Actress Sarah Baker delivered the best line of last season's "Louie," when she played a waitress named Vanessa, a self-described “fat girl” who liked Louis C.K., but refused to put up with his condescending platitudes: “Louie, you know what the meanest thing is you can say to a fat girl? ‘You're not fat.’”
The meanest thing you could say to a stand-up comedian, as C.K. likely would agree, is "You're not funny." But when it comes to his FX unconventional show, which starts its fifth season April 9, he's not all that worried about the laughs.
"Louie" is like a ball bouncing around a roulette wheel – we don't know whether it will land on funny, serious, sad, sweet, bittersweet or any of the other emotions circling through his active, semi-depressive’s mind. But it's a good bet that wherever C.K.'s muse stops, the result is all but certain to grab us and stay with us.
Over the last five years, the show has evolved in a Woody Allen-like fashion, venturing occasionally into black-and-white, with a jazz soundtrack that sets the ever-shifting, moody tone.
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Humor and drama alike, as we saw most pointedly last season, stem from C.K.'s major anxieties: his two children (his adolescent daughter's pot smoking and his younger girl's bolting from the subway made him lose more of what's left of his hair), his daddy issues (most recently displayed in a 90-minute flashback to his troubled youth) and his fear of being alone (a fling with a Hungarian woman with limited English spoke to this branch of “Louie” melancholia).
As "Louie" matures, the show is built less on C.K.'s quick wit and more on how he reacts to others – often tilting his head down as if he's trying to restrain himself from saying something he'll regret. He's most tongue-tied with his acerbic on-again-off-again crush Pamela, the subject of last season's most disturbing scene, in which he clumsily tried to force himself on her.
"This would be rape if you weren't so stupid," Pamela told him. "You can't even rape well!"
The sequence, if nothing else, showed that C.K. is not afraid to make himself look bad or delve into places most other comedians wouldn't dare.
Last season's finale ended with C.K. getting in a tub with Pamela, showing off the fat-guy physique some of us his age grapple with, in a segment that passed for romantic, at least by "Louie" standards. The bath marked a light ending to an often-heavy run – and perhaps signified a symbolic cleansing of the soul, psyche or whatever distresses C.K.
It's unclear where "Louie" is headed next (the promos–see above–for this season don't give away much). But with "Louie," laughs now come last: Whatever story Louis C.K. needs to tell comes first.
Jere Hester is founding director of the award-winning, multimedia NYCity News Service at the City University of New York Graduate School of Journalism. He is also the author of "Raising a Beatle Baby: How John, Paul, George and Ringo Helped us Come Together as a Family." Follow him on Twitter.