Louie redefines the sitcom in a glorious second season

Ten years ago, FX was one of the most useless and rightly forgotten networks on basic cable, showing non-stop reruns of some of the worst sitcoms of the late ’90s, namely Just Shoot Me, the later, Charlie Sheen-dominated seasons of Spin City, Dharma and Greg and Married…with Children. There was no reason to end up there, unless you really liked Becker or were hung-over.

That all changed in 2002 when FX started showing The Shield, creating one of the best police procedurals of all time and jumpstarting the cable boom. Within the next few years, they began programming edgy, often genre and taste bending shows like It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia and Archer. Their shows were often goofy or violent, sometimes a little of both, but it was never much more of a distraction, rarely anything approaching the illusive art as television.

Arguably the greatest comedian of our time, Louis C.K. changed all of that.

Louie premiered in the summer of 2010 with a blend of pitch black humor, personal experience and a slightly familiar but very non-traditional sitcom format. C.K., who stars as well as writing and directing most of the offerings, crafts every episode as a short film, creating vignettes that can serve as anything from a love letter to New York City, a retelling of a Catholic upbringing in the most horrifying way or a long digression on the value of masturbation both in the secular and non-secular world. The format allows C.K. to experiment, and this experimentation has allowed Louie to become the most critically beloved comedies of the year.

Louie wrapped up its second season on Sept. 8 with more melodrama than the show had brought to bare before. With the implication that Louie may have to take care of his permanently addled sister’s teenage daughter as well as the finale’s pair of reveals with Louie having to deal with finally maturing as an adult and a father and that his longtime friend/romantic obsession Pamela, played by short-lived HBO sitcom Lucky Louie star Pamela Adlon, may be leaving him forever to try to reconnect with the estranged father of her son.

It’s more than we’re used to on a show this noticeably low key, but the sheer breadth of emotion displayed in this episode is heart wrenching. As Louie desperately yells, “I’ll wait for you,” to Pamela as she asks him only to wave to her, the show escapes an easy joke and becomes something more akin to a Greek tragedy.

And that’s what makes Louie work. It twists and turns in ways that are both unexpected  and also manage to avoid traditional clichés and it leaves us wondering what can possibly be coming in next year’s third season.