By Margaret Lyons
Updated June 30, 2010 at 02:00 PM EDT

Image Credit: Eric Leibowitz/FXI saw Louis C.K. live last summer, and he was third or fourth on a really raunchy bill. The openers were just okay, and everyone in the packed house was drunk, sweaty, and restless, having veered from it’s-dirty-and-I’m-laughing to it’s-dirty-and-I’m-uncomfortable. And then Louis C.K. took the stage and in an instant the entire audience was enraptured. The boozy mumbling hushed, the sagging energy rebounded, and we were all transfixed. If the early episodes of Louie don’t quite reach those levels of total enchantment, it’s only because C.K. is just building a rhythm…I think.

Last night’s episodes of Louie, the stand-up comedian’s latest foray into episodic television, were almost relentlessly bleak and could have driven me into a total tailspin — if they weren’t so nakedly hilarious, this would be up there with Breaking Bad on the gutpunch-o-meter. But it was hilarious, and like C.K.’s stand-up act itself, it veered from stunningly candid and honest to goofily surreal what-if kind of material.

The next few episodes are paced a little better, but the balance between C.K.’s in-show stand-up sets and the narrative parts will always be tough to strike: It’s hard not to want to just watch the stand-up, and yet the miserable and weird stories are compelling in their own twisted way.

Louie‘s not quite perfect. The premiere had a few sour notes (er, the helicopter getaway?) and the pervasive misery of the show’s central character can be overwhelming. But originality in premise, voice, execution, style — that goes a long, long way.

Did you watch Louie last night, PopWatchers?