Why Louie C.K. gets credit for being original even when it isn’t

06/19/2014 5:44 PM

06/19/2014 5:46 PM

Louis C.K. occupies a unique position in the cultural firmament. He’s smarter, funnier, blunter and more vulnerable than most middle-aged dads in T-shirts, and yet, still, a middle-aged dad in a T-shirt.

But he is not quite so trailblazing as some of the show’s biggest fans think – and with the season finale, C.K. tried to tell them so.

C.K. and Louie are both genuinely original and idiosyncratic, but this has overshadowed the ways in which they are not, in fact, all that original. Yes, many “Louie” episodes on FX exhibit a flagrant disregard for TV conventions, for standard episodic structure, for punch lines, for logic; its best installments are unbuttoned, touching on so many ideas and possibilities that they make old subjects feel observed anew. This effect is so powerful that when C.K. delivers a sophisticated variation on a “Full House”-style lesson – the word faggot is hurtful, bullying is bad, other people are mysterious, fat women are human beings – it feels like a Zen koan rather than a fortune cookie.

But with this finale, C.K tried to upend the myth of his special acuity.

In the episode, C.K. teed up his mission statement, using Marc Maron as a Louis C.K. stand-in. Maron appeared as a very successful comedian with a new TV show who castigates Louie for his bad-friendship and jealousy, inspiring Pamela (Pamela Adlon) to deliver a rant about the relative worth of successful comedians with TV shows.

The entire season, like the finale, played around with originality, or rather, a lack of it. “Elevator” was a much-heralded six-episode arc, but it unfolded like any other television show would: continuously, with the story playing out in order, supplemented by occasional B-plots. In the last episode of that arc, Louie rescued his family from a hurricane, like a superhero.

Even C.K’s boldest decision this season, to remake “Louie” as a kind of creep, was in conversation with TV’s most omnipresent trend: the raging, suppressed, frequently-on-the-verge-of-violence anti-hero.

When Louis C.K. writes a speech about how a man with a TV show is “just a guy,” he contributes to the myth of himself, he keeps humbly insisting he’s regular, which is proof positive of his irregularity.

“Louie” this season was not as fresh as it has been in the past – and not just because Louis C.K. said so.

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