The second season of FX's Louie is an example of the kind of fine entertainment you can get when you give a talented artist like Louis C.K. a chunk of money and free reign to make whatever he wants. Like season one, the new season of Louie isn't always about getting laughs, as C.K., the sole creative mind behind the show (he writes, directs, and edits every episode), takes the frustration, doubt, and anxiety that informs his phenomenal stand-up act and explores them on a deeper level, often with intensely funny results.
The season opens with the comedian clumsily brushing the teeth of his five-year-old daughter (Ursula Parker) while she sweetly tells him just how much more she loves her mother than him. There's no malice in her words, she's just simply stating a fact. Louie pauses for a moment and then continues to brush away, sending his daughter off to bed as he quietly flips her off behind her back. It's a classic Louis C.K. bit, one that shows that, even though you can shower kids with care and affection, they can still figure out a way to make you feel like shit.
Not so much a sitcom as a collection of comedic shorts, Louie often feels like it's composed of the kind of earnest shorts film school students might make—albeit considerably less terrible. Framed by snippets of C.K.'s stand-up, Louie is often self-contained, thoughtful, and punctuated with surreal flights of fancy and bitterly ironic twists. If the show's first season was bearing witness to a comedian hitting his creative stride, then this second season is watching a master at work.
Each episode of season two covers the same existential quagmires that C.K. explored previously: single fatherhood, divorce, life on the road, and the like. The best of the season's early episodes, “Bummer/Blueberries,” is broken up into two shorts that dwell on dating after 40 and how that means either putting up with superficial twentysomethings and wildly broken, eccentric divorcees.
In the funnier of the episode's two halves, “Bummer,” Louie's date with a disinterested younger girl gets an unexpected boost when he goes on a rant about the thin line between life and death, and how they both know that they only agreed to date one another for superficial reasons: he thinks she's pretty, she thinks he can help her career. His candor causes the pair to share an unexpected, rather beautiful romantic moment, which falls apart the second she learns the grizzly details behind Louie's sudden change of character. In that instant, she becomes less attracted to him than ever and he reverts back to awkwardly trying to get into her pants.
The gags don't always work though. An unfortunate fart joke deflates the end of the show's otherwise excellent season premiere, and an episode featuring Joan Rivers doling out hard-learned advice to Louie has a funny, unexpected resolution, but overall feels more like a companion piece to last year's widely praised documentary Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work than something from C.K. himself. Of course, these are just minor bumps in an otherwise excellent string of episodes.
If anything, this second season of Louie illustrates that, as a writer and director, C.K. has matured far beyond the silly prankster who wrote and directed Pootie Tang over a decade ago. Louie is smart, cinematic, and bitterly honest, constantly dancing between revelatory moments and hysterical bursts of humor that are both surprising and touching.