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Louie Recap: The Man Show

LOUIE: Episode 1: Something Is Wrong (Airs June 28, 10:30 pm e/p). L-R: Louis C.K. and Gaby Hofman.  CR: FX

Here's one way to start a talk about what it means to be a man: "One time I was jerkin' off ... " From there, you could discuss aging in terms of how your fading eyesight is killing your masturbational buzz. Or you could wonder at society's penchant for surgically tweaking breasts and buttocks while leaving the penis upgrade market totally unexplored.

You, actually, couldn't do most of these things. You are not Louis C.K. We turn to him to hear such equally scatological and substantial topics weaved together, knowing he'll top it all off with phenomenal weirdness. Of course Louie concludes his stand-up intro, his crash course reminder on what he's all about, with the clarification that he wants not just a new dick but another dick, preferably that of a tragically killed 22-year-old Puerto Rican track star. Never forget this is C.K.'s show and his show alone; he can and will skew juvenile or bizarre without warning. Whichever direction his mind runs, the antics follow. Welcome back.

The elephant in the corner of this season premiere is the expertly underplayed reveal that innumerable sitcoms would hype for weeks or build into their whole premise (looking at you, How I Met Your Mother): Louie's ex-wife, Janet, is black. The mother of his milk-pale, straw-blonde daughters — who coincidentally also bear minimal resemblance to Louie — is a powerful, gorgeous African-American woman (Susan Kelechi Watson) effortlessly capable of detonating Louie's masculinity.

It's a joy imagining the amount of head-scratching this brief scene induced. C.K. has pointedly avoided depicting his ex-wife on Louie thus far, giving her a dimmer presence than Charlie Brown's teacher. (Ditto in his stand-up; the man who once riffed at length about his wife giving him the Saddest Handjob in America has been completely zipper-lipped on the woman's existence since their 2008 divorce. Probably for the best.) C.K. knows your curiosity, and this is his solution. There's no lingering, only a simple this is happening, accept it or don't approach.

C.K. told Jimmy Kimmel he chose Watson because "she was good enough to play the person, and I didn't care." It's not the first time he's expressed that view with regards to character and continuity: While Louie's first season aired in 2010, C.K. took to the A.V. Club's comment section to clarify the non-significance of actress Amy Landecker playing his date in one episode and his mother two weeks later. "I decided I don't care that she was in this other thing. This show doesn't really function as a series," C.K. wrote. "Some people will be confused. That's okay. I think it's worth it. If it irks you to watch it because of that, I understand. But I still want to make the show this way. And they're letting me."

Acquainting us with Janet is just one way "Something Is Wrong" scrabbles at the slippery concept of manhood. Another is Louie's baffled attempt to make sense of a thicket of New York City parking signs. Not that there's ever really anyone to ask for clarification in these circumstances, but if there were, would Louie and the other male bystander humble themselves by asking? Never. A demolished car is a small price to pay to maintain macho invulnerability. Smash the thing, sure, whatever.

Now Louie needs wheels and a shortcut back to mandom. And since he can't get a new dick, he'll spring for a new bike. Louie doesn't desire a motorcycle in the slightest, but he's convinced he must want one. One thing that's led to this ludicrous purchase (aside from it being autobiographical; in his younger years, C.K. traveled to comedy shows on a motorcycle, crashed it, and splurged on another) is Louie being dumped in a rapidly confusing, anti-Hollywood fashion.

The short-lived girlfriend, April, is played by Gaby Hoffmann, once a cute kid in Uncle Buck, Field of Dreams, and Sleepless in Seattle. Louie's contributions to the diner discussion are nonexistent, a slew of limp nos and muttered non-words. The uselessness of reactive, silence-filling jibber-jabber is on full display; April essentially breaks up with herself by giving Louie the opportunity to simply not say any of the inane things he'd be wasting both their time with. (Later, in a final rendezvous, Louie stutters through an empty-hearted attempt at the conciliatory script he thinks he should be reciting. "Do you realize that you might be wasting four years of both of our lives because you can't say bye, see ya right now, because in this second that feels weird?" April asks, delightfully exasperated. "You could save yourself another divorce and years of false living, if you could just be a man in this one moment and say to me, April, thank you for helping me. You know? Have a good one. See ya sometime." And he can't, or won't, and she's driven insane all over again.)

So Louie convinces himself it's somehow sensible to own a motorcycle, and then convinces us it actually is a good idea, if only for a moment. Zinging around New York City in a beautifully assembled, peaceful scene that immediately justifies the hiring of Woody Allen's longtime editor Susan E. Morse, Louie appears to have harnessed the elusive splendor of manliness — that preposterous notion that drives C.K. and all men relentlessly despite its fabricated, arbitrary foundations. But still, great ride. Givin' it some gas. Feelin' good. Until the cool kids popping wheelies throw Louie back into disarray, and then into a truck, and then into the hospital.

Stray Observations

• One of the last times we saw Louie ambling through a day without his daughters and without stand-up demands, he bought a dog, which died. This time it's a bike.

• "Please don't eat that ice cream right now."

• C.K.'s take on the prototypical construction site every New Yorker has been befuddled by: "We're workin'." "What the hell are you guys doin', anyway?" " ... I dunno."

• "What about Obama?" This was Louie's impotent retort to his accountant telling him he couldn't afford a $17 million home last season. Now it's a neglected old lady's scene-ending line in a hospital. Who'll recite it next, in what crazy circumstance?

• Louie has now twice called a past or present romantic interest (last time: "Bummer/Blueberries") where a fancy fellow with a popped collar fusses with a tie in the background and a slick, much-more-put-together-than-Louie woman uses the phone in the fore. Discuss.

Photo: FX