Monday, January 17, 2011

My Favorite New TV Show of 2010

Television continued its impressively long-lasting winning streak in 2010. As has been the case for the last decade or so, the cable networks led the way with innovative series premises and storytelling techniques. While there were many excellent new shows that debuted in 2010, one stood out for me above the others.

My favorite new show of 2010 is...


Rarely is a television series capable of executing such a unified, auteurist vision; rarer still for such a thing to be a comedy. Created by, written by, produced by, directed by, edited by and starring stand-up comedian Louis C.K., "Louie" is nothing short of one of the most impressive television achievements of the past decade.

If you're not already familiar with Louis C.K. as a stand-up, do yourself a favor and get familiar. He is roundly recognized as one of, if not the, best stand-up comedians working today. (On any given day, one or more of his stand-up specials are usually available for instant streaming on Netflix. If not, you can always rent the DVDs.)

"Louie" is raw and rough around the edges, and consequently uneven. Some episodes work, and some don't. But that's one of the things I love most about it: it's trying to do something new, something original, something you haven't seen on TV before. It's willing to take chances. If it sometimes doesn't pan out, at least the show is trying harder than most series do. And when it does succeed -- which it more often does -- you're seeing television at its finest.

Each episode has the feel of an independent short film. Early episodes were split into one act stories, a new story starting after each commercial break. In later episodes, stories grew to fit the full 22 minute length (half hour time slot).

The show is willing to be not funny. It delves into social discomfort that rivals "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and the original "The Office." Take, for example, the episode titled "Bully." While Louis is out on a date, he gets threatened by a high schooler, effectively deflating his masculinity. After the incident, Louis starts to follow the kid with uncertain intentions, eventually tracking him all the way to his home. What he finds there is no easy resolution, and the episode ends on a spectacularly ambiguous note. It's not chock-full of laughs, but it's one of the best half hours of television I saw all year.

Louis is willing to let the show step away from himself as well. In the episode "God," an incident in the first couple minutes leads Louis to a childhood memory - a flashback that lasts the remainder of the episode. Once again, the priority of the episode is not getting laughs so much as genuinely exploring a story premise and following it wherever it may go. This is a brave thing to do in a show that's branded as a sitcom.

"Louie" is always engaging, and always worth poring over. It's a strong statement from an eclectic talent working at the top of his game. And -- great news -- the entire series is currently available for streaming on Hulu and Netflix. Get caught up now, and be ready for season two this summer.

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