The third season of Louie starts tomorrow. New to the show? You needn’t schedule a daylong bender to burn through the 26 episodes of Seasons 1 and 2. (Although I certainly wouldn’t argue against doing that.) The series has a near-total disregard for continuity and consists, essentially, of a series of half-hour short films, each of them starring Louis C.K. as a very Louis C.K.-like character named Louie. Every episode is available right now to stream on Netflix and on Amazon, and you really only need to watch 5-10 to get a feel for the show and its surprises.
But which 10?
Here are the ones I’d recommend:
The second episode of the first season contains what might still be the show’s most famous scene, a discussion among Louie and fellow comics about the word faggot.
The exchanges between Louie and guest star Matthew Broderick as the former tries to play a cop alongside the latter in a remake of The Godfather are among the funniest bits the show has done.* And the first half of the episode provides one of the more extended looks at Louie as a comic.
Probably the best episode from Season 1, and one of the least funny: a brooding meditation on modern manhood.
I don’t love this episode, but if you want a sense of the show’s range, it’s essential viewing. It consists largely of a horrifying description of the crucifixion of Jesus.
The Season 1 finale is Louie at its lyrical best.
Maybe the darkest episode of what can be a very dark show: Louie sees a homeless man decapitated, and his account of this turns on a young woman who was previously uninterested in him. Then he attempts a loveless rendezvous with a woman closer to his own age. (Spoiler alert: That doesn’t go well either.)
Few characters on Louie recur at all; of the few who do, the most important are easily Louie’s daughters and his unrequited love, Pamela. Played by Pamela Adlon—who also played Louie’s wife on C.K.’s one-season HBO series Lucky Louie, and who has been a consulting producer on Louie—she makes clear in this episode that they will never, ever get together (probably).
In which C.K. stages a confrontation between himself and Dane Cook (who plays himself), the über-successful comic famously accused of stealing C.K.’s jokes.
Possibly the best episode of the show to date, in which comic Doug Stanhope devastatingly portrays a suicidal comedian whom Louie has known since way back.
This extra-long episode devoted to Louie’s USO tour is moving and funny and one of the most ambitious episodes of an ambitious series.
* This post originally said that Louie depicted a sequel to The Godfather. It was a remake.