Writing for the Los Angeles Review of Books, Adam Wilson has a thoughtful take on Louis C.K., his TV show, and his comedy style in general.
The format of the American sitcom held steady for almost 40 years. The most noteworthy innovation was a negation; in the early nineties, HBO comedies like the short-lived Dream On ditched the pervasive canned laugh track, paving the way for the so-called cringe comedy of shows like Curb Your Enthusiasm. On Curb, the absence of a laugh track makes it difficult for viewers to know when to laugh. We cringe because we’re holding in laughter, waiting for a cue that it’s okay to release. But there is always a breaking point, an explosion into an absurdity so deep — Larry rushing into the water to “save” a baptismal candidate from drowning, for example — that the tension is relieved, and the laughter is released.
Louie both reacts to the failure of Lucky Louie and advances on Curb’s cringe comedy by creating something tenser, more tonally ambiguous. Louie’s singularity lies in its ability to further confound viewers by setting up jokes, and then providing pathos instead of punch lines. Not only does Louie’s audience not know when to laugh, they don’t even know if what they’re watching is supposed to be funny. For the Laptop Loner, this ambiguity is made all the more palpable by the absence of viewing partners; we use other people’s reactions to gauge the correctness of our own. But it also makes the ambiguity less assaulting. Alone, we can be comfortable in our discomfort.
Writing for The Awl, Heather Havrilesky (who you may remember from Suck) highlights three stereotypical TV characters (The Hapless Dad, The Friend, and The Wise Old Professional) and characters on three current shows (Louie, Girls, and Mad Men) that cut right through that bullshit.
Because on “Girls,” not only is The Friend (Hannah, played by Dunham) not all that insecure (relatively speaking), but she also has more swagger and courage and heart than The Hot One (Marnie) and The Other Hot One (Jessa) and The Sort of Hot One (Shoshanna) put together. Instead of whining and weeping snottily into her hands the way The Friend would do on any other television show, Hannah gets naked and refuses to exercise but realizes that she is exactly 13 pounds overweight (this isn’t some fantasyland, after all, except for the trust funds and bad Fu Manchus). Hannah has lots of not-very-great sex. She’s sometimes timid and confused, sure, but she’s brave enough to state her feelings to people directly. She’s self-possessed. But most importantly, she is not preoccupied with not being The Hot One. She wears clothing that doesn’t compliment her body. She doesn’t appear to brush her hair regularly. She doesn’t have to, because she doesn’t believe that there is some center of the universe located somewhere other than where she is, and she’ll only get there if her hair is brushed. No. She can simply exist and do what regular people do: Eat, worry, sleep late, roll her eyes, fall on her face.
I’m gonna come out and say that I really liked Girls, due in large part (I’m realizing now) to Hannah’s (and Adam’s and Ray’s) directness and self-possession.