Louis CK's TV show Louie (on FX Thursday nights) is a merging of all kinds of different worlds and sensibilities, a collage hodgepodge of moments captured in a cinema-verite' style that somehow transcends both movies and sitcoms. As I watch each new episode I get the feeling Louis is referencing literature, not pop culture, and yet there's nothing starchy or explicit in those literary references. He isn't doing Shakespeare, God knows, or even John Cheever, but there's a feeling inside each of his little 24-minute movies on Thursday nights that has the deft charm and seriousness of a really good short story written by someone who wants to both manufacture a masterpiece and also try to reconfigure what a "masterpiece" means in this really crazy and kind of creepy Reality-TV day and age.
The transcendence and ambitiousness seems to emanate from the man himself. A lumpy, embarrassed, middle-aged guy with a look of hope turning into hopelessness in his eyes at all times, Louis' character on the show is an avatar for the man himself of course, but it's not a docudrama or docucomedy by any means. The show has a sloppy sense of continuity on purpose (different actors play the same characters sometimes in the same episode), but a strict sense of aesthetic purpose. Louis always gets that 1970s Sidney-Lumet/Francis-Ford-Coppola light just right, and the romance of that smoky melancholic attention to detail gives the show a way out of itself.
The best episode I've seen so far this season details a trip Louie takes to Miami, in order to perform stand up. The details pile up slowly and dreamily: an anonymous hotel room facing a crowded beach, Louie overeating on a plush hotel bed, Louie adventuring out to the beach in black clothes, leaving his wallet and clothes on a beach-chair so he can go for a swim. And then one of the staff taking the beach chair away while Louie is swimming. Louie panics. The lifeguard on duty thinks he's drowning. The lifeguard in this case is a gorgeous, dreamy-eyed Cuban. Louie and the lifeguard become fast friends in a breezy series of encounters that reminds you of those first friendships you make on playgrounds as a kid -- an intensity that far outweighs the significance of the acquaintance. Louie basically falls in love with this guy. The sexual implications aren't hilarious, in the way they might be on other sitcoms. There are no easy jokes here, just easy access to human emotions. By the end of the show, you totally understand how a straight middle-aged guy can fall in love with a young male lifeguard, and not because the older guy is horny or closeted, but because he feels all alone. That might be one of the best examples of "gay" ever put on TV, dislocating static binaries, and providing enough space for actual feeling.
Louie is a TV show that somehow matters. In a world overwhelmed with media and bull-shit and pundits, Louis CK has staked a claim to simple, effective, beautifully shot authenticity.