Before I get into the two FX premieres last night, I'd like to bid pained adieu to The Onion Sportsdome, which was canceled by Comedy Central this week. I can't say it's a surprising cut since the show was so polarizing. I thought it was one of the two most innovative comedies on television, an impressive feat considering it was both a satire of ESPN's self-important sports reporting and frantically surreal. Sportsdome's cancellation reminds me of another short-lived comedy show which was also fast-paced, weird, and polarizing: The Dana Carvey Show. Maybe Sportsdome had the next Stephen Colbert and Louis C.K. in their writing ranks.
Speaking of Louis C.K., the other most innovative comedy on television returned for a second season last night.
It took slightly over a minute for Louie to show it was back at full brilliance, and the rest of the episode maintained that quality. During its first season, Louie blended pathos, honesty, insight, and absurdity with the highest level of comedy writing. If the first episode of Season 2 is any indication, the bar will be raised even further this year.
Consider: episode one begins with Louie flipping off his 5 year-old daughter with our complete sympathy. There's his stand-up act, where he admits sometimes wishing his children didn't exist, then a protracted (and impressive) cooking scene set to jazz music, then another scene with the same daughter in which a moment - one of those teachable moments parents dream about - goes off the rails. This is followed by a second stand-up scene during which Louie justifies divorce on stage, and makes some pretty damn good points.
Then, in the show's second half, Louie suffers a family crisis. He is faced with leaving his children with a stranger, to trusting his neighbors, and the panic of his sister in pain. Then there's a fart joke Larry the Cable Guy probably would've dismissed for being over-the-top. This is immediately followed by a scene addressing themes of community that is touching and poignant without once teetering into gross sentimentality. Back on stage in the final scene, Louis C.K. talks about making new friends in middle age before ending on a blue note that would've elicited protests 20 years ago.
It's not hard to imagine Louie having a similar impact to Curb Your Enthusiasm. Like Larry David, C.K. is a veteran comedy writer and performer unwilling to skate, always looking forward, and Louie has him performing at a virtuosic level. Louie's thoughtful pace and melancholic outlook probably aren't for everyone, but no comedy on television is more rewarding.
While they've made a number of missteps in the drama department, FX has reached HBO quality levels when it comes to comedy. In the case of Louie, this meant giving Louis C.K. a budget and letting him go, the kind of move every patron of any form of art should applaud. Between Louie, Always Sunny in Philadelphia, The League, and Archer, FX is on fire right now. Wilfred, the network's newest show, stars Elijah Wood as a suicidal failure who begins communicating with a dog. Only the dog is a human in a dog outfit! AND EVERYONE ELSE SEES HIM AS A DOG! QUIRKY, HUH!?! Even with Elijah Wood, that's a premise I'd usually avoid.
Except it's a half-hour comedy on FX. Due to shows like Parks and Recreation (which gets better with each episode) and The Killing (who's finale nearly spurred a torch and pitchfork parade among viewers who'd stuck around that long), TV writers have learned you can't judge a show on its premiere. That said, Wilfred was promising. A few too many jokes hinged on "this is funny because he's a dog, except he's a human!", but maybe the writers were just getting those out of the way early. Anyway, I laughed.