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FX's Louie returns in fine but not yet great form after a long respite


A hangdog look but still hanging in there: Louis C.K. in Louie. FX photo

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It’s been a while -- all the way back to the night of Sept. 27, 2012.

That’s when Louie C.K. ended up spending New Year’s Eve in China -- and having a great time -- with a rural family that took him in on the Season 3 finale of FX’s Louie.

The star then took a long respite to recharge himself before beginning work on what turns out to be a slightly elongated Season 4 of 14 episodes. They begin arriving, with two back-to-back half-hours each week, on Monday, May 5th at 9 p.m. (central).

As in previous seasons, Louie isn’t at all big on continuity, although some of his misadventures have had two- or three-episode arcs. In most cases, though, forget about what you’ve seen because it has no bearing on what you’ll see next. This has never been more evident than in Episodes 2 and 3 of the new season. But first things first.

Monday’s opener, subtitled “Back,” is easily the most verbally graphic of the new crop. It includes a maintenance man bungling a joke about Pinocchio having oral sex before Louie and his poker pals have an extended discourse on the fine art of “jacking off” with implements if necessary. This leads Louie to visit a sex toy emporium in search of new equipment. But a physical mishap quickly sends him to an old-time family practice doc who just happens to have an office in Louie’s apartment building. A virtually unrecognizable Charles Grodin turns out to be hilarious as “Dr. Bigelow,” who’s at least equally interested in finishing his lunch.

By the way, the opening minutes of this episode include an out-of-body sequence that FX has “embargoed for publication” until after it’s aired. That’s a first. Or to put it another way, things have been getting way out of hand on the network-dictated “spoiler” front. Hope it’s not saying too much to reveal that Louie eventually goes to Mars and then returns to Earth as a little green man who further impresses his two daughters by reading them a bedtime story. Um, just kidding. Honest.

Monday night’s second episode, “Model,” includes another guest appearance by Jerry Seinfeld as himself. FX has “embargoed” what happens after Louie bombs as the warmup comedian at a very posh and snooty benefit attended by the “billionaires and trillionaires of East Hampton.” His “chickens are dumb” routine -- Seinfeld has asked him to “work clean” -- ends up amusing just one member of the audience. It turns out she’s played by Yvonne Strahovski from Chuck, who will be having quite a big Monday for herself. That’s because Strahovski also can be seen that night as CIA agent Kate Morgan, a new regular character on Fox’s 12-part 24: Live Another Day.

Let’s just say that Louie ends up in a considerable mess at the end of the “Model” episode. But there’s absolutely no carry over to Episode 3 on Monday, May 12th. Subtitled “So Did the Fat Lady,” it’s the strongest of the four episodes sent for review. And nothing’s “embargoed.” So it’s probably OK to note that guest star Sarah Baker is terrific as a self-described “fat girl” named Vanessa. She takes a liking to Louie after joining the waitressing staff of the Comedy Cellar.

He’s friendly in return but not receptive to her requests for a date. Meanwhile, Louie and a corpulent male pal decide it’s time to lose some weight. But before intending to hit the gym, they indulge in a “bang-bang” -- two full back-to-back meals at disparate restaurants.

The eventual Louie-Vanessa dialogues are on a considerably higher plane. They seem to be made for one another. But no, one thing does not lead to another. Because the night’s following episode, Elevator Part 1,” has nothing at all to do with Vanessa or what just transpired.

Instead, there’s an “embargoed” mishap on a subway car that makes Louie a very anxious father. Then along comes guest star Ellen Burstyn as an elderly woman who gets trapped in an elevator and enlists Louie’s help while rescuers are en route. The episode’s “Part 1” subtitle suggests that the storyline, which ends up involving the Burstyn character’s niece, will flow into the following week’s Episode 5. Or maybe it’s just more misdirection.

Season 3 of Louie all in all started stronger than the new one does. Actually, quite a bit stronger, with a signature second episode that won Melissa Leo a best guest performance Emmy for her portrayal of the decidedly sexually frank Laurie. Episode 3 also resonated, with Louie traveling to Miami for a comedy gig and then befriending a young lifeguard named Ramon.

The first four episodes of Season 4 are a little weak downstairs while still remaining at or near the top of the TV comedy class. Last season’s best start ever has given way -- after a long pause -- to a strong quartet of Louies without a standout thoroughbred. The “Fat Lady” episode comes closest, so it’s hoped that she hasn’t sung her last.


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