Free-to-air TV: Tuesday, December 18
Louie is unlike any television comedy that has come before.
HIGHLIGHT: Louie: series two, ABC2, 9.40pm
IT MIGHT seem hard to believe, but this second season of innovative comedy Louie is even darker than the first. This doesn't mean, of course, that it's not funny.
But Louie's laughs come not from the contrived misunderstandings and mishaps that form the bones of conventional sitcoms. Rather, comedian Louis C.K. explores the humour - sometimes black or bitter-sweet - in the often dull light of everyday banalities.
The creative vision solely of C.K. - he writes, directs, stars in and even edits the series - Louie is unlike any television comedy that has come before. It shares its verite style with shows such as the ground-breaking Seinfeld - and might even be to today's TV comedy landscape what Seinfeld was in the 1990s - and Curb Your Enthusiasm, yet C.K. appears to be playing only a slightly fictionalised version of his own life. And unlike Curb's Larry David or Seinfeld's Jerry Seinfeld, he's not afraid to explore the minutiae of life's melancholy moments in ways that don't necessarily lead to a punchline. The TV version of C.K. is a moderately successful stand-up comedian, a divorced dad of two and something of the ''sad clown'', yet it's not one of these elements of his life that drives the show's plot. Instead, it's aspects of all these, and the existential quandaries that arise from them, that make Louie so compelling. The resulting combination of actual pathos and genuine (often bad-taste) laughs is both more thought-provoking and relatable than any traditional sitcom's narrative.
ABC2 appears to be screening season two in a different order from its US and cable TV screenings, but given the self-contained nature of most episodes, it doesn't change much.
In this season's first few episodes, we see Louie dealing with his pregnant sister and a suspected medical emergency, reluctantly placing trust in his neighbours, and feel his pain at not being able to afford the type of house in which he would like to bring up his daughters.
Most of the big laughs in these early episodes come from C.K.'s stand-up gigs; outside those scenes there are some genuinely bleak moments, including Louie being bullied while he's out with his daughters trick or treating in New York City, being fired from a depressing casino gig (and subsequently being counselled by none other than Joan Rivers), and his ideas being met with a blank stare by a movie executive.
This season, we also see Louie interacting with his daughters more, exploring his ambivalence about parenting and portraying fatherhood as realistically as anything you'll see on (particularly American) television. To those unfamiliar with C.K.'s comedy, this doesn't mean sentimentality. It can be summed up in a scene in which he's lovingly brushing his daughter's teeth before bed, when she tells him she prefers her mother because ''she makes nicer food, and I love mommy more''. ''Goodnight sweetheart,'' Louie says as she turns and walks out, before flipping her the bird behind her back. The Brady Bunch, this ain't.
The Truth about Looking Younger, SBS One, 8.30pm
PLASTIC surgeon Rozina Ali is obviously bright, rather beautiful, and possessed of an ordinary human degree of vanity. Which makes her the perfect person to host an exploration of the science of our skin, and how and why it ages. And there is some interesting science here, from the process of sunburn and sun damage to the way our diet affects our skin. There's nothing wrong with the jaunty, accessible tone, either, even if this sometimes feels a little overproduced (I don't quite get the lavish mood-setting shots of wallpaper, stonemasonry and chandeliers). The real problem lies with where Dr Ali goes for her ''science'': chiefly, Unilever and L'Oreal. One interesting study is about to be peer-reviewed. The rest, while apparently carried out by qualified scientists, can't help feeling a little tainted.
Grey's Anatomy, Channel Seven, 8.30pm
GOD, what's happening to me? I'm starting to enjoy Grey's Anatomy. Have I simply, finally - nine seasons in - succumbed to its evil powers? A little bit. I've certainly stopped expecting it to be anything other than it is, or wishing it were. Instead, I've relaxed into its absurd yet polished mix of melodrama and pantomime. And if that formula - sex, surgery, comedy, tragedy - isn't so fresh or surprising any more (hence the soft ratings), the show has actually found a nicer balance. Or at least one that appeals more to me. Although there are the usual romantic problems, fewer characters are mired in turgid angst. There's a lot more lightness, far fewer pointless spats. Even Cristina is cracking more jokes, without losing her acerbic edge. Even better, on last count we were down to just the one screeching neurotic (April the Krazy Christian) instead of a good half-dozen careening around the corridors of Seattle Grace, making my life - and theirs - a misery. And while new faces have joined the team - a fresh batch of interns and the odd new resident - a good number of the original cast are still on board. Now they seem less like really annoying strangers and more like family: often still mightily annoying, but in a loveable way. Tonight marks the end of the current run of fast-tracked episodes for this year. Dr Bailey? I miss you already.
Today Tonight, Channel Seven, 6.30pm
SO FAR, the summer edition of Today Tonight looks an awful lot like the winter, spring and autumn editions, only with a different host. I guess it just isn't possible to go lighter without floating away. So while the Middle East (and the planet) burn and Europe polishes its begging bowl, the focus remains firmly on the local, the inconsequential, and the fixable. Political correctness gone mad. Kitchen cupboards that don't shut properly. Why fries are good for you. These matters are ramped up to seem serious. For instance, did you know profits from pirated DVDs COULD BE FINANCING TERRORISM??? Me neither.
Hamish & Andy's Euro Gap Year, Channel Nine, 7.30pm
FOR some of us, watching Gap Year first time around was tough going. Seeing or hearing these lads ad lib is a joy. They're not only extraordinarily likeable, but also quick thinkers and genuine wits. Listening to them on Fox is an absolute delight. Weirdly, though, as soon as they script something - even as loose as their Caravan specials - they lose me. Maybe there's a silliness to their shtick that's forgivable - adorable even - when it's off the cuff, but lame when planned. Maybe they need spontaneity to be really sharp. Sometimes you can see how something would have had them in stitches while discussing it, but on screen, it's meh. I think it's just me: their recent New Zealand two-part special rated through the roof, and Channel Nine is undoubtedly on a good thing with Gap Year repeats over summer.