"[Watching] the first season of Louie on FX was like landing on a foreign planet," says Tim Goodman at The Hollywood Reporter, who found the show unlike any other. Written, directed by, and starring subversive stand-up comedian Louis C.K., the Emmy-nominated show evokes Seinfeld in that it's about "nothing" more than a typically uncomfortable day in the comic's life, but it's more unsettlingly frank than Seinfeld ever was. The show's season three premiere on FX Thursday, which finds Louie fumbling through a breakup, has already-enthusiastic critics going out on a new limb — declaring it the best show on TV. Does a dark comedy about a New York stand-up comedian really eclipse Mad Men, Homeland, Breaking Bad, and Game of Thrones?
It's certainly the best comedy: A brief snippet of Louis C.K.'s character Louie performing a stand-up routine about nearsightedness "is funnier than most sitcoms are in an entire season," says Ken Tucker at Entertainment Weekly. That's a credit to Louis C.K.'s remarkable, distinct, and confident creative voice — he writes, directs, and stars in each episode. And the character he's created is truly one of a kind: A "stubborn, lovable, scabrous, frustrating, inspired, weaselly genius." Season three is better than the show's ever been.
And probably TV's best drama, too: Louie belongs in the list of TV's best shows, comedy or drama, because it "often succeeds as both," says Verne Gay at Newsday. It's the rare show that "can't make up its mind whether life's a comedy or tragedy, and so usually just settles for a tie — life is both." Long stretches of "ferociously vulgar" humor (think masturbation jokes) are balanced by story lines, like one involving Parker Posey as a new love interest, which play "like some long art-house meditation." Even when there's no obvious punch line, Louie is extremely effective, grade-A viewing.
"Louie: Funny life for C.K. Louis"
It may not be for everybody: There's a spot-on moment in the new season when Louie has an awkward run-in with a hotel lifeguard who discovers that Louie does stand-up and asks, "Are you funny?" says Troy Patterson at Slate. The thing is: "Louis is, but Louie isn't." The show is admittedly "risky and rewarding," walking a fine line between explicit comedy and moral seriousness. But even a blatantly funny moment — like an "aggressively bawdy" sex scene with Oscar-winner Melissa Leo — "is shot through with melancholy." It's funny like Samuel Beckett is funny, exploring a tonal range that those who prefer to watch Anger Management may not enjoy.
"That's not funny"
Consensus: Few shows on TV take as many risks with tone and pacing that Louie does. Still, the prickly humor may not sit well with everyone.