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Louis C.K. ‘2017’ review: Bleak, funny and entertaining as usual

Louis C.K.'s new Netflix special,

Louis C.K.'s new Netflix special, "2017," one of two scheduled this year, starts streaming April 4. Credit: Netflix / Cara Howe

COMEDY SPECIAL Louis C.K. “2017”

WHEN | WHERE Starts streaming Tuesday on Netflix


WHAT IT’S ABOUT This is the first of two Louis C.K. specials for Netflix and was taped earlier this year at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. (his birthplace, incidentally). C.K. has been busy with other projects besides stand-up: He created ongoing FX series “Baskets” and “Better Things,” and is executive producer of both, as well as “Horace and Pete,” which he funded himself. He also sold out Madison Square Garden three times last fall.

MY SAY Like snowflakes, clouds and hamburgers, no two Louis C.K. shows are the same. There’s “Horace and Pete,” his long day’s journey into night, now streaming on Hulu. There’s “Louie,” his vertiginous FX sitcom that mashes up “Seinfeld” with some Russian novel (maybe “Dead Souls”). There’s “Baskets,” and “Better Things” and the movies (“Pootie Tang”) and cameos (“Parks and Recreation”) and who knows what else, except Louis. Then there are the TV stand-up specials. Those are snowflakes and burgers, big time.

He usually tears up his material after each show, which gives the next one an immediacy and freshness. Fans always feel like they’re hearing something for the first time because they actually are. “2017” has all of that, and then some. He wears a dark suit, for example, and conservative striped tie, slightly loosened. He looks like a Dupont Circle lobbyist who just rolled into a bar. That may be part of the joke, or the whole joke, but there’s no question that an off-the-rack suit makes a rambling discourse about male genitalia funnier than it otherwise might (or should) be. So give that suit a hand, too.

Meanwhile, C.K. explores those same obsessions that require no sartorial flourishes — suicide, abortion and sexuality (his own). The show’s called “2017” because there’s a riff on this year, but not in a way you could even possibly imagine. One of his daughters inadvertently gave him one of the best bits here, on “9/11 deniers.”

And just to offer my usual viewer advisory for any C.K. show: Catholics, newlyweds, elderly married couples, teachers, dogs and C.K.’s own children should probably not watch. They will be offended. But as usual, there’s something else going on here besides shock. Along with George Carlin, he’s the pre-eminent comic of the human follies. Death is his sidekick, and an indifferent universe his punchline. He invites fans to stare into the abyss with him but laugh at it, too. It’s a wonder we almost always do.

BOTTOM LINE The usual C.K. show — fresh, funny, smart, bleak, offensive, entertaining — with one minor demerit, for an overlong finish.

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