Still, Season Two of Louie doesn't feel remotely like a new series. Louie continues to deal with stand-up (mostly at Manhattan's Comedy Cellar), post-divorce fatherhood (to two young daughters), and his moribund love life (currently centered around unrequited love for best bud Pamela, played by Pamela Adlon). Personalities from the world of stand-up frequently appear, most playing versions of themselves. In Season Two, the guest stars include Joan Rivers, Chris Rock, Steven Wright, Dane Cook (who gamely addresses his infamy as a purported plagiarist of jokes), Bob Saget, Doug Stanhope, and Jim Norton; also, an Oscar-winning actor appears in a cameo out of left field.
Much of what makes Louie worthwhile is C.K.'s willingness to follow an idea well beyond the cheap laugh or, indeed, into utterly serious drama that tends to show no interest in "very special episode" platitudes (with one notable, well-intentioned exception: an hour-long USO-themed episode set in Afghanistan). In one episode, for example, Louie brings his daughters to visit his great aunt Ellen (Eunice Anderson), who busts loose with a racial epithet. But instead of being an occasion for a mere comic stereotype, the scene encapsulates a dramatic parenting challenge for Louie, an everyday moment for a racist woman, and a coming-of-age experience for two modern girls. C.K. goes a step further by including as the episode's final "scene" an outtake of Anderson in which he warmly harangues her to reveal her age. By treating not only the character but the elderly guest star as human, C.K. goes out of his way to acknowledge complexities beyond the usual all-surface veneer of the sitcom.
Fox brings Louie back to Blu-ray in the excellent 2-disc special edition Louie: The Complete Second Season. The digital-to-digital transfers of the thirteen episodes are, of course, spotless and well-resolved. Color and contrast are attractive and accurate, and detail is strong: these transfers give no reason for complaint as C.K. increasingly goes after a film-like feel. Similarly, the lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mixes serve the source material well and with a wise emphasis on dialogue and musical support. The dialogue is always crisp, and there's a nice fullness to the music, but otherwise don't expect a lot of surround-sound bells and whistles from this comedy series.
Bonus features are a bit slimmer the second time around, with no deleted scenes and just five audio commentaries by writer-director-star Louis C.K. Die-hard fans will love these, as C.K. chats about his reasoning and efforts, always with incisiveness and often with amusing remarks.
The only video-based extra is the fluffy, though still welcome, featurette "Fox Movie Channel Presents - Louie Season Two Premiere" (4:33, SD) with a few sound bites from C.K. and co-stars.
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