Nasty and Crass -- Critics Love 'Louie'

Note to ambitious young TV writers and producers: The crasser, more debased, more vicious and gutter-brow your offering, the better the likelihood of critical acclaim. Just ask the gang at HBO’s “Girls.” The show’s squalid, morally desolate portrait of its characters and their situations has won it critical raves for its “realism” – a pretty depressing commentary on the culture.

The “less (taste) is more” rule is certainly in effect with a bizarre sitcom on the FX network called “Louie.”

Louis Szekely, better known as the eccentric comedian Louis CK has made a name for himself by subjecting audiences to his innermost thoughts and unfiltered desires. There is no taboo topic or moral issue that is off limits in his deadpan standup routine, an act that has been translated into “Louie.”

Entering its third season, “Louie’s” critical reception has been overwhelmingly positive. And that makes sense, since episodes include cringe-worthy dialogue, including rumination on the justification for chronic masturbation on a tragic day like 9/11. The show doesn’t flinch at discussions of rape, incest, and child abuse.

Predictably, CK’s jokes allow him to attack Christians, and anyone that may not think explicit sex talk is appropriate in public.

A second season episode featuring Greg Gutfeld of Fox News is a good example. CK took part in a staged debate over masturbation against an opponent, labeled a virgin Christian, who had formed a group that was adamantly opposed to it. CK berated the girl for her beliefs and ended the uncomfortable scene by telling her, “I’m going to think about you later when I masturbate, and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

That’s the kind of content that gets a show included in multiple publications’ “must watch” lists, and the praise for “Louie” has only increased since the first season with nearly perfect scores across the board on websites like Metacritic.

Slate contributor David Haglund called it “the most indispensible show on television.” To Time Magazine’s James Poniewozik it was the “best thing on TV.” Chuck Klosterman posted several complimentary articles on Grantland. “It’s realer than any reality show, more emotionally complicated than most 300-page memoirs, yet still awkward and severe and (somehow) easy to watch,” he said about the second season.

Entertainment Weekly in particular has proven one of the show’s biggest fans. In Ken Tucker’s initial review of the series, he implored readers to watch it without so much of a mention of the mature content. “Just trust me,” he said. “This show is super funny.”

Fast forward three years, and the manufactured newsworthiness of the third season premiere has warranted a cover story on the July 6 edition of the magazine. Writer Melissa Maerz provided some back story on ‘the world’s greatest comedian,’ portraying him as a humble angst-ridden genius who is a slave to his craft. “This is CK’s gift,” she said. “The more alienating his comedy becomes, the more people (critics) love him.”

Perhaps CK will outgrow whatever decency restrictions basic cable has. He’d be right at home on HBO or Showtime, indulging in the kind of product audiences have come to expect from pay cable.

But outside TV, there are sometimes still limits. CK was scheduled to host the White House Correspondents Dinner this year, but some cruel jokes he’d made about Sarah Palin’s infant son prompted a boycott threat from media members like Greta Van Susteren of Fox News. After much deliberation, CK rejected the invitation but it was never rescinded.

“I would love to wear a suit and meet the president, but that’s not the road I took in life. I’m just a citizen, a really dirty one,” he admitted to Maerz. “I say horrible things, and I want the freedom to do that.” The virtue of any kind of decency or restraint has certainly been lost on him.