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Peter Rogers's Blog
Artist-in-Residence at Chez Firth

Tuesday (10/30/12) 2:54am - ... wherein Peter posts a Weekly Media Update.

[Missed over a month, owing to travel + laziness.]

Movies:  <none>
TV:  That Mitchell & Webb Look [series one], Louie [seasons one and two]
Books:  <none>




That Mitchell & Webb Look [series one]
This is the sketch-comedy show from David Mitchell and Robert Webb, the two performers that star in Peep Show.

What interested me about this is how the sketches seem to fall into two categories.  There are the conceptual sketches -- the "wouldn't it be funny if?" setups that describe things like "Angel Summoner and BMX Bandit" or "Numberwang" -- and the character sketches -- the setups where you just hang out with a couple of funny caricatures, like Ted and Peter (AKA "the snooker commentators") or Sir Digby Chicken Caesar (AKA "the crazy homeless guy").

It surprised me, how much I liked the conceptual sketches and how rarely I liked the character work.  I would be delighted by (say) the Nazis suddenly wondering if "we're the baddies", and then I'd groan a bit at the next snooker sketch.  Sure, the caricatures would say funny lines, I would *recognize* that humor was happening... but somehow it just wouldn't make me laugh.

I was intrigued that the conceptual sketches often had 1st, 2nd, and 3rd beats through a show, just like they would in a Harold.  And just like in improv, you would see them somehow heighten the game from the first beat to the second to the third, while finding ways to (say) vary the setting or some of the characters involved.

Regardless of the type of sketch, this show is really strong on its straight parts.  The writers are really good at holding onto what a normal person would think and say when presented with the kuh-razy, and David Mitchell is especially strong at playing those of perplexed, curious, and utterly nonplussed moments.

All that said, my favorite sketch hands-down is "Numberwang".  I like this show best when it goes for broke on being surreal, and while I'm sure "Numberwang" is a very cutting and perceptive take on typical BBC afternoon game shows, to me it just plays as something like abstract art.  There are reassuring patterns to it, but it's so powerfully nonsensical that I can't help but laugh.


Louie [seasons one and two]
I'm afraid Louie, the comedy from comedian Louis C. K., has fallen victim of my blog-laziness.  I haven't written one of these blogposts since mid-September, fercrissakes, and in the meantime I've watched *two seasons* of this show.

And there are many, many, many things you can say about this hilarious, groundbreaking, important show.  Louis C. K. arranged a deal where FX gives out a minuscule budget for Louie, and the comedian gets to put together exactly the show that he wants.  And apparently, what Louis wants is a show that's a half-hour comedy, unlike any other half-hour comedy.

Even with something like Arrested Development, you have a show that basically follows the rules of sitcoms.  Yes, Arrested Development is overstuffed with jokes and references and characters, but its basic structure is that of a family sitcom.   Louie isn't a sitcom.  Nor is it a dramedy like Sports Night.  The best way to describe it is as a series of funny short films.  We see little day-to-day situations that Louis C. K. finds interesting and funny.

And what Louis C. K. finds interesting is often to take a scenario that feels overdone in sitcoms, transfer it to the real world, and then let it play out there, very naturally, and long past the point where a conventional story would tie it up with a neat, little bow.  We see a scene where a kid, a bully, humiliates Louie in front of his date.  Fine.  We see that in a horrible sitcom, we know (and dread) where it's going -- maybe he joins a dojo, tries to learn martial arts, fails comically at impressing the girl, but she likes him anyway, and Louie, god, learns a valuable lesson about love, or something.  But that episode went another way.  He follows the kid home (!), confronts the kid's parents (!!), and winds up comiserating with the kid's dad about how goddamn difficult parenting is (!!!).

It feels a little like that classic opening shot from Freaks and Geeks, where the camera gets bored with the quarterback and the head cheerleaders and slowly pans over to the burnouts under the bleachers.  You can see Louis C. K. create these setups that we think we've kind of seen before, or these character archetypes that we think we already know, and he just doesn't *care* about how they usually pan out in story-land.  Something else -- some odd corner of his life experience -- grabs his attention, and that corner engulfs the story.  Over and over again, Louis is compelled to ask "Who is this person, *really*?" and "How would this *really* happen?"

Also, the show's timing feels very idiosyncratic, and radically different from other comedies.  The example that still sticks in my head is from "Country Drive", when Louie sings along in the car to "Who Are You".  To *all* of "Who Are You".  It's a five-minute song.  And it works beautifully -- the song is designed with ebbs and flows, and those translate into ebbs and flows of "Okay.  Okay, he's done singing.  He's done confusing and embarrassing his children.  It'll just -- oh, wait, no, the song kicked back in.  And there he goes again.  Oh dear."  It's hilarious throughout -- Louis is arguably the best comic working today, so obviously he knows funny -- but you can feel a little nervous watching it, like you know a more traditional producer would wince at this: "Okay, we're a minute into this bit, we *really* need to cut away."

Oh, and of course there's the 'continuity' thing.  Louis C. K. pretty much ignores it.  Different actresses play his sister in different episodes.  He gets stuck permanently caring for his niece in an episode, and then the niece is never seen again.  At the same time, he's willing to bring characters back for multiple episodes, and even let some arcs (like his unrequited romance with Pamela) play out over entire seasons.  But his main focus is on creating individual vignettes with their singular observations.

Again, it's tragic that I blew off this column for so long, or I'd have more things to say about Louie.  As it is, I just remember bits and pieces of twenty-six episodes, and sum things up as best as I can.


For next time:  I'm killing time with season three of Parks and Recreation.  After that, I have to kick into prepping for next year's Fandom show. </small>

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