Laughter and swearing. Today's issues.
When I was growing up over there in the land of poetry, pints of plain porter and incurable scheming, people swore all the effin' time. Swearing was punctuation in a sentence or a story. You added some effin' to lend rhythm to what you were saying, so it didn't sound boring.
Anyone who has seen the plays or movies of Martin McDonagh or the early work of Roddy Doyle knows the verbal terrain. The spectacular vernacular of mockery, self-deprecation and general dystopia.
Among the bourgeoisie the practice of being foul-mouthed was frowned upon. Unless horse racing or rugby was involved. Still, it was obvious that swearing and listening to colourful language was a thrill to the mucky-mucks, a release from the social pressure to conform and, well, a tonic.
This brings me to Louie (FX Canada, 10 p.m.). Watch this show.
The stand-up comic known as Louis C. K. plays a divorced stand-up comedian with two young daughters and the show is an extraordinary blend of warmth, wryness and full-out toxic, X-rated humour.
The show has had a low profile in Canada while it has become acclaimed and adored in the United States. Tonight's episode airing here is the first of the show's second season. It brought the star two Emmy nominations last year, a major shift from his first foray into TV comedy, a disaster done for HBO a few years ago.
A good deal of comedy on TV is formulaic, some of it done with panache and skill. But Louie is nothing like anything else on TV right now. Louie C.K. has something of a reputation for being strange. Last year, while on a radio show with Donald Rumsfeld, who was promoting a book, he repeatedly asked the former U.S. secretary of defence if he was "a lizard person" who ate babies.
On the show he's both a working comic and an eternally perplexed but smitten dad. The encounters with his daughters are simultaneously priceless and sweet. The encounters with others, including his sister, are sometimes filled with doleful humour about his ex-wife. The scenes from his stand-up act can be either melancholic humour about having kids or scathing, swear-filled diatribes about the world.
At the core of the character Louie C.K. has fashioned for himself is a Charlie Chaplin-like, lovable blunderer. One feels for him. And then the shockingly raw language of his comedy kicks in, and you feel the visceral punch of his angry befuddlement at the world.
Louie is not a TV sitcom about a single dad and his wisecracking little daughters. It's a far more substantial creation – a meditation on despondency, family and being alone. In a way, it captures a universal attitude – take comfort in your family because the world outside is going to drive you to despair. And despairingly, laughter is your best bet for surviving.
Like the mucky-mucks who looked down their noses at swearing but were thrilled by it, anyone coming to Louie with an uptight attitude will find release in its coarsely comic laugh at the world. It is a unique creation, one with clarity and power.
Also airing tonight
MS Wars: Hope, Science and the Internet (CBC, 8 p.m. on The Nature of Things) looks at "the science, controversy and human drama" around what is called liberation therapy, the controversial treatment for multiple sclerosis pioneered in Italy by Dr. Paolo Zamboni. As we know from news reports, his radical approach met with deep skepticism from the medical establishment, but pressure was put on various governments to allow trial procedures using his methods. The program looks at how social media played a role in furthering coverage of Zamboni's treatment. As the program says, the traditional medical protocols "were challenged by two factors: hope and the Internet."
Famous Food (E!, 9 p.m.) is one of those grotesque reality shows that's so bad it's fascinating. A bunch of so-called celebrities work with some Los Angeles restaurateurs (who look scarily like mob guys) to launch a new restaurant in L.A. called Famous Food. The list of celebs is bizarre and of itself a commentary on contemporary fame. There's former Bachelor Jake Pavelka, Heidi Montag from The Hills, Danielle Staub of Real Housewives fame, some obscure rap singers, Vincent Pastore who was Big Pussy on The Sopranos and Ashley Dupré, the escort with whom Eliot Spitzer, the former governor of New York, dallied. These people try to get a restaurant going. Unbelievable.
Check local listings.