TV Review: Horace and Pete
Episode 1: "Horace and Pete's Est. 1916"
Synopsis: Horace (Louis CK) and Pete (Steve Buscemi) run a bar in Brooklyn that has been in their family for 100 years. Outside forces are causing rifts within their relations and friends and force the two to face all sorts of contemporary issues head on.
REVIEW: There was a big surprise waiting for Louis CK fans this weekend: the comedian and talented filmmaker dropped a new series on his website. Titled Horace and Pete's, the series appears to be one of four episodes that bore no synopsis or credits and this blunt message: "Watch the show, download the show, ignore the show. Whatever you want. After that, you never, ever have to hear from me again. Unless you want to." The question left to us viewers was whether it would be a surreal comedy along the lines of his eponymous FX series or something more like his new show Baskets. The answer is that Horace and Pete's is something altogether unique. Clocking in at 67 minutes, this show would better be called a drama and shares more in common with a stage play than a sitcom.
Horace and Pete follows Louis CK and Steve Buscemi as the titular characters, proprietors of a Brooklyn bar that bears their namesakes. The bar has been in existence for 100 years and passed down over the generations to the children of the original owners, also named Horace and Pete. The owners are usually brothers but always members of the same family. The current owners took over the bar when their father, Horace the 7th, died one year earlier. Since then, the bar has been in decline and their sister, Sylvia (Edie Falco) wants to take control and dissolve the business. This first episode is set in the bar where we are introduced to the cast of characters who drink and argue in the establishment. We also see Horace and Pete go toe to toe with their sister and their foul-mouthed and racist Uncle Pete (Alan Alda).
If feels unfair to call Horace and Pete a television show. Louis CK has done something more profound with this story that feels more like a filmed stage play. The dialogue is light but deeply written by CK who also directed the show and shares a lot in common with his work on his FX series and his stand-up performances. There is a lot of profanity but it all feels like it could easily have been improvised by the cast of talented performers. The cast includes comedian friends of CK including Steven Wright and Saturday Night Live's Aidy Bryant along with the great Jessica Lange and a small role from Rebecca Hall. It even features an original song from Paul Simon. It makes you wonder just when Louis CK got this produced. With there being references to Donald Trump and the Iowa caucuses as well as Cam Netwon playing in the upcoming Super Bowl 50, this had to have been filmed within the last two weeks, making it even more impressive of a feat.
Aside from the main plot involving the ownership of the bar, there are a pair of subplots involving Pete's mental health and Horace's relationship with his estranged daughter and live-in girlfriend. This episode features the supporting cast also waxing philosophical on everything from racism, sexism, spousal abuse, and the eternal struggle of liberals and conservatives. Everyone is given some good material to work with which is a testament to Louis CK as a writer that he is able to give depth to over a dozen characters. There is a lot to digest in this hour plus but it feels like it would absolutely be worth repeat viewings to absorb everything going on here.
There is not a lot to say regarding the direction of Horace and Pete. This is a workmanlike production with several moments shifting out of focus or the camera being placed in such a way that it cuts off part of the actor's head before they fully enter the frame. I found myself thinking back to CK's short-lived HBO series Lucky Louie which shared a lot of visual similarities with this production. If Horace and Pete had actually been mounted as a stage play, I would be shocked if it were not the talk of Broadway and go on to be lauded by critics. This is something truly unique and very different from what CK's stand-up fans are used to from the comedian. But there is no doubt that Louis CK is one hell of a storyteller and that those comparing him to filmmakers like John Cassavetes and Woody Allen are absolutely in their right to do so. Horace and Pete is not going to be for everybody, but I hope this is not just a one shot effort. The story ends in such a way as to leave open more episodes in the future but it functions perfectly well as a self-contained piece. This is absolutely a must see for fans of good acting, strong drama, and dark comedy.