“Pregnant.”

FX

The longest bit in the second season premiere of Louie involves a painfully-long scene of trauma that pays off with a fart joke. A fart joke that only works because you genuinely believe Louis CK will show his audience a miscarriage.  I considered writing an introductory blog post explaining why I felt the need to write about Louie, a show I feel is far and above the best on television right now. But those two sentences used to describe one moment in the second season’s debut explains it better than I could in 1,000 words. The show, at its core, is gloriously fucked. Its central argument is that we, as human beings, are gloriously fucked. It rarely compromises in that bitter premise.  If that means putting together an entire episode with few laughs, so be it. If that means showing us an adult traumatizing a child by forcing him to nail his “godless” friend to a post to teach about the suffering of Christ and his personal role in that suffering, so be it.  The darkness never feels forced or unearned. It’s one man opening his troubled brain for our entertainment.

Louie is a better representation of one man’s soul than any we’ve seen in television history.  The atmosphere, people and themes are directly from the soul of Louis CK. The fact that there are virtually no ongoing stories gives him an opportunity to change characters, actors and genres with little interference in the show’s sometimes-pummeling premise of a solitary person showing us the world as he has known it. The one constant is Louis CK. The opening scene in “Pregnant,” in which his daughter tells him that she loves her mother more than him, may or may not have actually happened to Louis CK.  Ultimately, the scene is there because Louis CK felt it.

I enjoyed Lucky Louie, Louis CK’s HBO effort. But many of the scenes felt like efforts to shoehorn some of his best standup bits into an everyday occurrence. The show felt like Louis CK writing a television comedy.  An often-hilarious television comedy. But Louie is a peek at Louis CK, the human being. Outside of the standup scenes, it rarely feels like a peek at Louis CK, the guy who gets paid to be funny. There is a darkness and loneliness at the center of Louie that only occasionally pays off with a big laugh. The laughs are certainly there, but it rarely feels like a premise or situation is created for the big laugh.

The scene with Louie’s sister, who appears to be going through a miscarriage, was extremely painful to watch. There is a growing feeling of anxiety with the scene, which continues to build tension as Louie struggles to deal with a sister in extreme pain who tells him that her “baby is dying.” I can’t think of another comedy television show or film that would wallow in the tension of a miscarriage as long as Louie did.  In fact, I can’t remember ever seeing a television show or film of any kind that showed the moments of terror that certainly precede a miscarriage. The show makes us suffer with an extended scene that we can only assume will end horribly. After all, this is a show that has ended with scenes of a son unsuccessfully begging his mother to tell him that she loves him and an abusive father who somehow becomes a sympathetic character.

But it doesn’t. The tension of a pregnant woman screaming in pain for several minutes ends with a fart.  Flatulence is about as low as you can reach in an attempt for a laugh. Yet Louie delivers the fart joke that should end all fart jokes (it won’t). The fact that we, as viewers, believe that Louis CK would show us a miscarriage on his half-show comedy television program is why the flatulence is so funny. Comedy’s ability to build and relieve tension is well-traveled territory. Other writers, comedians and actors have certainly capitalized on it for centuries. But I can’t think of any other comedy in television history that dwells in tension longer and better than Louie.

Even when we get tension in other comedy television shows that trade in awkwardness, it’s softened by being a slice of life. An office mate, classmate or boss who is a jerk establishes the tension and a wisecrack or comeuppance relieves it. Louie builds tension from the deepest part of his viewers’ souls. In a single season, Louie built tension on a child’s uncertainty about sex, a young man’s confusion and guilt about religion and a grown man’s tension of being physically dominated by a younger man. Where else to go? A miscarriage topped with the tension of meeting new people. Louie comes from such a gloriously fucked point of view that you expect his kind neighbors to unveil a terrible side of themselves. You know it’s coming. The fact that the inner darkness that we, as viewers, put on his neighbors never comes almost makes you even more suspicious.

The final conversation Louie has with his neighbor is a perfect finish to an episode that hinges on subverting our expectations. It’s an earned bit of sentiment when an emotional Louie tells his neighbor what may be a perfect allegory for life and friendship.  “I know it was just a fart, but I couldn’t have gotten through that without you.”