Those black t-shirts are very slimming.
Imagine the FX network as a bar. At the bar is Justified's Timothy Olyphant, in his clenched-jaw majesty, double-fisting bourbon. In a corner, Charlie Hunnam’s biker from Sons of Anarchy, and America’s favorite Estavez, Charlie Sheen (who recently launched Anger Management on the network) are arm-wrestling. Then, in another corner, there’s a stocky, balding ginger talking about masturbation and chicken wings to anyone who will listen. And that man, Louis C.K., is the sexiest man on television.
Sure, he’s not what most of us would consider “traditionally” sexy. And even in a medium where George Costanza dated a never-ending parade of beautiful women, any lady finding a schlubby single father irresistible is testing the limits of believability. But the third season of C.K.’s Louie (which premiered Thursday) marks the return of one of the most honest perspectives on sex and relationships on television. There might not be any teenage girls putting up posters of C.K. over their beds anytime soon, but his genuine, open approach to love makes him undeniably sexy.
It would be easy to write off C.K.’s views on relationships as bitter and jaded — he's a divorced, single parent in his forties, after all. The very first episode of the show focuses on a disastrous first date with a woman who resorts to a helicopter to escape an awkward kiss. Then there's C.K.’s constant rejection by Pamela Adlon (playing… "Pamela"), which borders on self-flagellation, given that he writes, directs, and edits every episode.
But there’s more vulnerability than bitterness in the fictional C.K.’s constant failures. Rather than depicting himself as the victim, he turns the blame on himself, laying his weaknesses bare. He’s awkward, he’s old, he’s overweight, and he can’t have a single thought about a woman that doesn’t descend into some kind of sexual perversion. Not to get all freshman poetry class on you, but those things that make C.K. ugly are exactly what make him beautiful — and he can get very, very ugly. One episode sees him completely emasculated when a teenage bully threatens to beat him up in front of a date. Another sees a casual sexual encounter spiral into uncomfortable spanking and cries of “Oh, Daddy!” that then give way to uncontrollable sobs. And his unrequited love for Pamela is a through-line of sexual frustration and unfulfilled longing. The relationships on Louie are all conducted late at night, in darkened rooms, and scored to bleak jazz.
But they’re also incredibly human. The woman who is completely turned off by C.K.’s humiliation at the hands of a high-school jock cites her primal desire to see a man stand up for himself. “I’m a grown woman, and my mind is telling me that you are a great guy, but my chemistry is telling me that you’re a loser,” she tells him honestly, revealing the constant tension between our rational adult minds and our irrational emotional centers. C.K.'s awkward evening with a fellow single parent is mostly played for laughs — at one point, he’s so desperate to get laid that he agrees to pick up her vaginal cream at the bodega down the street — but there’s still something wonderfully raw about it. We carry around so much accumulated baggage by middle age it’s impossible to keep it from bleeding through in our sex lives, and that scene shows us how the connections we make in pursuit of love can open some pretty terrifying doors.
That warts-and-all realism is what makes Louie and its star so alluring. It’s admirable how open C.K. is with his personal insecurities. Some people can hardly communicate their fears and desires to a partner in an intimate relationship, let alone every week to nearly a million of the same kind of people who watch Sons of Anarchy. It’s weirdly thrilling to see dating at its scariest, and to watch the relationship neuroses we all share openly explored, treated with a naked dignity we hardly ever see in television and movies. It’s palate-cleansing to see a show that doesn’t set up humiliating scenarios just for the sake of having them miraculously solved — Louie sets them up because that’s what life does.
There’s a bit at the end of C.K.'s stand-up special Chewed Up where he talks about the difference between girls and women, and how at this point he's only attracted to the latter. As he explains, “You’re not a woman until you’ve had a couple of kids and your life is in the toilet.” He discusses how the tough, resilient body of his then-wife after two daughters is hotter to him than any pretty twentysomething standing in line at a club. That’s what sexy is. The sexiest people in our lives are the ones we’ve seen at their ugliest and still find irresistible. The ones who’ve gone through the frightening emotional breakdowns and the uncomfortable awkward moments with us. And it’s that willingness to celebrate the most scary, amazing, and upsetting aspects of love that makes Louis C.K. the sexiest guy on TV.