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"You know, I hate talking to you, 'cause you're a guy that either just did, or is about to do, some stupid sh*t."
DVD ReviewLucky Louie debuted in 2006 as HBO's first multi-camera sitcom. Calling it a "family" series isn't quite right; although it's about a family, it's certainly an adult-oriented show. Reviews, as I recall, were fairly dismissive. I watched the first episode, willing to give HBO a chance on just about anything and was fairly diappointed myself. The pilot struck me as flat and a little too enamored of its own naughtiness (lots of masturbation jokes). I never bothered with it again, which is probably what happened with a lot of people. The thing is, while it never gets great here in its first (and apparently last, having not been renewed) season, it does get much better along the way.
Louie (writer and stand-up guy Louis C.K.) is an often out-of-work auto mechanic raising a four-year-old daughter with his wife Kim (Pamela Adlon). The premise doesn't get much more complicated than that: there are a couple of neighbors who pop in now and again, and a few truly weird buddies. The only real twist is that Louie is usually the one watching the daughter, even if he isn't all that great at it. The supporting cast (including comedians Jim Norton and Laura Kightlinger, and character actor Michael G. Hagerty) is uniformly solid, but the leads are great. Louis C.K. is charmingly hapless, and Pamela Adlon is a real find. I wasn't familiar with her before this, but I hope that, if nothing else, this series brings her some deserved attention. She's funny in a way that's entirely unforced, and manages to feel more like a neighbor than a fictional creation (it might just be her—she's no less funny in the commentary tracks).
For a sitcom that so often strives to be ground-breaking, Louie is surprisingly old-fashioned in many regards. Maybe that's intentional, as a means of setting off the more risqué aspects, but it can make it feel a bit stale. A lot of the jokes are of the "husband does something stupid, wife gets mad" variety that have been a TV staple for decades. Louie has to go on a diet in one episode, drinks too much in another, tries to make up with Kim after letting the "C" word slip. In episode two, Kim has her first-ever orgasm at 37, having previously preferred to get things over with quickly so that she can watch TV. Not to say that there aren't plenty of husbands who enjoy sex quite a bit more than their wives, but there's nothing really new in the suggestion. (In fairness, Kim, not Louie, is the family breadwinner). Those traditional elements put an awful lot of pressure on the writing to be fresh. Similarly, the minimalist sets and video (rather than film) create an immediacy that puts the jokes front and center, and they're not always up to the task. Many fall flat, while others get laughs solely by being naughty. There are at least a couple of instances of male nudity, and they're laugh-out-loud moments, but mostly just because of the novelty.
Then again, there's certainly something to be said for doing something that's never been done. In one of those moments, Louie leaps out of bed after sex. Unlike almost every other instance of TV sex, he's naked. And, you know, it was kind of refreshing not having to figure out at what point a guy slipped into pajamas before getting up for chips. (Sorry, kids, no female nudity. This time, only the boys take it off…) When Louie spends the rent money on a Frankenstein doll on eBay, Kim rightly curses at him like a sailor, and it does make their world seem just a bit more like our own. There's also a ton of potty-ish humor, and, let's face it, good potty jokes are funny. HBO did the mature sitcom thing with Sex and the City, but it wasn't a live-audience, family-based sitcom like this. Cable freedom gives Lucky Louie a chance to take on subjects that others wouldn't touch, and they go for it.
Mostly what this has is potential. It's really hard to judge a sitcom that has only run about half of a traditional network season, but by the second part of this set, it really begins to develop a confidence and voice that are now unlikely to be fulfilled.
Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: B
Image Transfer Review: Louie is shot entirely on video, and that crispness is transferred well onto the discs. The show doesn't have a huge budget by any means, but HBO has done right by it with a clean presentation.
Image Transfer Grade: A
Audio Transfer Review: Like the video transfer, the 2.0 audio track is clean and effective. The show is almost entirely dialogue-focused, and everything here is crisp.
Audio Transfer Grade: A
Disc ExtrasFull Motion menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
4 Feature/Episode commentaries by Louis C.K., Pamela Adlon, Jim Norton, Rick Shapiro, and exec. producer Mike Royce.
Packaging: unknown double keepcase
Next is a great featurette, A Week in the Life of Lucky Louie. In about 20 minutes, it offers a concise overview of the process of putting together a sitcom. From the table read, costuming, rewrites, set construction, etc., it's one of the best run-downs of the week during which a half-hour episode is put together. It helps that the example used is Long Weekend, one of my favorites from the set.
There is also the unaired episode, Clowntime is Over. It's a middling episode at best, but still a very nice inclusion.
Extras Grade: B+
Final CommentsLucky Louie never achieves greatness, but it does manage to teach the old sitcom dog a few tricks, even if it does that mostly by amping up the potty humor, swearing, and male nudity. It's tough to recommend wholeheartedly, since it really only begins to hit a stride toward the end of its short run. Still, Louis C.K. and Pamela Adlon are charming and funny leads, and the show is definitely good for a few laughs along the way.
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