***Minor Horace and Pete spoilers to follow***
Over the past few weeks, we’ve been graced with an unexpected gift from Louis C.K. in his new show ‘Horace and Pete’. For those of you who haven’t watched yet, or maybe haven’t heard, Louis C.K. made a new show called ‘Horace and Pete’ and released it straight to his fans via his website. Drop your expectations, forget conventional entertainment – Louis is making true art here. The show isn’t a comedy. Sure, there are funny moments, but it’s mostly a realistic and emotionally robust multi-cam drama unlike anything you’ve seen. It’s shot on two simple, but authentic sets, presented similarly and with the same feel as a live show. Many of you will turn away after the first episode, hell, maybe even before finishing the first episode. The fact is, it’s just not for everyone. It’s slow and without the formulaic structure found in general television, or entertainment, for that matter. But I promise you, if you give it the time of day, along with your full attention, you’ll find the aftermath to be rewarding and mentally and emotionally nourishing in several ways.
So far, there are only three episodes, but Louis is releasing them each week as he is making them. He writes, films and completes full production of them in a week, then releases to the masses, letting the fans know through his website e-newsletter. As were his comedy tours, the release method is unconventional, yet perfectly executed. It allows basically everyone to access the content for an amazingly reasonable price, giving them a direct download to do whatever they please with the video file. The first episode is five dollars, the second is two dollars and the third is three dollars. We don’t know how many episodes there will be, but I’m hoping it lasts as long as Louis C.K.’s career (a very long time).
The first two episodes, as I said, are slow. Very slow. You have to go in expecting an experience, not a fast-paced procedural show. If you rid yourself of those pacing expectations, you’ll surely be satisfied. Louis’ approach to this show is unprecedented. His writing takes its time, is honest and real, and never lets back. The direction is simple and never distracting, as most multi-cam presentations are. We are gifted with the intimate look at two brothers, Horace (Louis C.K.) and Pete (Steve Buscemi) who own and run a bar together, surrounded by a colorful group of characters (including Edie Falco, Aidy Bryant, Alan Alda, Jessica Lange and more). In the first episode alone, the mess of their family and those surrounding unravels before the audience. Much of the time you feel as if taking a glimpse into an actual bar, seeing actual conversations, some heated, some not, between actual family and friends. The subjects are always relevant. The relationships are frequently relatable on a deep human level, mirroring those we have seen in our own lives. The dialogue is some of the best I’ve ever heard in a show or movie – it simply feels like it’s there because it should be, because the characters need to say those things, not because a writer sat down in a room and carefully jotted down each witty response. In these few episodes, Louis C.K. has accomplished with his few characters what some shows can only dream of executing over the run of an entire season or perhaps even lifespan. The depth is intricate and parallels that of real life. It is the best example of characters in fiction – when we watch a scene, we immediately believe that they exist on either side of the episode; they’ve existed before and after these events take place, walking around and living their lives offscreen. The development is thorough and complex. We witness the dynamic of each individual relationship and how one affects the other. The performances, too, are vulnerable and subtle, yet powerful. They only elevate the great writing.
It’s hard to put into words the greatness of Horace and Pete, simply because the plot isn’t remarkable or necessarily exciting. Like life itself, what the characters experience is mostly sad, difficult and hard to understand at times. Simple, yet complicated, the nature of each word spoken and each scene performed seems to be offering us a glimpse at ourselves and the society we live in without holding any punches. It’ll say the things we’ve wished to say to a family member. It’ll ask the questions we’ve always wanted to ask. It’ll put on display the feelings that we’ve always felt, somewhere, deep down. Or the thoughts that have swirled around in our busy minds.
All of these were musings I can attribute to the first two episodes, and the third as well, but when I finished watching episode three, I was turned on my head. With the third episode, Louis C.K. has made entertainment history. That’s all there is to it. He did what no one else would do and what no one else probably will do. Two characters, for the duration of 45 minutes, have a personal conversation which brings them tears, laughs and stress. Let me just repeat that in a simpler way: The entire 45-minute episode is a single conversation between two characters.
As a premise, it sounds boring as hell and not worth watching – or making. But, for the entirety of the episode, I was enthralled. I was immediately engaged from the get-go, thanks to the wonderfully realized opening monologue by Laurie Metcalfe, who plays Horace’s (Louis C.K.) ex-wife. I actually struggle to understand how Louis C.K. managed to write such precisely detailed and true-to-life dialogue, all the while making it feel as if spoken by a real person, tangents, profanities and all. Not only that, but the fact that he’s writing these (presumably) by himself, like he has with his show Louie, makes the matter all the more impressive. But to write so realistically, one conversation, between two characters, over the period of 45 minutes and keep it entertaining? Unheard of.
Laurie Metcalfe sinks comfortably into the role assigned to her. She never misses a beat and I felt like I knew her character within a minute. My one gripe with the episode and the show in general – Louis C.K. often makes a series of faces while acting. It’s not a horrible flaw, it just sometimes seems like he is visibly trying to act. Aside from that, though, his performance, in this episode especially, is surprisingly raw and multi-faceted. In fact, after a while the faces just add to his sad, worn out character. When he goes to the lows of emotional pain or the highs of happiness, you can truly see he’s felt these things before, significantly adding to the character and scene.
Apart from the craft and techniques of the third episode, I can’t think of another instance in which something like this has been achieved or even attempted in movies or television. The show in itself stands apart from modern entertainment and is Louis C.K.’s love letter to his art, passion and experiences combined, but the third episode topped off the achievement in a grand fashion, ironically presented in the most subdued way possible.
Without making a fool of myself any further trying to verbalize what’s been done here by Mr. C.K., I strongly urge you to go buy the episodes and watch them. I know for a fact that you haven’t seen anything quite like it on a screen, but you’ve seen things like it every day in your real life. It’s a show that surpasses the definition of a show.
Horace and Pete is a towering piece of art, whether everyone will see that or not. Time will tell, I do believe. Down the line, we will look back at when Louis C.K. decided to say ‘Fuck You’ to show expectations and create something beautiful and substantial, that will be important for a long, long time.
Have you seen Horace and Pete? What are your thoughts on Louis C.K.’s new show? Let’s start a discussion in the comments!
Author: Austin Adams, @IamAustinAdams
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