"Louie" a casserole of comedy

Tue Jun 29, 2010 2:46am EDT

Stand-up comedian and director Louis C.K. arrives for the premiere of his film ''Hilarious'' at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 26, 2010. REUTERS/Robert Galbraith

Stand-up comedian and director Louis C.K. arrives for the premiere of his film ''Hilarious'' at the Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah January 26, 2010.

Credit: Reuters/Robert Galbraith

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LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Let's stipulate that Louis C.K. is a funny guy. The challenge has been to find a vehicle that would transform him from a super stand-up to a TV star, a la Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld or even Kevin James and Jeff Foxworthy.

Four years ago, HBO gave it a try with "Lucky Louie," a conventional sitcom format fortified with added license only premium cable can take. Despite HBO's well-earned reputation for patience, the show lasted only a single season.

A new series premiering Tuesday on FX, "Louie," tries a different tack, alternating scenes of stand-up with related events in the comedian's life. This approach, in which the star also is the writer, director and editor, does a much better job of translating Louis C.K.'s wit and comic irreverence to a weekly series. It deserves to catch on, though it's back-and-forth style might make it a tougher sell to viewers, at least initially, based on the "Seinfeld" example.

In its current form, "Louie" is nothing if not eclectic. The focus shifts from episode to episode, and even within episodes, from family life to social life to politics to an "inside baseball" examination of comedy.

In the pilot, Louie muses about the lack of employees in school and, hence, the need for volunteers. The "real life" Louie then boards a school bus with his daughters for a field trip to a botanical gardens. He tells the unseen audience at the Comedy Cellar in New York that, in time, all relationships are doomed. Then he proves the point with an awkward first date that culminates with an emergency evacuation.

There's a lot of unrelated material in a small amount of time, but it moves quickly, and the next laugh is never more than a few seconds away.

Subsequent episodes, all of them smart and funny, diverge wildly in tone. During the second outing, he seeks out a former childhood girlfriend with predictably bad results. Ricky Gervais dominates the third episode, playing a comically insensitive doctor who jokes about AIDS and laughs at his patient's complaints. That same episode includes a discussion on politics with fellow comedian Nick Apollo that becomes violent.

Viewers often come to FX with the expectation they will be challenged by new perspectives on traditional genres. If enough of them take that approach, Louis C.K. will find the mass audience that has eluded him.

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