• Louie

You can’t fault Louis C.K. for wanting to take a break; since 2006, he’s released five hours of new stand-up, made scene-stealing appearances in Oscar-nominated films, and put out a stellar three seasons as the writer, director, and star of Louie. But to go from the complete C.K. saturation of September 2012 (when season three’s finale aired) to barely a sight of the comic for the next year and a half was a little jarring. He makes up for his absence in this week’s two-episode premiere of Louie‘s fourth season.

Those first two episodes continue to expand the show’s exploration of surreal interpersonal relationships. In “Back,” the first episode, Louie sprains his back in a sex toy shop while trying to pick out a vibrator for himself. When he later collapses to the sidewalk from the pain, a little old lady pushing 90 comes to his aid. In the second episode, “Model,” things seem like they’re looking up for Louie. A hot model brings him home with her. But, of course, he can’t ever get off easy, and after sex he accidentally punches her in the face, ending with his arrest and a $5 million settlement.

This season is, more than ever, focused on Louie’s aging. It’s an interesting juxtaposition, watching him struggle to deal with getting older while hustling in a field with late nights and bad habits designed for the much younger. But we see he’s not alone; as in past seasons, Louie brings his real-world friends Jim Norton, Sarah Silverman, Todd Barry, and more into the mix. While there are punchy one-liners sprinkled throughout—when his daughter is tasked with writing a letter to AIDS for a school assignment, Louis suggests: “Dear AIDS, please cut it out”—the show is best at revealing the divide between the personable performer onstage and the depressed human who goes home every night. Even the bits of stand-up we see have a dark edge. In front of the Comedy Cellar’s brick wall he ponders what happens after you die: “Actually, lots of things happen after you die, just none of them include you.”

There have been some truly touching moments in the series, and C.K.’s artistic vision sets Louie miles apart from other autobiographical comic-centric shows. Season four, so far, is here to remind us that Louie prefers the eternal struggle over the happy ending. He’ll try over and over again to be a good comedian, friend, father, and person, but he’s always met with failure. That’s what makes the show compelling; we don’t really want Louie to be the hero, we want him to be like us.