Friday, June 16, 2006

A Dirty, Freckled Dick: LUCKY LOUIE

The television situation comedy is an old friend of mine, and while the interest doesn't usually find voice on Kinetoscope, sitcoms surely consume 1/3 of my viewing attention. I love it, can't help it, and am not always sure why. The rules of sitcoms apply nowhere else, work nowhere else, and move us in context as they do nowhere else. The challenge faced by TV programmers is: I haven't been enthralled with a new sitcom in nearly a decade.

God-given-gift standup and TV gag writer (and, well, Pootie Tang auteur) Louis C.K.'s new HBO sitcom Lucky Louie premiered on Sunday night. The concept is a revival of the multicamera, live studio audience family sitcom, with the freedoms allowed by HBO. These freedoms amount mainly to swearing; that the pilot episode hinges on Louie's wife, Kim (Pamela Aidon), catching him masturbating, and revolves around her potential motives for graphically offering him a solid week of sex... well. It may pop Granny's dentures, but is she going to see it in the first place? It's all All in the Family and Seinfeld territory at worst. A subplot about adorable daughter Lucy (Kelly Gould) being disturbed by a black Barbie doll is unlikely to drop any jaws after any given episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Verdict: Lucky Louie's okay; the bricks are there for a better show, and so is the precedent. For a lot of folks, the sitcom-approval rule requires nothing more than being made to laugh. And Lucky Louie makes me laugh, so bully for that. There are great jokes: a rote gag in which Lucy won't stop asking her father "why" ends up topping itself repeatedly, as Louie refuses to lie until finally confesses "God is dead and we're alone." There are dirty jokes I like in spite of myself: the episode ends with the declaration of spousal love "I'm gonna fuck your tits off." There are dumb, unworthy jokes: supporting gal pal Tina (Laura Kightlinger) gives loud sex tips in a grocery store and embarrasses an old lady... you wish, Lucky Louie. You wish...

The primary goals are admirable, to mine bitter humor from the daily miseries of Louie's family as they struggle with real human problems, financial, marital and social. The totally unsuppressed rage, vented on loved ones and the world at large in equal measure, and wallowing in a sad sack assholism are bussed in from Louis C.K.'s stand-up persona, and the smartest move the writers make. Louie's character is a bit vaguely defined (he's like the "real" Louie, but poor and works in "a muffler shop" for some reason), but Every Schlub characters are hard to flesh out when pilots have so much other work to do.

The characters are poor, the sets are hideous and cheap, the poverty is palpable. The redeeming ideas are supposed to be that in the end, Louie's family loves each other (aw), and that they joke through their problems to survive. Whether it wants to be a rough and tumble Honeymooners or a less-relevant All in the Family, time may tell. Pray Louie doesn't descend to the schmaltzy depths of the former and remains funnier than the latter. It will be Lucky Louie's choices in how it judges its own characters that will decide. The crassness of the pilot episode is strained, rather than the natural milieu: characters don't talk frankly about sex like real people, they just kind of talk gross. I just know the talent on hand is funnier than that. If you don't "keep it real," you've got Married... With Children. And I like things about Married... With Children, but it's unambitious, and it's not smart.

The sitcom true-believer in me wants Lucky Louie to look Roseanne as a model. Not just for the surface plot (honest faced blue collar heroism and despair) and thematic similarities (edgy taboo-pushing, grating leads masking depression with sarcasm). Roseanne's earliest episodes have fine moments, but are mostly overwhelmed by the transplanted stand-up comedian serving as the star. It is when the Roseanne Barr stand-up material dries up and disappears, and the supporting cast steps forward that Roseanne grows wings. The novelty of being vulgar has to disappear, leaving the more adult truth that drives the characters. Even if Lucky Louie never attains those highs (I don't see a John Goodman or Laurie Metcalf in the supporting players), it's nice to see a sitcom grasping for the same idea: we are all this vulgar and miserable, and God love us for it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

what did ya think of the 2nd episode?

I thought it was better than the first. It felt more "true" which is what the show is trying to achieve.

Though the vibrator subplot was kind of lame.