One of the striking things you might have noticed about the AMC series “Better Call Saul” is if you wrote down, beat by beat, each plot point of that show’s first season, it wouldn’t be that exciting (especially compared to “Breaking Bad,” the series that preceded it). And yet it was a fascinating season of television, capturing the attention of viewers with its richly drawn characters and tone-perfect execution.
The FX comedy “Louie” carries with it a similar approach, a dedication to truth that can make any storyline compelling. Let’s watch Louie (star/creator Louis C.K.) go to therapy! Let’s watch Louie mingle awkwardly at a party! Let’s watch Louie make fried chicken! Seriously, let’s watch.
All of the above only covers the first half or so of the season premiere; Season 5 features the middle-aged comedian once again confronting age, sex, family, work and all the other mundanities of everyday life through his very specific viewpoint, all framed in some fashion around his stand-up comedy.
It’s a show which alternates between the beautiful visual (that fried chicken sequence is actually pretty captivating) and the blunt but verbal: A favorite trope of the show is the just-introduced character who, out of the blue, will come out with some monologue designed to put Louie’s life in perspective (for better or for worse).
But while it’s — at this point — a given fact you know exactly what you’ll get, tonally, from a “Louie” episode, it’s also a given fact you can’t necessarily predict where an episode might take you. Whereas in Season 4, “Louie” played with surrealism on an intense level, there’s something much more grounded and disciplined about the Season 5 episodes provided for critics so far. The fantasy sequences and flashbacks are gone, with the show instead focused fully on awkward situations, mix-em-ups and conversations so serious they can either break your heart or crack you up.
And there’s one area that’s particularly important: Whereas Louie’s floundering search for love was only one of the wells the show would dredge over the years, it’s a dominant concern here, especially given that last season ended with Louie and his longtime friend Pamela (Pamela Adlon) moving their relationship to…
Well, that’s the question, as their romance has been unconditional (at best). Whether that’s the result of them being two middle-aged people with children and complicated romantic histories attempting to connect, or just their individually inherent weirdness is just one of the questions “Louie” is interested in exploring over several episodes.
And that in itself makes the Louie/Pamela relationship noteworthy; the fact it’s a recurring storyline, a narrative that has not been abandoned. That same fear of boredom which makes “Louie” so compelling has, in past seasons, lead to the episodes having almost a scattered feel. But there’s a core path here that could drive an entire season’s worth of material… or not. It all comes down to what Louie wants to do next.
One of the most interesting things about Louis C.K. is how he seems genuinely allergic to boredom. It’s well known that the veteran comic and creator will write a full set of material every year, then abandon it the next year to start fresh. His approach to his FX series seems very similar, to the point where he famously took a year off between Seasons 3 and 4 because he wanted more time to develop ideas. It’s the definition of an auteur approach — an auteur dedicated to both heartfelt character development and artisanal dick jokes.
Turns out, the real mark of an auteur is being able to pull something like that off and making sure you can’t stop watching, as C.K. explores the depths of his deeply felt cheery nihilism. Watching “Louie” means looking at the world through C.K.’s eyes; and through his eyes, the world is never boring.