Louie and Larry
Louie and Curb Your Enthusiasm (CYE) are two TV shows that conceptually speaking are nearly identical. Both can be roughly summed up as two middle-aged comedians playing themselves in nihilistic sitcoms that eschew the more traditional formatting of previous sitcoms (i.e. a laugh track or live audience, with a happy wrap-up at the end of each episode.) Even though the shows share many similarities, I find that Louie is a much better executed version of the same kind of show.
To start, CYE is mostly ad-libbed and runs about 40-45 minutes. It feels long and drawn out at times, and while that seems intentional, as if the frustration of the show wears on the audience along with the antics that Larry David accidentally creates, I find it a very repelling, repetitive format that makes it difficult to watch a lot of in one sitting.
Unlike CYE, Louie is a tightly-written show. Most episodes that air actually feature two unrelated stories. Since the episodes approximately run 20-22 minutes, this gives about 10 minutes per storyline. It’s amazing how much and what Louis C.K. can do with just 10 minutes. The audience is often left wanting to see more rather than being exhausted by the end of the episode. It’s incredibly rare that comedic writing is able to amuse the consumer enough that they want more, but has the wisdom to hold back and not let itself get stale.
The characters also make the shows incredibly different.
David, creator of CYE and Seinfeld is a very frustrating character to watch. He often doesn’t understand social norms and commits many faux pas. Faux pas are staples to a successful sitcom, yes, just as misunderstandings are, but the problem I find is that the characters around him act disproportionately to the mistakes he makes. If this happened only in a while, it might be novel and funny, but it’s annoying when it occurs at least once every episode. I can’t decide if he’s trying to make his character to be a sort of victim of an easily-upset environment or an oblivious jackass wreaking havoc on those around him. My guess would be it’s supposed to be somewhere in the middle where these two volatile elements combine.
Louis C.K. sometimes acts like a jackass and often has some annoying people around him, but the keyword here is “sometimes.” Not every episode follows the same formula and often really jarring things are thrown in at random times, and keeps the viewers guessing and on the edge of their seats. The show also retains a more realistic quality of the lack of control of everything and makes it much funnier in my opinion, because unpredictability is important in comedy.
What I love most about Louie is that instead of always making everything fall apart in the last few minutes and making the protagonist the antagonist in everyone else’s eyes, Louie often leaves things open-ended or raising questions less about what the right thing to do would have been and more about if there was a “right” way to do things to begin with. This is what makes the show more philosophical, funny, and relatable than Curb Your Enthusiasm, and why I’m always clamoring to see the latest season.