Why do we laugh? If you believe Freud, it’s the same reason why we dream: to satisfy unconscious desires that society usually forbids. So there must be a wink behind the strange and wonderful new season of Louie (premiering tonight), which often uses dream logic in place of jokes. The second episode, “Model,” finds Louie (Louis C.K.) hooking up with a rich young beauty (Yvonne Strahovski) whose astronaut father walked on the moon. When he admits that things like this don’t usually happen to him, the woman shrugs, “Well, maybe it’s not really happening.” “Elevator Part 1” opens with Louie’s daughter Jane (Ursula Parker) waking from a nightmare, and Louie assuring her that the scary dream is over. “No,” she insists, “I’m still dreaming, but…I’m having a nice dream now.” Later, we’re reminded that Jane’s mother (Susan Kelechi Watson) is black, even though Jane is blond-haired and blue-eyed, which might make us suspect that we’re dreaming too. This is what makes Louie so brilliant: It takes the type of mundane, familiar moment that fuels so much observational comedy — a random hookup, a rough night with the kids — and pushes it so far past its rational outcome, it ends up challenging the idea that the “naturalism” we love from comedians is any less of a false construction than surrealism.
Even the structure of Louie has always felt like a dream, mixing real-life clips of C.K.’s stand-up with semi-fictionalized moments from his life, cameos from people he knows (Sarah Silverman and Jerry Seinfeld pop up this season), and references to movies he’s seen — from French New Wave films to Buster Keaton classics. No doubt, C.K. knows about oneiric theory, which claims that cinema is like dreaming too: It requires us to spend hours in the dark, with our fantasies projected before us, and emerge later into the real world as if we’ve just woken up. But this isn’t just art-house pretension. Like the gnarliest stuff that your subconscious coughs up at night, its main purpose is to confront the taboo, and whether that means exploring just how far Louie will go into the “experimental” side of masturbation in the season premiere or simply digging into his ugliest prejudices about overweight women, the show can be revelatory. The third episode, “So Did the Fat Lady,” might be the most poignant one here, as Louie fends off the advances of a self-proclaimed “fat girl” (Sarah Baker). Her thoughts about what dating is like for plus-size women are so filled with truth, I found myself nodding at the TV, mumbling the kind of Mmm-hmms! you hear in church. Fans can debate whether the very last scene of that episode is too optimistic, but realism isn’t the point on a show that once found Louie taking fuzzy ducklings on a magical journey to Iraq. It’s like the astronaut’s daughter says: None of this is happening. But it’s a nice dream just the same.