September 28, 2012



The limits of critical adoration are demonstrated by LOUIE.  Despite possibly terabytes of raves and features about Louis C.K.’s show in every corner of the media all season, the ratings, especially since Anger Management finished its run, have been terrible, and last night’s season finale was watched by fewer than 450,000 people in its initial airing.  (An enormous percentage of those, more than 60%, were in the advertiser-friendly 18-49 demo… but still.)  And that was after C.K. picked up 2 Emmys Sunday night, not to mention appearing as a presenter on the network broadcast.  Luckily for those who care about the show and what its creator is bringing to television, it’s produced on a shoestring, and brings so much positive attention to FX that the network (even though it’s in the advertising business and not, like HBO, the subscriber business) can afford half an hour a week on a series that turns a small profit if any.  (If nothing else, the lines of creative artists now interested in working for FX must crowd the halls.)  Louie had already been renewed for next season, and probably has a safe home for the foreseeable future.

It was an extraordinary, remarkable season for Louie, which simply doesn’t play by any rules but its auteur’s own.  By this time, everyone has heard about his network deal, which allows him virtually final cut as long as he conforms to standards and has the correct running time and number of commercial breaks, and that absolute independence shows in every frame.  This year there were indelible guest turns by Melissa Leo and especially Parker Posey, whose 2d episode recounting her character Liz’s date with Louie might have been the best of the season. There was also the 3-part arc about Louie’s quest to replace David Letterman, featuring a surreally perfect turn by David Lynch as the most unlikely talkshow tutor ever.

The season finale didn’t disappoint.  It began with Louie’s Christmas with his daughters, which included two brilliantly edited montages (there was a lot of fuss at the beginning of the season about Woody Allen’s ex-editor Susan Morse joining the show, but in the end it seemed like most of the episodes continued to be cut by C.K. himself):  one showing in fantastic detail his quest to fit the missing eyeballs into his daughter’s new doll, and the other the swift aftermath of his holiday.  The second act was spectacular, featuring a cameo by Amy Poehler as Louie’s sister, an amazing funny and terrifying dream sequence in which Louie’s now-adult daughters talked about how lonely and miserable their elderly father (daringly cast with another actor) was, and how it had screwed them up, and then the return of Parker Posey as Liz!  Who, no sooner did we have a moment to think even Louie has to have a happy endingdied!  With Louie standing there!  At 11:59PM on New Year’s Eve!  Apparently of the cancer that we’d been told in an earlier episode she’d had as a child.

Well, how do you top that?  If you’re Louie, you go to China.  Literally.  Inspired by a children’s story he’d read to his daughter about a happy family of ducks living on the banks of the Yangtze River, the show somehow (presumably guerilla-style) followed Louie to Beijing and then, after a comical search for the river (one helpful Chinese man interprets Louie’s sign language as tai chi), he finally achieves a moment of emotional closure with a friendly non-English speaking Chinese family, as “Auld Lang Syne” plays on the soundtrack.

If it’s noteworthy that The Master could be made in today’s film industry, how much more incredible is it that Louie is produced and aired on a national network?  The show is mysteriously brilliant, as daring, endlessly surprising and indefinably right as any work being done by filmmakers in the world today.  It would be nice if more people watched and appreciated it, but really–the important thing is that it exists.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."