Then and Now: Seinfeld vs. Louie

Photo courtesy of NBC and FX.

Photo courtesy of NBC and FX.

Dramas are generally thought to be more story driven while sitcoms are more character driven. Sitcoms more or less reset at the end of each episode, leaving more room for jokes to take center stage. Seinfeld and Louie take sitcom’s preoccupation with character and take it to new lengths.

Seinfeld, the famously nihilistic sitcom that ran for nine seasons managed to tie together various seemingly inane story arcs into a surprisingly fulfilling ending. The show highlighted many different awkward aspects of life, like trying to get a table at a restaurant. Along with Jerry Seinfeld, co-creator Larry David promoted material that was entirely relatable that doesn’t push a moral message like many other shows.

Another show centered around a popular comic, Louie, changes from episode to episode with stories ranging from 10 minute vignettes to sometimes three part episodes. The cable channel FX gave Louie C.K. unprecedented control of the show basically giving him $200,000 to write, direct, shoot and edit each episode. Consequently the show cycles through tone much like his stand up using some pretty dark material like father abandonment and planned suicide and managing to eke jokes out of it.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say if you like one you would like the other, but I would imagine that’s often the case. The creators, Jerry Seinfeld and Louis C.K., are both comics grounding their shows much more in jokes and humorous tidbits than long form stories. Consequently, they both use stand up in their television programs to convey a theme tying the show together at the beginning at the end. Now which one should you watch?

Well this is a qualified answer. If you’re one of those people who doesn’t mind watching specific episodes of a television show then by all means do both. At its best, Louie really gets into his messed up life and highlights the awkward sadness of it while delivering his unique sense of humor. At it’s worse, however, Louie’s lack of screenwriting training becomes very apparent with muddled stories leaving you bored and a little uncomfortable. Watch the really great Louie episodes because there isn’t really a consistent story line you need to watch out for except for one or two girlfriends.

But for the long haul, Seinfeld is always pretty entertaining, but more importantly it’s consistent. Consistency might sound like a boring quality for a sitcom to have but it’s really important for the viewers to know what they are going to get when they tune into a show each week. Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer don’t address a specific theme throughout the series, but the tone, pacing, and sense of humor remain consistent.

Louie’s storylines can vary in tone from surreal humor about a literal “bag of dicks” to more traditional sitcom fare as when his sister thinks she’s giving birth when in fact she just has gas. In addition, there are episodes with nary a laugh like kid Louie’s relationship with Catholicism. After a while the inconsistently becomes the norm, but often you just want to know what you’re going to get when you sit down for an episode.

These shows really have a lot of similarities, highlighted in a series of Louie episodes where both Seinfeld and Louie are vying to replace Letterman on the Late Show. So if you’re already a fan of one or the other, I’d say check out the other because they’re sufficiently different so that it will seem new but similar enough you will probably enjoy watching the other. But if you really want to sink your teeth into one, I would go with the 90’s classic, Seinfeld.

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