After "Lucky Louie" rolled snake-eyes on HBO, Louis C.K. is back with another raunchy half-hour, here with a "Seinfeld"-like formula: Each episode of the comic's FX series features clips from his stand-up act, while presenting a pair of scripted vignettes loosely related to his material. The format proves uneven, but after watching four episodes there's a lot to like in "Louie" -- beginning with using "Brother Louie" as its theme song -- though most of the best stuff comes following the so-so pilot.
Divorced, in his early 40s and raising two daughters, Louis C.K.'s dour outlook on life pretty well permeates his act. He describes bringing home a new puppy -- given the animal's inevitable death -- as a "countdown to sorrow."
Translating that to TV, however, isn't exactly easy, and the operation can't be ruled a complete success. In the premiere, he tries to take his kids on a field trip that goes terribly wrong, but the gag sort of runs out of gas, as does a secondary bit in which he goes on an awkward first date.
Matters improve, thankfully, in subsequent episodes, where the vignettes include a poker game among comics and C.K.'s trip to the doctor, played with wild-eyed abandon by Ricky Gervais. After asking his patient to strip naked, Gervais' doc yells for the nurse, calling Louie's penis "the worst thing that ever happened to me, seeing that, and my dad hung himself in front of me -- whilst masturbating."
Mostly, Louie ambles through life ready to be disappointed at every turn, whether that's connecting with an old high-school crush via Facebook, visiting his shrink (almost as weird as his M.D.), or having a divorced mom (Pamela Adlon, who played Louie's wife in his HBO show and serves as a consulting producer on this one) bring her kid for a play date with Louie's girls.
FX has scheduled the show at 11 p.m., allowing C.K. (who wrote, directed and edited the pilot) to be about as blue as he can in an ad-supported space. The nice part about "Louie" is that its loose structure creates ample possibilities, while its grainy vision of New York approximates the feel of an independent film.
For all that, the laughs come only intermittently, and the sequences of our hapless hero doing stand-up are generally superior to his limitations as an actor. In addition, the vignettes that do click sometimes seem underdeveloped given the scant time devoted to them in what's basically an anthology format, with Louie as the one constant.
Known for pushing the dramatic envelope, FX has struggled to replicate that appeal in comedy, though recent series like "The League" and the animated "Archer" come close. By that measure, "Louie" is a savvy addition to the channel's macho bullpen, even if the show thus far provides less cause to celebrate than, say, a new puppy.