Aired: June to September
When, as a critic, you stop writing about a number of shows, there is always the risk that your opinion will begin to lean towards the critical consensus, especially if that critical consensus is as effusive as the praise surrounding Louis C.K.’s second season of Louie on FX. Similarly, in circumstances where you fall behind on a particular show and begin to soak in all of this praise, it’s tough to view the episodes piling up on your DVR with fresh eyes.
Louie had a very strong second season, but something about the way I watched it kept me from considering it the best television of the year – this isn’t to say that The A.V. Club (and various other sites/critics) placing it as the #1 show of the year was “wrong” by any measure, but I will say that I did not come close to putting it in that position (and, if we’re being honest, probably placed it higher than my initial instinct due to the indirect influence of other critics). Perhaps it was that I felt my experience with the show was unduly influenced by the critical culture surrounding the series, or that my DVR catchup method somehow changed the series’ impact (with its episodic segments mashed together as opposed to being parceled out), but Louie didn’t jump out to me as the best show of the year (nor did it necessarily jump out at me as a comedy, but we’ll save that genre conversation for another day).
I don’t know if this would have changed had I been writing about it, but one of the benefits of writing about things weekly is that you actually have to watch it every week. While critics still fall behind on things, writing about them requires being on the same page as everyone else, and there is something very valuable about that which I think we sometimes take for granted. In some cases we might frame that issue in terms of “spoilers,” with Louie‘s non-serialized structure that isn’t an issue; instead, it becomes about being a part of the conversation, and about feeling as though you’re watching a show on your own terms (rather than the terms set before you by the reactions of others in the weeks beforehand).
I felt Louie was one of the best shows of 2011, and I truly hope it makes a greater splash at the Emmys this year (which, given its small cast and C.K.’s nominations for writing and acting last year, effectively means a Best Comedy Series nomination), but I wonder how different my opinion would be if I had been writing about it. Louie seems like a rare show that would absolutely benefit from weekly analysis, given that each episode is presented as a distinct entity, with only a minimal connection to previous or future installments – we’re meant to dive into each episode and consider its meaning before moving onto the next installment, as opposed to withholding our opinions until we see how storylines are resolved. I’d actually argue that its episodic structure makes a compelling argument for the value of a broadcast schedule in an era of DVRs and OnDemand, a weekly glimpse into the mind of Louis C.K. rather than a season’s worth of comedy produced for television.
An episode like “Duckling,” rightfully singled out as one of the year’s best episodes by Matt Zoller Seitz, is somehow less effective when watched as part of a marathon, which is how I first watched it while catching up with the series. It’s also less effective when you stop halfway through because you have somewhere to be, just as I’m sure it’s less effective when you’re watching it weeks after everyone has marveled at its quality. While the lack of serialization might suggest the series would be unaffected by the way these new technologies can delay or alter our viewing patterns, something about the show’s structural ingenuity has made the process of discovery that much more valuable. There’s something less exciting about watching an experiment – which Louie remains, even into its second season – after you know how it went, and while it’s still possible to appreciate the series I’m simply not convinced it works as well when viewed outside of its initial broadcast.
In falling behind on Louie, it’s possible that my opinion of the series changed as a result. Of course, it’s also possible that my opinion – that Louie is an incredibly compelling series which I viewed as slightly more uneven than some of my fellow critics – would remain exactly the same had I watched the show in a more traditional pattern and wrote about it along the way. Either way, though, the discourse around Louie was one that I feel was incredibly important to the work of television critics this year, and a discourse I wish I could have been a part of.
Tomorrow: Sitting on the bench for the most beloved network comedies.