The ratings are in for the first two episodes of season three of "Louie" -- and they're good.
The show's June 28 premiere drew about 1.4 million viewers to FX; that's almost twice as many as watched the first season premiere, and a hefty 50 percent more than tuned in to the premiere of the second season. Viewership for the second episode of "Louie," which aired July 5, was somewhat lower, at 1.1 million -- but even that is a solid 19 percent higher than the average viewership last season. It's also impressive considering that it aired a day after Independence Day, so many viewers were likely taking a mini-vacation.
FX spokesperson John Solberg admitted that the numbers are more impressive in the context of past seasons of "Louie" than in the broader context of TV, or even FX.
"Compared to our other comedies, it's not as high as 'It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia' or 'Wilfred,'" he said, "But it's increased every year."
"Philadelphia" averaged above 2 million viewers last season, while "Wilfred," which airs immediately before "Louie," pulled 1.5 million. The ratings for "Louie" are also modest compared to the Charlie Sheen-helmed "Anger Management," which is on before "Wilfred" -- to say nothing of its rivals on the networks. On the other hand, "Louie" has a famously minuscule budget, so it stands a better chance than some other shows of turning a profit for FX despite its relatively low viewership.
"We're really encouraged by it," Solberg said. "But more importantly, it's arguably the best television series on right now."
That's quite a statement -- but it's supported by a raft of critical acclaim. The third season has garnered the most raputurous reviews of the series so far.
HuffPost TV critic Maureen Ryan called it "the best comedy on television," while Emily Nussbaum of The New Yorker said it was "a revelation." The season's Metascore currently stands at 93, the highest of any show being aired this summer, and below only a few legends -- "Battlestar Galactica" season 3, "Breaking Bad" and "The Wire" season 4, "Sopranos" season 6 -- on Metacritic's all-time TV leaderboard.
Many of the critics have praised the show's iconoclasm, attributing it to the unusual level of control the show's creator, Louis C.K., has over the show -- the comedian stars in, writes, directs, edits and scores most of the episodes, setting it apart from everything else on TV. Its unusual format turns off some viewers -- but the acclaim that results from it has likely contributed to the rise in the ratings for this season compared to the first two.
UPDATE: Since we posted this story, more data on "Louie" season three viewership have come in. Total viewership is up 36 percent and viewership in the key 18-49 age bracket is up 26 percent vis-a-vis last season. One fascinating trend? Men are much more enthusiastic than women are about the show. A whopping 70 percent of "Louie" season 3 viewers are male. That's up from 64 percent last season. And women were much more likely than men to watch the premiere but not return for episode two; 34 percent of women between the ages of 18 and 49 who watched the premiere did not tune in again a week later.