Tonight's episode of FX's wonderfully unpredictable "Louie" takes star Louie C.K. to Afghanistan on a USO tour — accompanied by a baby duckling. It's one of the best hours of television I've ever seen.
Not that it's flashy about it.
The episode is understated and unfolds patiently, with disorienting shifts in tone — a trademark of "Louie." The comedian, who stars in, writes, and directs each episode, is happy to provoke, confuse, or baffle viewers rather than just make them laugh.
The episode begins like many an ill-tempered sitcom. When Louie (playing himself) first explains to his daughter's teacher that he can't take home the class ducklings for a night because he has to go to Afghanistan, it sounds like a "Curb Your Enthusiam"-style selfish excuse.
But then he actually goes.
What follows in the special hourlong episode is captivating. Louie hits on a 19-year-old cheerleader, hilariously critiques his every physical flaw for our troops, and stands by as real-life country singer and former Army Ranger Keni Thomas sings an utterly beautiful song. Long stretches go by without a joke, because Louie, one of the best standups alive, has nothing to prove. He's more interested in telling a real story.
The episode is based on CK's own real experiences with the USO, and it's interesting to see how the operation works. It's also impressive to see how the 43-year-old New York comedian finds common ground with his much younger, military audience. But what's most affecting about the episode is the respect it has for everyone involved — not just for what they're doing, but for who they are and why they do it.
And the funny parts are really funny. It airs at 10:30 p.m. and you should watch it.
Here's a preview: