The third season of FX's Louie opens in a familiar spot (no spoiler alert needed here): Louie's dick – talking about it, that is; not showing it. From there we tumble into a cavalcade of town-without-pity set pieces (parking in New York is tough, man) and befuddling exchanges with a new girlfriend (communicating with women is tough, man), all par for the man-child mini-golf course that is unlucky Louie's life.
It's like Louis C.K. is daring you to hate his show.
No, seriously, this first episode feels like a weed-out strategy. It's as if C.K. superstitiously fears that if the premiere gets big ratings, the show will blow up, the budgets will increase, and he'll no longer have a good excuse to exert total control over every aspect of it. (Already he's replaced the editor whose work he took over last season – hiring, in a brilliant stroke of well-duh-of-course, Woody Allen refugee Susan E. Morse.)
Fear not. I'm here to tell you the second episode, and the third, fourth and fifth, are sublime – deliriously, gloriously unhinged, each episode a 30-minute slice of domestic lunacy. The show treads ground that's well-worn by now, it's true: the daily avalanche of minor humiliations experienced by a middle-aged divorced dad. (If Leopold Bloom was James Joyce's version of Odysseus, cut down to modern-day size, Louie is Louis C.K.'s: trudging through the obstacles put in his way as he seeks to find love, understand his kids, kill on stage or rub one out without wilting from self-hatred.) But persevere and you'll be rewarded. Episode 2 opens on also-familiar ground, Louie's delight-slash-exasperation with his daughters, and segues into yet another Louie trademark: the cameo by a star in which said star obliquely confronts the public's image of him/her. If her PR excesses in the 2011 Oscar season ever made you think Melissa Leo was a tad crazy, well, she'll show you what crazy is.
I'm not sure what's happening in the character mills of our TV writers' rooms when self-confidence makes you an utter asshole (see Will McAvoy, whose self-love knows no bounds) while despising yourself à la Louie makes you human, trustworthy. But one thing watchers and creators agree on in 2012: Neither trait guarantees smooth sailing.