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‘Louis C.K. 2017’ Review: This Bold Netflix Special Proves Being Free From ‘Louie’ Can Be Better For TV

Louis C.K.'s new Netflix special might be the only time we see him on screen this year, but it's a reminder that his imprint is now everywhere.

Louis C.K. 2017 Netflix Special

Cara Howe/Netflix

Louis C.K. credits Matthew McConaughey before Channing Tatum when discussing “Magic Mike.”

That, in and of itself, is troublesome, given how much of Steven Soderbergh’s film is lifted from Tatum’s own life, let alone his exceptional talents. McConaughey left a mark (and deserved an Oscar), but the series successfully moved on without him in “Magic Mike XXL.” The same could not be said if Tatum and his hip-thrusting, body-spinning, headstand-ing self was gone.

But C.K.’s distinctive views on the 2012 film don’t end there.

“It’s just a nice movie about men who strip,” C.K. says, describing a film in which a friendship is severed by drug addiction and careers are ended over money. Though he’s seen the dark movie many times — enough to have a favorite quote — it’s clear Louis C.K. has a grave misunderstanding of what “Magic Mike” is about.

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Louis C.K. 2017 Netflix Special

But that’s what we’re paying for, be it the fans in attendance for his new stand-up special, “Louis C.K. 2017,” or the rest of us watching via Netflix. We’re paying to hear a new perspective from a man who’s unique view of life, from the big issues (like abortion) to the minor details (like his thoughts on a stripper movie), has helped establish him as one of the great voices of our time.

This voice comes through loud and clear in everything that C.K. does. Be it his stand-up, which literally isolates him, alone, on stage, with a microphone, or what he creates on TV: “Louie,” his Emmy-winning (reportedly finished) FX series, stands tall as one of the medium’s greatest accomplishments. Each scene, each vignette, each recorded stand-up routine, it’s all Louis. He directed, edited, wrote, produced, and starred in the series, and the creative control provided to him was unparalleled at the time.

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His self-produced and self-distributed season of “Horace and Pete” felt similarly personal, even as C.K. transitioned to an hour-long, dramatic format. And now we’re getting pure, unfiltered Louis in the first of two Netflix specials starring C.K. on stage.

“Louis C.K. 2017” runs the gamut of big issues — and fast. C.K. bluntly opens with abortion, before transitioning to similarly weighty topics like how Christianity “won” the battle of religion, whether marital vows should last into the afterlife, and being envious of the transgender community. Rather than spoil any of his insights — even discussing them feels like it’s giving away the joyous discovery of watching his mind connect topics — I’ll just say this: C.K.’s return to the stage showcases the confidence, charisma, and unflinching opinions you’ve come to love, and his material remains surprisingly off-kilter.

Louis C.K. 2017 Netflix Special

Including “Magic Mike.” What makes C.K.’s material so intriguing is how it compares to his other current creative efforts. When discussing abortion, there are a few off color moments when it feels like yet another dude is offering his opinion on an argument over women’s bodies. Well-defended and darkly funny, the opening segment isn’t anything to dismiss — C.K. knows exactly how to present these thoughts — but, ideally, it would drive viewers to try out “Better Things,” Pamela Adlon’s FX series co-created by C.K. (who also produces and directed the pilot). C.K. has always been deeply respectful and even defensive of women, but how his ideas are channeled through Adlon’s lens in “Better Things” gives them even more power.

C.K.’s incredible influence on storytelling doesn’t end there, nor do the connections between his stand-up material and great television he’s got a hand in producing. His discussion of public school teachers as martyr-like figures evoked memories of “Baskets,” which he co-created with Zach Galifianakis and Jonathan Krisel, whose star gives up so much for the benefit of others. C.K.’s focus on the responsibilities unfairly forced upon parents drew to mind “One Mississippi”; specifically Tig Notaro’s step-father, Bill (John Rothman), and his complicated relationship with blame and guilt.

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Louis C.K. doesn’t appear in any of these programs, but his fingerprints are all over them (not to take anything away from the creators, writers, producers, and everyone involved in the daily producing grind). And yet fans clamor for more “Louie” rather than being satisfied with more Louis. He’s everywhere, and TV is arguably better off with C.K. working in many different arenas: He’s got stand-up on Netflix, scripted work for FX and Amazon, and an upcoming animated comedy on TBS.

In “Louie,” some of the best bits came from C.K. on stage with just him, the audience, and a microphone. Without “Louie,” we’re seeing more of that than ever (just head to his website for a vast array of content), plus more of his unique viewpoints via top-tier collaborative work elsewhere. If “Louis CK 2017” is what we get in exchange for his work in so many other venues, than that’s an excellent trade-off. There’s more magic in that mic than we realize.

Grade: B+

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