HELLO AND WELCOME to the first official feature of the TV section. You may have guessed from the name, we’re going to be examining those zeitgeist-piercing works that apparently everyone is talking about online but that let’s face it, very few people have actually watched. We’re going to be telling you whether they’re worth the effort and giving you all the facts you need to stay ahead of the curve. So to begin this, we’re starting with Louis CK’s surprise new effort – Horace and Pete. It seems odd to be starting on Horace and Pete as it’s hard to describe if its a television show. For one thing, its not on television, it’s not even on one of the major streaming services (one day, we’ll have to sit down and have a chat about what a television show means in this modern age but for now, it’s whatever seems right for it to be covered here), the first episode was released with no fanfare onto Louis CK’s website for $5 with following episodes priced at $2-3, but even more than the fascinating direct marketting, creator-to-fan relationship the show has built, but deeper than that, it knows exactly what show it wants to be, it just doesn’t want that show to be easily describable. The general premise is that in 1916, two friends called Horace and Pete opened an Irish bar in New York and since then, every generation of their family have been named Horace and Pete and run the bar, right up to the modern Horace (CK, who also wrote, directed and produced) and Pete (Steve Buscemi, looking relieved to not be in the Sandler Cinematic Universe for a while) who serve their same bunch of regulars along with cantankerous Uncle Pete (Alan Alda doing his best work in years). So far, so Cheers also-ran but anyone who watched CK’s other television show, Louie, will know better than to assume that this is just a sit-com or even that it will try to make you laugh. CK, when commenting upon episode 2 said that:
‘Warning: this show is not a “comedy”. I dunno what it is. It can be funny. And also not. Both. I believe that “funny” works best in its natural habitat. Right in the jungle along with “awful”, “sad”, “confusing” and “nothing”.’
This gives you something of an insight into where CK is going with the programme. It has more in common with O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh than Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps with it’s multi-camera set-up feeling more in line with filmed theatre than a sit-com set up, this is increased by the extended length of episodes (Of the two released so far, Episode One was 67 minutes and Two – 51), the appearance of a mid-episode ‘intermission’ and the slightly loose nature of filming, CK promising that we are going to get an episode every week just days after they finish filming but with this theatrical build the first episode features a few minor line flubs by actors that instead of being cut around or re-shot are left in and just covered like the pros that the cast are.
And what a cast. As well the previously mentioned CK, Buscemi and Alda, we have The Sopranos’ Edie Falco at her brittle best as the third sibling alongside Horace and Pete, Jessica Lange as the alcoholic, cynical final wife of their deceased father, current SNL highlight Aidy Bryant as Horace’s daughter, Rebecca Hall as Horace’s girlfriend and numerous stand-ups and cohorts including famed anti-comedian Stephen Wright as bar patrons. Where Louie requently saw CK flirting with surrealism and absurdism, perhaps the most intriguing element of Horace and Pete is quite how real it feels. It doesn’t use any unneccessary stylistic techniques or distractions, it just quite simply builds two (rather lovely) sets and let’s actors act in them. The camera work must be praised for never losing sight of the action but being so inobtrusive as to being almost unnoticable. With this kind of piece, that is as big a compliment as I can give. Also worth noting is how impressive CK is both as a actor and as an actor’s director, drawing beautifully rounded performances from the more trained actors through to the more traditional stand-up performers (who are, admittedly, playing versions of their stand-up personae but, hey, it works).
I’m going to attempt to avoid even actively talking about plot in this because of the fact that there’s so little of it. Essentially Horace and Pete own a bar, their sister wants to dissolve the bar and everyone take the money that they are owed for the sale of it. It seems at first that she is doing this out of purely selfish actions, as if her being left out of the title made her jealous but the you watch it, the more it becomes clear that in fact she’s doing this for their good. The one surreal moment comes when an old man comes into the bar, stands in the centre and tells everyone how he met his wife there, was arrested for murder and didn’t know where to go when he got out so he came back. It’s clear that the bar itself is not so much an institution as something so old that it just simply forgot to not exist. It’s never going to be a sight of supreme success but it will always have the same types of people sitting in the same stools drinking the same drinks every same day. It isn’t positioned so much as a bar than a black hole where the character’s lives have disappeared. This isn’t a co-dependant bar of friends like Cheers as it is a group of people that wandered into a bar once and haven’t fully left yet. I don’t know if I’ve sold it but the show can be really fucking funny as well.
The show isn’t quite perfection as yet, the younger characters especially the more outré ‘comedy hipsters’ are very sketchily formed ans maybe don’t hit the target as much as they could but for such an interesting experiment, it’s good to say that this is a joy to watch. And if it gets Jessica Lange out of that noxious detritus pit that is American Horror Story, all the better.
Buzz-Terms for discussion:
Theatre on Film,
Unique Distribution Model,
(NOTE: In lieu of an actual trailer for the show, here’s Paul Simon’s rather lovely theme for the show)