THE SHOW "Louie," Thursday at 10:30 p.m. on FX
WHAT IT'S ABOUT The third season begins with (what else?) a predicament. Louie (Louis C.K.) finds a spot to park his car, but the street signs are so confusing that he misreads them. In a hurry, he rushes to meet up with girlfriend April (Gaby Hoffmann) at a diner to talk about something, but what that "something" is remains unclear. (The episode is called "Something Is Wrong.") Because Louie is habitually tongue-tied -- alienated from himself as much as the opposite sex -- he struggles to explain to April what the issue is, so she is left to fill in the blanks. The meeting ends poorly, and when Louie returns to his car, a backhoe is about to smash it to pieces -- as "Louie" fans know, the streets of Manhattan are perilous places. Without a car, he tries out a motorcycle.
Next week, he explores the art of joke-telling with his extremely cute daughters, and later goes on a date with a tough landscaper -- played by Melissa Leo. Louie later heads to Miami for a gig, and there his self-identity as a heterosexual is challenged. Back in New York, he meets Liz (Parker Posey) at a bookstore and . . . Well, we're telling you too much already. Jerry Seinfeld has a guest role this season as well.
MY SAY The funny thing about "Louie" is that it's not always funny. There are long somber stretches here, like a series of downbeats in some dark bluesy number that only reluctantly takes a turn to the light. "Louie" is one of those rare shows that can't make up its mind whether life's a comedy or tragedy, and so usually just settles for a tie -- life is both.
Viewers coming to the third season looking for the trademark Louis C.K. jokes about the male sexual organ and what males often do with it probably won't be disappointed, but they probably shouldn't look too hard either. There's a long stretch in next week's "Telling Jokes / Set Up" with Leo that is ferociously funny and ferociously vulgar. But the two-parter that starts July 19, "Daddy's Girlfriend," with Posey as Louie's loopy new love interest is like some long art-house meditation. There's not a single joke, or at least an intended one, yet the double-header is as effective as anything this show has ever done. "Louie" does a fine job of balancing the pathos with the comedy, but just not always in the same episode.
BOTTOM LINE One of TV's better shows, comedy or drama, because this series often succeeds as both. (But beware, it's not for all viewers-- there's a lot of vulgarity here.)