A few minutes into “Potluck,” the first episode of “Louie’s” fifth season, Louis C.K. puts his therapist to sleep. “Oh my God,” he realizes, “I’m a boring asshole now!” It’s both perfectly in line with the character he’s built up over the previous four seasons, the one who always seems to be the butt of the world’s jokes, and a sly acknowledgment that the previous season’s focus on joke-free multipart episodes turned away viewers and even some critics who prefer when he sticks to the funny stuff. As C.K. promised in advance, “Louie’s” fifth season is a less ambitious beast, right down to being only eight episodes long. The four made available to critics in advance have some small serialized components, but they’ve also got plenty of scenes that stand on their own as mordant vignettes, C.K. sharp-as-ever portrait of a single father’s life in the big city.
How critics feels about “Louie’s” fifth season largely depends on how they felt about its fourth: Those exhilarated by C.K.’s pushing the boundaries of the sitcom find it a bit of a letdown, where those who felt he’d strayed too far from his core strengths welcome his return to them. The ads FX has been running for the show seem determined to remind people that it’s a comedy. It seems like C.K. is as well.
Reviews of “Louie,” Season 5
James Poniewozik, Time
In season 5 — or the four episodes I was sent, because who knows after that — “Louie” is experimenting with being a weekly half-hour TV show. There are still continuing elements (Louie’s relationship with Pamela, for instance, carrying over from last season) and some short vignettes, but the episodes tell single stories that end at the half-hour’s end. They are, by and large, blisteringly funny, even when they’re also poignant…. Suffice it to say that “Louie” has again successfully reinvented itself, this time as what it used to be.
Mike Hale, New York Times
The new season is a more straightforward affair over all, reminiscent in tone and structure of the show’s brilliantly mordant first three years. In the typical episode, a bit of stand-up, a short, low-key absurdist sketch and a longer, more intricate story share space and a set of tangentially related themes and images. Through four of the eight episodes, there’s no grand narrative arc, no weekslong excavation of Louie’s youth or his insecurities about sex and loneliness, as there were last season. Everything is compact, self-contained.
Esther Breger, New Republic
“Louie,” which starts its fifth season Thursday night on FX, is still funny, sad, and ungainly. But it’s massively scaled down from last year’s messily ambitious season. The show has gone back to something resembling an actual TV show— something simpler, more straightforwardly funny.
Andy Greenwald, Grantland
“Louie” speaks with a singular voice that’s not for everyone but could never be mistaken for anyone else. Last year, this untidiness set the Internet on fire in the best possible way. The first four episodes of Season 5 aren’t nearly so provocative — or as good. In fact, between the increasingly hostile presence of Pamela Adlon’s Pamela and some goony, repetitive guest turns by Michael Rapaport and Robert Kelly (as a cop and Louie’s brother, respectively), I’d argue that, season premiere aside, these are some of the weakest “Louie” episodes to date. But that’s almost beside the point. Appreciating the joy of Louie means celebrating its occasional failure. Good comedians don’t have to make you laugh to be interesting. A little honesty, creative and otherwise, can go a long way.
Allison Keene, Collider
There’s a sense in this new season, though, of a passing of the torch. It almost feels like Louis CK doesn’t think he should have the floor anymore, so he’s giving it to others. The problem is, he is the one who holds all of our empathy and interest. The way his alter-ego earnestly bumbles around the city, trying to just be a decent guy as he’s provoked, prodded, and occasionally punished for things he doesn’t deserve, is the comedic tragedy that draws us in. If Louis CK is indeed thinking about passing on the mic, we should in no way be ready or willing to let him. No matter how his storytelling changes, it never stops being good.
Brian Lowry, Variety
As writer, director, editor and star, Louis C.K. has become one of TV comedy’s genuine auteurs, while indulging impulses that can take the series in unforeseen and uncomfortable directions. That included last year’s serialized arc involving Louie’s hopeless romance with a woman who didn’t speak English, which felt more like a French art-house film than almost anything on television. Compared with that, this year’s flurry of episodes is a laugh riot, and indeed, less serialized than actually diced into bite-sized bits — in some instances featuring scenes that don’t relate to anything else in the half-hour, as if the comic just had something he needed to get off his chest.
Chris Cabin, Slant
For every cynical viewpoint that C.K. asserts, there’s an equal measure of sincere understanding, a feeling that even the most pestering, ignorant, and self-serving jerk on this planet is still, essentially, a human being. As in “Girls,” the tension at the center ofLouie is sustained via an attempt at the respective main characters’ attempt at a balance between being a positive part of society and feeding a demanding inner perspective that is, in many ways, their living.