Auteurism On TV And ‘Louie’

Probably my favourite concept in film is the one of auteur theory. Which, if you’re out in the dark, refers to a film that showcases a pure vision of the director as the sole voice that drives and creates a film. This director isn’t just coming into a film from the woodwork for his next job or paycheck. This is a particularly calculated film where the director has control over all aspects, and his unique voice is discernible in the film through common themes, motifs, camera techniques, dialogue etc.

Unfortunately, being a big TV fan, the auteur theory isn’t that translatable from film to TV, as the medium of television almost prohibits it to a certain sense. New directors are hired for each new episode as a “hired gun” who come in, direct, and leave right away. Now with the ever popular term of “showrunner”, usually the creator or executive producer of a show who runs day-to-day operations and oversees the writing process, their is definitely a sense of the auteur theory in TV, but not in a fully realized definition of the term as in the filmic sense. Shows like The Sopranos, Fringe and Breaking Bad have a unique vision and direction that is influenced and maintained by differing writers and directors, but these shows still contain other people trying to adapt either David Chases, J.H. Wyman or Vince Gilligan’s vision. These showrunners are of course in control of a lot of the content, but aren’t the sole, singular force.

This long-winded beginning is all to say that someone finally found a place for the “auteur theory” in TV, and against better judgment in the world of TV, FX gave Louis C.K. his own show, with free reign to do whatever he wanted week to week. C.K. does everything behind the scenes on Louie, he writes, directs, produces, acts and edits (although in this past season handed some of the editing duties off) all of it. People liken the show to short stories, or mini-independent films, mostly because of Louie’s introspective and inclusive story-telling to himself and the lack of any major continuing storylines, besides smaller themes and ideas. C.K. has freedom like no other person or show on television right now, possibly ever. Obviously, being a comedian this show was billed as a comedy and of course it largely is, but this is C.K.’s show to do whatever he wants and comedic guidelines aren’t always followed. There are several scenes of “drama”, or more accurately C.K. wringing the truths out of real-life that are often sad and sometimes depressing. Also, seeing as this is a comedy, I don’t think anyone really expected how tight and beautifully this show is continually shot. It is a comedy, but the aesthetics and visual look are massively top-notch and continues C.K.’s strength as an auteur and someone who is able to craft a multitude of visions into one package.

Being able to have full control over a film or show is great, but along with that comes all the criticism, as there’s no one available to scapegoat if you’re received less than favorably. C.K. has made quite a few bold choices in his episodes, ones that might not click with me or you, because of that personal nature that is so defined to his likeness and craft that it’s hard to relate to or get. But, the majority of the time, C.K. still carries the same vision, deft, direction and style into new areas that still feel like an episode of Louie, but is still vastly different to the previous episode.

Another one of my favourite ideas from the worlds of film and TV, is trying to top yourself after an amazing or great season of TV. The immense pressure of coming off something of such a success and making it even bigger, more expansive yet still faithful to your viewer is something that fascinates me and must be forever frustrating and hard to pull off. After season 2 of Archer, I never thought they could make a funnier season of TV, with season 3 they somehow made maybe the funniest season of TV (at least for me). The great season 4 of Breaking Bad was not quite eclipsed by season 5, but was closer than I ever thought it’d be. And as I write this I’m wondering if Homeland can expound upon their near perfect first season. Louie is hard to judge as a whole, as the episodes are so different, content wise, from episode to episode. I liked season one, but didn’t really fall in love with the show until the second season, where C.K. really got the confidence to tell his stories, no matter how wacky, weird and depressing they may be. It’s really up in the air for me for what’s better, season two or season three? I loved season two, but the more I think about it season three just seemed more audacious. Whichever the case, I’m sure I’ll be going back and forth over which season is truly greater (not to mention the coming seasons), forgetting the fact all along that I should just shut up and be grateful I have all this great TV at my disposal in the first place.

Louie is a special show, because it allows its creator to practice auteurism within the medium of TV, creating a truly innovative show that reaps rewards for its faithfulness and vision in its content and technique. Louie embodies the auteur theory and allows a window into auteurism for TV, that remains as effective a showcase as any film director has amassed.

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Top 10 Returning TV Shows I’m Looking Forward To This Fall

1. ‘Homeland’

This was my favourite show of last year for so many reasons, and I could just gush on and on about how great it is. Once upon a time, ’24’ was not only my favourite TV show, but also, like, my favourite thing in the entire world. While my full thoughts on ’24’ will be left for some other time, I was thus excited that Howard Gordon (along with later ’24’ compadre’ Alex Gansa) were getting their own show on network’s older brother, cable. The cast is just utterly fantastic, with Claire Danes, probably my favourite actress, consistently knocking it out of the park, episode after episode. She is given every actors’ wet dream, playing a character with a disability (bi-polar), and even though it seems like awards bait, Danes grounds the disorder and makes it crushingly realistic when her disorder gets in the way of her job. She’s had the best Actress Emmy locked up for awhile now. Damian Lewis is very solid, perfectly playing someone who you feel like you can trust, all the while being the most suspicious person ever. Mandy Patinkin was also revived from wherever he’s been hanging out for the better part of 20 years and is terrific as well.

As cool as the premise is though, it pretty much begs to be told through a short 6-12 episode miniseries rather than a full-fledged series with an intent to go multiple seasons. From episode to episode, I never knew what to expect, as I legitimately did not no where they could go next, and the deaths of main characters seemed like a serious option. The first season played out the premise perfectly, but going forth into season two, I have no clue how they are going to maintain what they created as a lot played out and a fair bit was revealed. I’m insanely excited and nervous for season two, but that was the same position I was in before season one, so fingers crossed they pull it off again.

2. ‘Parenthood’

I actually love this show as much, and possibly more than ‘Homeland’, because it causes me no stress in watching it (unlike ‘Homeland’). I love to hang out with these characters and because it’s a family drama that’s set in a particular rhythm, I don’t have to be concerned about anyone dying (DON”T YOU DARE, KATIMS). I don’t mean to make this sound like a slight against the show, but there are few stakes here and nothing really makes you feel for the safety of these characters. It’s just terrific emotional resonance, with the goings-on of a large family which may not have life-and-death consequences, like most shows, but can faithfully deliver moments that hit hard. This show is a nice safety net where I can tune in and be moved and care for these characters but still be confident that no huge twists or left-field plot movements will occur. It’s a small family drama and I absolutely love it for that. I’m looking forward to spending more time with the Braverman clan (even if NBC doesn’t think it’s worth a full episode order!).

3. ‘The Good Wife’

If you told me in early September 2009 that ‘The Good Wife’ would be one of my favourite shows for the better part of three years (and counting), I would have thought you were smoking something illegal. I’ve always liked Juliana Margulies and knew absolutely nothing about the series going in, besides Juliana’s sweet, sweet locks. Anyways, it’s procedural nature was a bit of a turn off, but it eventually turned into one of the smartest shows on TV and became not only the best show on network television, but one of the best shows on any channel. The cast is fantastic with its incredibly sprawling guest cast filled to the brim with depth and skill. I usually don’t look forward to case-of-the-week shows, but this is the grand exception, with intelligent cases and resolutions, as well as compelling running storylines. Season three wasn’t as great as season two, but it made some nice steps that make me very excited (Margulies’ robot acting aside), for what Robert and Michelle King will deliver in season four.

4. ‘Treme’

It’s been over a year since we’ve had a new episode of ‘Treme’ and that’s a damn shame. Not that many people watch this show or even know about it, but I’m a huge proponent of it. I’m a big David Simon and it’s hyperbole by now, but, ‘The Wire’ is the best show of all time (okay, not really, ‘The Simpsons’ is the best show of all time, but whatever). Man, the culture and passion that bubbles out of this show is incredibly infectious and a breath of fresh air in a progressively clogged and arrogant-glut of storytelling where apparently characters don’t matter as much as story. ‘Treme’ isn’t the most story-driven show, nor does it want or need to be, just like the ‘The Wire’, it’s filled with characters who feel real, because, well, they’re all usually based on someone real, but also, they are always so faithful and true to their characteristics. The culture of New Orleans is the real star of this show and it’s incredible that each episode can capture so much of New Orleans and do justice to this wonderful yet tortured city, trying to rebuild both physically and culturally in the wake of the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. As this is New Orleans, music is a co-star as well, and the aside musical performances put ‘Glee’, ‘Smash’ and others to complete shame. Jesus, if nothing else, watch this show for the music, I dare you to try and not sing along to the theme song. I’m looking forward to what David Simon and company have cooked up for season three, should be good, just hope there’s some other people watching as well.

5. ‘Fringe’

Now, here ‘Fringe’ starts to get a bit dicey. I enjoyed season four, I didn’t love it, and I didn’t hate it like some people did. Fan reaction seems to be pretty mixed on the season as a whole but it was pretty decent to me, although not as great as season three, probably the best season. I kind of respect ‘Fringe’ for what they did in season four, even though they kind of made the first three seasons non-existent and re-invented certain elements with everybody being technically “new” characters. I won’t go in to detail but whether you or I think they pulled everything off correctly, I respect the hell out of Wyman and Pinkner for doing something on a show that I’ve never seen before. Seeing as how next season is for sure going to be the last, and they supposedly have a game plan in order, I’m looking forward to what the last 13 episodes of ‘Fringe’ brings.

6. ‘Boardwalk Empire’

Season one of “Boardwalk” was fine, nothing special, but a decent series, albeit with some too obvious symbolism. The beginning of season two started out much the same, but later grew into a show that was more confident in itself, its characters and the types of stories it told. Without spoiling things, “Boardwalk” didn’t pull any punches towards the end and delivered a string of great episodes that changed the fabric of the show leading into season three that lesser shows would have backed out on. With some of the decisions that were made creatively in the latter episodes of the season, “Boardwalk” earned a lot of credit with me. I’m genuinely interested to see how everything will play out now with a shift of power and reverberations that will be felt throughout the whole show, and can’t be taken back (hopefully). Terence Winter did work on ‘The Sopranos’ after all, I’d say we can trust him.

7. ‘Parks & Recreation’

Now, I’m afraid my thoughts on this show aren’t very deep except for, it’s the funniest show on TV (actually, besides ‘Archer’). I thought the season four plotline of Leslie running for office was okay, but not as great as season 2 and season 3 were. But, beyond a few hiccups in the season, no other show makes me laugh like this one, and makes me care about all the characters at the same time, so I look forward to any and all “Parks & Recreation”, especially Andy and Tom.

8. ‘Glee’

Yeah, I said it, GLEE! But, not because it’s good or going to be good or anything. This show just fascinates the hell out of me. I have seen every episode, but I kind of hate it (not kind of, I do) and 90% (that other 10% is Britney and staring at Naya Rivera) of the characters annoy me. It’s just that there occasionally there are specific moments and scenes that really hit and are legitimate remnants of a show that once could have been. The last two episodes of season three were literally pretty great and just frustrate me even further with this show. It’s the most schizophrenic show going from semi-good to terrible to great in a matter of scenes and moments. There’s no consistency with the show and it seems like Ryan Murphy and company forget important details from episode to episode, but I keep on watching. The music is  pretty bad and I usually have no clue what new song they’re singing, so it keeps me in the wind and unable to connect with any of their lip-syncing, Britney Spears calibre or not. Next season they’re splitting time between NYC and Ohio as some students graduate to college as the others stay in Ohio. Ryan Murphy seems to think it’s going to be revolutionary how they split the time and all, ummm it isn’t, you’re just cutting back and forth like every other show has done with separate locations. It’ll probably suck, but for some reason I’ll keep watching. Help!

9. ‘The Office’

Seasons 2-5 of ‘The Office, were legitimately pretty great (at least my memories a little hazy when the it started getting bad, or at least less consistent), but everything else than that was pretty lazy with the occasional good episode sprinkled in between. It was once one of my favourite shows, and sadly I still hold the dimmest of candles for it even though it’s pretty bad now and a shadow of it once was. Season 8 was the pinnacle of disappointment with no direction shown, and a real sense of not caring about what this show once was. It was just a lazy season of television with no feeling of a need to make any forward progression, even though it desperately need it, of all seasons. Season nine will be its last, with former showrunner Greg Daniels to return as showrunner who promises a return to form, the answering of long-lingering questions and actual story/character arcs. Will they succeed at all of this? I don’t know, probably not fully at least, but like  ‘Glee’, I’m looking forward to the chaos ahead, for some reason.

10. ‘Community’

Let me say this right off the bat, I like ‘Community’, but I don’t love ‘Community’. I know lots of people (well people on the internet, nobody ever talks about it beyond the confines of the interwebz) are obsessed with this show and think it’s the greatest thing ever. Don’t get me wrong, I have flat-out loved episodes, but I still don’t think it’s really all that special of a show. I respect and mostly like the random and weird places Dan Harmon took the show, and the way he and company structured or created new ways of telling his stories within the sitcom format. I think it gets to be a bit of a crutch at times and they’ve relied on these “different” and form-breaking episodes to much in order to coast on nostalgia and post-modernism, albeit effectively. But, when it becomes too much of the shows identity is where it comes off as more surface-based flair, and less substance beneath.

On the other hand, there were several episodes that did seem to create a deeper resonance by testing the bonds of these characters and that through line became more interesting (to me anyways) than whatever “event” type episode they had, or whatever they were spoofing. I think with Dan Harmon leaving that some of these deeper relations between the characters and their connections to each other, and how they rely and depend on each, no matter if they show it on the surface or not, will be lost. Harmon seemed to be providing some of the darker and deeper elements that put strains on character relationships and really made each member of the study group evaluate each other and how they themselves fit in. It seems like without Harmon’s guiding hand, it’ll become more of a broad comedy, with a bigger emphasis on wacky episodes and elements, while doing away with the majority of the bubbling under of real feelings. While it’ll still probably be a competent and funny show, I fear that this will be as far as it goes, losing some of its depth of what made several of its episodes some of the best in the form from these past couple of years.