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How Louis C.K. Is Reinventing The Sitcom By Being More Like Donald Duck

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
August 4, 2011

If Louie were any other half-hour comedy, tonight’s episode would be an important one, following as it does our hero’s heartfelt confession of love for acerbic single-mom pal Pamela and her easily-missed and oh-so-fleeting offer to do something about it last week. That would make tonight the night when we really got to see Louie’s sadsackery in full bloom after making himself vulnerable and blowing his chance.

That’s if Louie were any other half-hour comedy. But it’s not. There are a lot of reasons for that, but one seems to be at the kernel of all the rest: Unless I’ve been mistaken, Louie is utterly indifferent to continuity.

To be honest, I’ve never assumed that anything that happens in one vignette has an impact on anything that happens in another. Characters flit in and out, sometimes to return at a later date, sometimes not. (So far, at least.) In any other show that has separately introduced the main character’s brother and sister, we’d figure that we’re getting a fuller picture of his family. On Louie, the only thing I can be sure of is that Louis C. K. figured that one story he wanted to tell needed a brother and one called for a sister. It’s entirely possible that the two don’t even occupy the same narrative.

C. K. is, in many ways, the preeminent short-story writer currently working in the television medium. As such, I don’t ever expect all the episodes to be interconnected in the manner of a normal sitcom. So much so, in fact, that I had to go to IMDb.com to figure out if the same (great, GREAT) girls play his daughters every time, since I wouldn’t put it past C. K. to cast them with whoever was available in any given week.

(Having said that, I’m delighted that he’s stuck with the same kids, because Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker are awesomely childish and funny in a way that’s quickly made these two specific actresses indispensable. And Parker’s IMDb bio reads, in full, “She is a prodigious violinist.” Not “avid.” Not “classically trained.” Not “talented.” “Prodigious.” What’s not to love?)

Like Donald Duck, the character of Louie exists outside of continuity. When the story required that Donald Duck be a cowboy, he was a cowboy. If he needed to be an Arctic explorer, he’d be an Arctic explorer. The character was the same, and the relationships – with Scrooge, with Daisy, with Huey, Dewey and (funnily enough) Louie – were often still the same, if placed into different contexts. But the stories were self-contained, like sketches. There was no continuity as such.

At its best, that’s the spirit that infuses Louie. C. K. is free to follow whatever train of thought that catches his fancy to its logical conclusion without concern for how he’ll deal with it in the next episode. He can simply wipe the slate clean and start over with the same core elements: standup comedian, divorced father of two little girls, New Yorker.

After last week’s episode, there were plenty of online comments expressing relief that Louie and Pamela didn’t become an item, as that would ruin what makes their relationship (a finely tuned symphony of unrequited affection and absolutely requited bad attitude) so much fun to watch. But that, I believe, misses the point: Even if they had slept together – even if they had fallen madly in love and gotten married and grown old together – who’s to say that it would have had an iota of impact on future episodes? Maybe it will, maybe it won’t. For most shows, that would be a massive, buzzkilling narrative inconsistency. On Louie, it’s freedom. [Copyright 2011 National Public Radio]

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