Season Two of Louis CK’s astonishingly good, semi-autobiographical show "Louie" returns to FX this week, with Louis himself starring as the perpetually downtrodden and hilariously cynical titular character. In Thursday's kickoff episode, Louie's very pregnant sister visits and wreaks a special brand of havoc, and our beleageured hero is forced to make a very difficult decision in a panicked moment.
There won't be much discussion on the tubes about how this or that has changed on the show, because frankly, very little has at face value. The "day in the life" layout remains the same, splitting equal time between his devastatingly deadpan observational humor onstage and a starkly real depiction of private life at home. Louie's 43 now, and just as begrudgingly amused by life as ever, with a dark-humor optimism that's disquietingly relatable.
The episode opens with Louie wearing the Dad hat, brushing his 5 year old daughter's teeth as she's laying out with perfectly devastating innocence the brutal truth that she loves her mother more, and she has better food at her house. Though visibly taken aback at the casual callousness, he takes it in stride, knowing there's no malice to her honesty. Still it doesn't stop him from giving her the finger after she turns to leave the room.
Any parent watching completely understands this sad – but vicariously uproarious – reality. The opening standup routine that follows covers the difficulty of entertaining two kids of different ages simultaneously (one's 9, the other's 5), and the mind-crushing frustration of teaching a reluctant kid to swim. The life lessons come fast and furious, mostly centering on the harsh realities associated with growing up, whether told to an audience through a microphone or using an argument over a mango pop to outline life's lack of fairness. "Right now she's lucky, and you're not," Louie tells his empty-handed pouting youngest.
True to form, the funniest bits always seem to flow from the most damaging truths. Onstage discussion of divorce occurring only after several years of misery elicits groans of empathy. Or is it reluctance to think of such bleak subject matter at a comedy show, despite the guffaws. "I know you're all getting quiet and sad," he says, before shifting gears to a lesser offender in life's many pitfalls.
Louie's sister comes to visit unexpectedly and "Oh, I couldn't"'s her way into staying with the family so she can get a procedure in the city in the morning. But when the screams in the night begin, it's clear that this isn't going to be a pleasant little stay. She's convinced that her unborn baby is dying, the pain is overwhelming, and who the hell is knocking on the goddamned door?!
It's the neighbors. They're concerned, and they're creepily insistent on helping. Louie, groggy and overwhelmed in the urgency of the moment, inconceivably agrees to leave his kids with one of the neighbors – a total stranger, mind you – while the other helps him take his sister to the hospital. He goes along with the plan, visibly bewildered by the entire event.
..And that's a flag on the play. I love this show, and I love just about everything about Louis CK (except the whole defending Tracy Morgan thing from last week). But there's no way a fellow parent is going to buy into the idea of leaving two helpless pre-teen girls alone in a house with an unknown, unfamiliar man under any circumstance. The plot device may have been deemed necessary for the purpose of continuing the narrative, but in truth there's no reality in which that's going to reasonably happen to a logical, rational person in America.
To add insult to awkwardly unbelievable, the emergency hospital visit turns out to be nothing more than a bad trapped blast of gas. After clearing the room with an organic vuvuzela horn blast, the brother and sister return home to find the kids are safe and sound asleep. The neighbors are warm and compassionate in light of Louie's near-breakdown in expressing his gratitude.
The show closes with a final bit of standup, yet another nugget of relatable bittersweetness as Louie shares the two simultaneous thoughts he has when looking at his kid: he loves more and understands love more because of his love for her, and he also regrets every decision that led to her birth.
The primary difference between the last season and this, from first impressions, is that the show has found itself in deeper ways than indicated in the first run of episodes. There's a confidence in the pacing that's subtle, but more established. Gentle, self-deprecating but friends with darkness and razor-sharp in wit, Louie's got exactly the right formula. Later in the season we can expect to see appearances from guest stars as Joan Rivers and F. Murray Abraham. The series will also make its way to a foreign country that will unveil a major twist in the show. Can't wait!
The second season airs Thursdays at 10:30 PM on FX.