Some thoughts on Horace and Pete

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In late January, Louis C.K. “pulled a Beyoncé” and dropped the first episode of his web series Horace and Pete. He had done zero promotion for this project; the first that fans heard of it was when members of his mailing list (like me) received an email saying that the first episode was available. No one had any idea that Louis C.K. was even working on a web series; it just magically appeared out of nowhere. The web series was being created as they went along – every Saturday I’d receive an often hilarious email from Louis C.K. letting me know that a new episode had been posted. I looked forward to getting these emails every week, as there was no clear indication of how long this web series was going to run. As quickly as it magically appeared, it could just as quickly disappear. I had fallen behind on actually watching the episodes, but when it was announced that the series was done after its 10th episode (which dropped this weekend) I found some time this weekend to power through the 6 remaining episodes that I had.

Horace and Pete is focused on the bar of the same name and the family that owns said bar. Horace and Pete has been operating in Brooklyn for over 100 years and is always run by a Horace and a Pete (the name is handed down in the family). The bar is currently run by brothers Horace VIII (Louis C.K.) and Pete (Steve Buscemi) who took over the bar after the death of their father; the bartender is their Uncle Pete (Alan Alda), who is a foul-mouthed straight shooter that has no worries about being political correct. Their sister Sylvia (Edie Falco) wants to shut the bar down and sell the property, though as a woman she has been given no part of the family business. The bar survives thanks to its regulars (played by Jessica Lange, Kurt Metger, Steven Wright, Nick DiPaolo, and Tom Noonan), who often get in spirited discussions about issues of politics, philosophy and religion. Horace and Pete is directed and written by Louis C.K. and has the feel of a stage play.

Overall, I really enjoyed Horace and Pete. I always appreciate when an artist is willing to take chances and has their own unique artistic vision and there is no doubt that Horace and Pete is a singular labor of love from Louis C.K. Some episodes work a lot better than others – the deliberate pacing of the show can occasionally make it feel very slow – but even when Horace and Pete isn’t at its peak, I was still invested in seeing where the story was going. And it was worth the moments that dragged for the moments of sheer genius; there is no doubt that Horace and Pete is a master class in acting. Tremendous performances are everywhere, from the regular cast to people like Laurie Metcalf who just drops by for one episode to give a mesmerizing performance that you can’t look away from. Louis C.K. has submitted Horace and Pete for Emmy consideration and it would truly be a shame if some of these amazing performances were not recognized. Alan Alda play completely against type here and Steve Buscemi handles all the difficult beats that he’s asked to play with nuance.

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If you haven’t watched Louis C.K.’s FX show Louie, it’s important to warn you that Horace and Pete is not your run of the mill comedy. There are very few moments that will make you actually laugh out loud. A lot of the comedy in Horace and Pete comes from the absurd and finding humor in tragedy. The people of Horace and Pete have not lived very happy lives and some are struggling with illness. They also aren’t very nice people – they have their moments, but they can be casually cruel to one another. The finale, in particular, was beautifully brutal; the fact that you are so invested in these characters despite their many flaws is a testament to what Louis C.K. and company have created. It’s not always an easy watch, but Horace and Pete is worth going on the emotional roller-coaster with these characters.

The entire series is available for purchase on Louis C.K.’s website. Because Louis C.K. was using the purchase of the previous week’s episode to help finance the production of the next episode, the entire series will cost about $30. By distributing the web series himself, he had complete artistic control over the endeavor, but Louis C.K. also went into a lot of debt to see the project through. I respect his commitment to his artistic vision and while I normally wouldn’t pay to watch something like this I have so much respect and trust for Louis C.K. that I was willing to pony up the cast to go along with him in this journey.

Horace and Pete is probably not for everyone (the language is definitely NSFW or for children), but overall it really worked for me. A lot of thought went into crafting these characters and the familial relationships are fascinating (if not painful) to watch unfold. Louis C.K. is always doing something a little different and Horace and Pete is no exception. If you are primarily familiar with him from his stand-up, it might take you a little while to adjust to the tone of Horace and Pete; those who are fans of Louis will adapt to the style much more quickly. Horace and Pete mines some difficult territory and some of it is just uncomfortable to watch, but ultimately it is worth going along for the ride.

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