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"Louie": The Complete First Season Blu-ray/DVD Combo Review

Louie: The Complete First Season Blu-ray/DVD cover art - click to buy from Amazon.com Louie: Season One (2010)
Show, Blu-ray & DVD Details

Creator/Writer/Director: Louis C.K. / Executive Producers: Dave Becky, Louis C.K., M. Blair Breard

Regular Cast: Louis C.K. (Louie C.K.) / Recurring Cast: Pamela Adlon (Pamela), Ricky Gervais (Dr. Ben), Nick DiPaolo (Nick), Robert Kelly (Robbie), Bobby Cannavale (Chris), Hadley Delany (Lilly), Ursula Parker (Jane), Ashley Gerasimovich (Jane), Max Behren (Young Louie), David Patrick Kelly (Therapist), Todd Barry (Todd), Jay Russell (Jay), Tatsuya Rivera (Serge)

Notable Guest Stars: Chelsea Peretti (Date), William Stephenson (Bus Driver), Ashlie Atkinson (Susan), Kathleen Butler (Naked Woman), Rick Crom (Rick), Kimberly Barlow (Tammy Wickilinis), Nicole Ehlinger (Young Tammy Wickilinis), Jo Tanner (Nurse), Elizabeth Hower (Trisha), Gregory Gunter (Dennis), Kate Blumberg (Martha), Dan Ziskie (Sheriff), Ben Jeffrey (Curtis), Liz Morton (Doreen), Matthew Broderick (Matthew Broderick), Hayley Podschun (Laurie), Gerry Vichi (J. Simon Tittle), Megan Hilty (Heckler), Mary Louise Wilson (Dorethy), Ana Kayne (Jasmine), Josh Hamilton (Jeff), Tracee Chimo (Dog Pound Volunteer), Michael Drayer (Sean), Danny Burstein (Mike), Amy Landecker (Sandra, Louie's Mother), Abraham Alvarez (Louie's Father), Stephen Root (Dr. Hepa), Chuck Sklar (Osama Bin Laden), Adepero Oduye (Tarese), Bonita Elery (Tarese's Sister), Christopher Gates (Guy), P J Connaire (Brian), Ann Dowd (Sister Carson), Tom Noonan (Dr. Haveford), Sawyer Swanson (Young Louie), Stephen Bradbury (Dr. Drake), Kate Gilligan (Liz Ciani), Ted Alexandro (Flyer Comic), Ann Darlington Carr (Karen), Kelly Deadmon (Lisa), Ardie Fuqua (Ardie), Godfrey (Godfrey)

Running Time: 282 Minutes (13 episodes) / Rating: Not Rated (TV-MA on air)

1.78:1 Widescreen (DVD Anamorphic)
Blu-ray: 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English) / DVD: Dolby Digital 5.1 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, Spanish, French
DVD Closed Captioned; Extras Not Subtitled or Captioned
Season 1 Airdates: June 29, 2010 - September 7, 2010
Blu-ray & DVD Release Date: June 21, 2011 / Suggested Retail Price: $39.99
Two double-sided, dual format discs (BD-59s) / Blue Eco-Friendly Keepcase
Also available in DVD Packaging ($39.99 SRP)

Buy Louie: The Complete First Season Blu-ray/DVD Combo from Amazon.com: Blu-ray Packaging DVD Packaging


In the 1990s, every popular stand-up comedian seemed to get a sitcom based on their material, from Jerry Seinfeld and Tim Allen all the way down to Drew Carey and Brett Butler. The practice seemed to fade as the traditional sitcom grew scarce, with most of this century's stand-up TV vehicles being cable sketch shows, of which only "Chappelle's Show" earned a large, approving audience.
Louis C.K. tried to buck the trend with 2006's "Lucky Louie", a multi-camera, live audience sitcom that was cancelled by HBO before its 13-episode run had finished airing. C.K. gets another chance with FX's "Louie", a series more like an HBO comedy that has already had more success than "Lucky."

Operating with a semi-autobiographical design resembling "Curb Your Enthusiasm" (but with less famous friends), "Louie" casts C.K. as Louis C.K., a recently-divorced 42-year-old Manhattan father of two young daughters (all of which describes C.K. in real life). This is as close to a one-man show as you'll find on television, with balding, goateed redhead C.K. being the lone creator and only regular cast member in addition to co-editing and single-handedly writing and directing the show. All of that, paired with the fact that it airs on FX, suggests about the highest degree of creative control you can imagine and C.K. does not squander such a rare, coveted opportunity.

This is a good showcase for C.K.'s strong comedy chops. It channels the pessimism and self-deprecation of his stand-up in stories no doubt inspired by real life experiences. C.K.'s act is dry and dark, and those stylings carry over to the show with results more pleasant than you'd expect. The awareness and linguistic skepticism from his routines also add flavor here, where everyone speaks in his comic voice. Like early "Seinfeld" episodes, "Louie" opens, closes, and often transitions with related stand-up bits which Louie performs at Greenwich Village's modest Comedy Cellar.

Comedian Louis C.K. plays a largely autobiographical version of himself, a divorced Manhattan father, in the FX comedy series "Louie."

The plots involve topics C.K. uses on stage: parenting, re-entering the single scene after divorce, sex, aging, masturbation, mortality, flying, and so on. This too gives it the feel of early "Seinfeld", although it has much more bite and edge than that landmark sitcom ever did. That is sure to divide audiences, just as C.K.'s stand-up does.
However, even when the jokes aren't earning big laughs, as they don't when C.K.'s material inevitably crosses your personal lines of taste, "Louie" remains a pretty enjoyable if highly cynical look at the modern life of a middle-aged man. Through brief moments of absurdity and familiar incidents of despair, Louie's incredulous persona hangs onto our sympathy with help from unexpectedly resonant cinematography and editing.

While few actors recur enough to recognize (almost all of whom are comedian friends playing characters named after them), C.K. does call in favors from a couple of his past film castmates to do guest star duty. Matthew Broderick plays an impatient version of himself and, more significantly, Ricky Gervais turns up twice to play an immature doctor who keeps professionalism out of mind while treating his old friend Louie.

Recognizing the limits of Blu-ray's modest adoption rates, Fox has done a smart thing that I don't believe any other studio has offered on a TV series until now. They release The Complete First Season of "Louie" exclusively in a Blu-ray/DVD combo. Rather than devote discs to each format, as is done on the majority of new theatrical movies, Fox employs two double-sided discs that are a Blu-ray on one side and a DVD on the other. I know that not everyone is crazy with so-called "flipper" discs, but I think here they make sense, giving consumers the flexibility that Blu-ray alone doesn't yet offer, putting Blu-rays into the collections of those who have shunned the format, and yet not running up the disc count or inviting customers to split up the set with a friend who prefers the other format.

Furthermore, the set is reasonably priced, carrying the $39.99 SRP of Fox's typical 13-episode FX comedy season DVDs. The discs are available in both DVD and Blu-ray packaging, a technique used less to deceive (as certain Disney animated combo packs have) and more to find customers of either format and conform to their collections. I wouldn't be crazy about Blu-ray/DVD hybrids becoming the standard and replacing the dividable sets afforded most new movies (among major studios, only Summit Entertainment seems to occasionally use both disc sides), but here it works.

Louie (Louis C.K.) experiences a hellishly awkward first post-divorce date in the pilot episode (with guest star Chelsea Peretti). Ricky Gervais needn't stifle his take-ruining cackle, incorporating it into Dr. Ben's highly unprofessional office manner.

Disc 1

1. "Pilot" (23:45) (Originally aired June 29, 2010)
Louie chaperones his daughter's ill-planned class trip and goes on an awkward first date.

2. "Poker/Divorce" (23:10) (Originally aired June 29, 2010)
Louie and his friends learn about gays on their Poker Night. Then, Louie uses Facebook to reconnect with an old classmate he was attracted to.

3. "Dr. Ben/Nick" (21:16) (Originally aired July 6, 2010)
Louie visits his old friend, the unprofessional Dr. Ben (Ricky Gervais), for a checkup and fights with his stand-up comedian friend Nick DiPaolo.

4. "So Old/Playdate" (21:29) (Originally aired July 13, 2010)
Louie hooks up with a young woman who's into older guys and then sets up a playdate for his daughter with the son of a kindred PTA newbie (producer Pamela Adlon).

Flying down to Alabama, Louie finds himself on a small plane seated next to a very large passenger (Gregory Gunter). The cop uniform Louie wears for a Matthew Broderick movie raises people's expectations of him when he witnesses a convenience store robbery.

5. "Travel Day/South" (21:11) (Originally aired July 20, 2010)
Louie experiences the thrills of airplane travel. Down in Birmingham, he uncomfortably meets a fan and is helped by a sheriff. This was my favorite episode of the season.

6. "Heckler/Cop Movie" (22:06) (Originally aired July 27, 2010)
Louie responds harshly to a woman talking during his set. To honor his agent's dying wish, Louie reluctantly accepts the part of a policeman in Matthew Broderick's Jewish remake of The Godfather.

7. "Double Date/Mom" (21:30) (Originally aired August 3, 2010)
Louie's mom visits and reveals, to the surprise of Louie and his brother, that she is a lesbian. This was my least favorite episode of the season.

Drug experimentation with his neighbor Jeff (Josh Hamilton) has Louie questioning his surroundings in "Dogpound." Louie (Louis C.K.) persists in his efforts to woo uninterested cashier Tarese (Adepero Oduye) on a painful subway ride.

Disc 2

8. "Dogpound" (21:19) (Originally aired August 10, 2010)
With the kids away for the week, Louie tries to combat depression with ice cream, marijuana, and an old dog.

9. "Bully" (22:02) (Originally aired August 17, 2010)
A hostile high school jock embarrasses Louie on a donut shop date, prompting Louie to pursue recourse.

10. "Dentist/Tarese" (20:59) (Originally aired August 24, 2010)
Louie hallucinates himself among terrorists while under anaesthesia at a dentist (Stephen Root) sensitive to his phobia. In the second half, Louie tries to woo a black cashier (Adepero Oduye) at a store he frequents.

Dr. Haveford (Tom Noonan) gives a highly detailed presentation on the pain of Jesus Christ's torture and crucifixion in "God", an episode primarily set in a Catholic grammar school in 1977. Louie (Louis C.K.) struggles to fit in at a loud nightclub in the Season 1 finale.

11. "God" (21:33) (Originally aired August 31, 2010)
As a Catholic schoolboy in the late 1970s, Louie learns about the pain of Christ's crucifixion.

12. "Gym" (20:38) (Originally aired September 7, 2010)
Louie fantasizes about an anchorwoman and works out with a trainer (Bobby Cannavale).

13. "Night Out" (21:07) (Originally aired September 7, 2010)
Urged by the weepy, unneeded babysitter, Louie goes out for a night and tries to find something to do.

Louie really lets a young woman talking during his set have it, in an angry, oft-bleeped tirade from the first half of "Heckler/Cop Movie." On a donut shop date with Sandra (Amy Landecker, who two episodes later plays Louie's childhood mother), Louie receives a threat of violence from high school jock Sean (Michael Drayer).

VIDEO and AUDIO

Knowing FX and basic cable's often rough appearance, I was surprised to find "Louie" boasts amazing picture quality on Blu-ray. The 1.78:1 visuals obviously don't have much action to deal with, but the vibrant colors, pristine element, and stunning sharpness all should meet even the highest of expectations.
That, as stated before, the show also puts more thought and creativity into its framing and cinematography than the vast majority of standardly-shot television only heightens the experience.

The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio is less of a revelation. The soundtrack is pretty routine, with only score slightly spreading back to the rear channels. In addition, a lot of the dialogue, often from people who aren't C.K., sounds a bit thin and hollow, as if their microphones aren't of the highest quality. It's all perfectly audible and intelligible (and English SDH, French, and Spanish subtitles are there to help if you disagree), but it's just not anything great or as satisfying as the picture. Presumably recreating the broadcasts, the F-word and female anatomy C-word are bleeped out here, though the S-word, the male anatomy C-word, and other bits of regular profanity go uncensored.

The DVD presentation is comparable, offering its lower resolution ideal of picture perfection and adding closed captioning as well. Going from one format to the other really underscores the differences in picture quality. Without the Blu-ray, the DVD's video would seem flawless. As is, you can immediately and constantly notice the detail it lacks. There wasn't as much to distinguish the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack from the Blu-ray's HD audio. There are the same limited dialogue recordings and a similar level of satisfaction.

Louis C.K. demonstrates he takes comedy seriously in his audio commentaries and these on-camera deleted scene introductions. The best and longest deleted scene finds Louie struggling to get an inconsiderate cell phone chatting grocery store patron to corroborate for his young daughters the importance of apologizing.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

The contents are virtually identical on each side of the discs, leaving DVD and Blu-ray with the same respectable collection of supplements.

The primary bonus feature here is audio commentary, which is provided on eleven of the thirteen episodes (every episode on Disc 1, and all but "Dentist/Tarese" and "Gym"). Unsurprising considering the show's creative process, each track features Louis C.K. alone. He is quite engaging for solo sessions, addressing biographical and embellished aspects,
technical decisions and qualities, production experiences, and the cast. He even manages to narrate what's onscreen in an amusing fashion. I've heard too many commentaries to be excited by them, but any fan of the show should appreciate C.K.'s sincere, insightful remarks on nearly this whole season.

Two additional video extras, reside on Disc 2.

A substantial "Deleted and Extended Scenes" section (33:54, HD on BD) consists of five sequences: an extension of Lilly's class trip, an amusing grocery store parenting challenge, a speculative restaurant outing between Louie and his friends, a full version of the excerpted "vagina coverings" commercial, and an elongated version of the "glory hole" scene. Individually, collectively, lengthily, and passionately introduced by C.K., these are presented with all the episode context and actor credits you could want.

Louis C.K. talks briefly about writing the show versus writing stand-up bits in Fox Movie Channel's "Writer's Draft" short. Season 1 clips decorate brick walls and other city places in the DVD main menu's New York City map maintaining the cover art's color palette.

Lastly, we get a Fox Movie Channel "Writer's Draft" short (3:47) in which C.K.'s comments on his writing processes and influences are complemented by clips from the first episode. It's promotional and brief but informative.

Disc One opens with promos for FX shows, "Archer": The Complete Season One, "The League": Season 2, and the bizarre-looking "Wilfred." Disc Two opens with ads for "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia": Season 5 (only on the BD side) and Fox dramas on DVD.

Most impressively, the Blu-ray somehow resumes playback even after the disc is ejected. In addition to that, it supports bookmarking and even lets you scroll through episode timelines as well. In the one area where BD is often lacking compared to DVD, this set delivers big time.

The menu moves around a Manhattan map with clips playing on walls and in windows while the theme tune, a slightly reworded version of "Brother Louie" sung by Stories' frontman Ian Lloyd, plays. The standard Fox Blu-ray menu design of displaying one extra per screen slightly annoys. The DVD menu offers little variation on the Blu-ray's information, only displaying pop-up menu listings on separate static, silent screens.

My review copy was the Blu-ray-packaged variety, which holds the two disc on opposite sides of a slim ecologically cut blue case. Showing through on the reverse of the cover art are episode and extra lists and directions to enjoying the format of your choosing (which the discs' clear labels render superfluous). An insert promotes the imminent second season of "Louie" and the soon-premiering Elijah Wood comedy "Wilfred."

Stand-up comedy, Louis C.K.'s forte, regularly features in the beginning, middle, and end of "Louie."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

"Louie" is a reasonably appealing extension of Louis C.K.'s stand-up, adapting his cynical, pessimistic jokes into an entertaining situation comedy that is sharply written, shot, and edited by the man himself. Like his routines, some will find the show too dark, dreary, and off-color at times. I felt that way about Season 1's weaker episodes. The better episodes were plenty diverting though, utilizing C.K.'s evident intelligence and work ethic while even supplying some pathos. Season 1 is a mixed bag, but it's still interesting enough to recommend seeing.

Fox's 2-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo is the ideal way to see the show, with its dazzling picture, strong audio commentaries on all but two episodes, and format flexibility arriving at a reasonable price. While a taste for C.K.'s humor is practically a prerequisite, even those who aren't crazy about stand-up comedy might want to check out this creative and uncompromising series.

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Reviewed June 19, 2011.



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