Louis C.K. is one of those overnight success stories that took 20 years. These days, the American comedian takes the stage to standing ovations in packed theatres and can gross millions of dollars by selling stand-up specials through his own website. Before that, though, he spent more than two decades slogging it out in American comedy clubs.
It's the same with his television success. The uncomfortable, unflinching Louie has been a well-earned triumph, C.K. getting an Emmy for his writing, an Emmy nomination for his directing, and back-to-back nominations for his acting. But he'd done the groundwork and had the setbacks - in the 1990s, he was beavering away writing for David Letterman, Conan O'Brien and Chris Rock; in 2006, HBO dumped his first comedy series, Lucky Louie, without screening the last episode.
So it should be no surprise that Louie - which C.K. writes, directs and edits, as well as stars in - is so accomplished in its own darkly idiosyncratic way. Or that, given some of C.K.'s disappointments in previous projects, he retains creative control so tightly and completely. For the most part, that control works wonderfully. Louie, in which C.K. plays himself in a fictionalised and often surreal version of his own life, is a distinctive delight. At other times, though, it can seem a bit self-indulgent and meander to no apparent purpose. I'm still not sure what to think about the three-episode arc that reaches its conclusion tonight - it could easily have been dealt with in two episodes. But then again, everything that happens in Louie's life is an agonisingly protracted ordeal.
Warning, this clip contains some swears:
For the viewer, it hasn't helped that actual laughs have been few and far between, the accent having been on the pathos even more than usual. CBS has been auditioning Louie as a potential replacement for David Letterman, even though the job seems certain to go to Jerry Seinfeld.
The show-stealer again this week is David Lynch as Jack Dall, the strange, old-timey producer putting Louie through his paces ahead of the one-off show that will be his audition.
Dall is one of the strangest and most memorable characters C.K. has created, and the fact that it's, you know, David Lynch playing him ups the weirdness by a factor of 10.
Tonight's events begin in typically excruciating fashion for Louie. He crumples with self-loathing at the disapproval of his daughters (Hadley Delany and Ursula Parker) after he tells them that he won't be seeing as much of them if he gets the job. But, after enjoyable cameos by Seinfeld and Susan Sarandon, the episode ends on a surprisingly emotional note. Louie isn't always amazing, but it's always worth watching.
Louie screens on Tuesdays at 9pm on the Comedy channel.