A few weeks ago, in the midst of the continuing political unrest brought about by the then-current Iowa Caucus, stand-up comedian and cinematic provocateur Louis C.K. released the first episode of his new series Horace and Pete, entirely unannounced on his personal website. The series has since gone on to feature three episodes so far, each of which has lasted the duration of approximately an hour and a half, and each has surprised audiences with understated clarity, socially aware acuity, and piercing cultural insight. At one point over the course of the premiere episode, Steve Buscemi, who plays Pete of the show’s eponymously named bar, turns off the TV and dismissively derides the still current blathering of Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump. In response, a constant patron, played by comedian Kurt Metzger, espouses his own reading of the near apocalyptic state of domestic affairs that has given birth to such raving lunatics and mad-hatters that comprise the still contemporary presidential race, on both sides of the spectrum, before placing his vote for Trump in an act of concession towards a world gone entirely awry.
The rest of the program follows the legal battle held between Horace (C. K.’s character) and his sister Sylvia (Edie Falco), who wants to sell the long-established watering hole and put a family history based upon patriarchal misogyny to bed. But much to her and Horace’s chagrin, the family’s cantankerous Uncle Pete, played by Alan Alda, won’t hear of the establishment passing into hands of anyone who is not a male heir. Added to that whole debacle comes Buscemi’s Pete, who is currently off his behavioral medication, and is made victim to various fits and bursts stemming from an inevitable mental breakdown, though his worries are only exacerbated when he learns that he is not in fact Horace and Sylvia’s brother, but their cousin, and Uncle Pete’s bastard son.
The surrounding drama that arises from a whole coterie of barflies, including a morose and monosyllabic Steven Wright, a spurned lover played with a devilish sneer by Jessica Lange, and a whole host of millennial liberals set upon beleaguering conservative crank Nick DiPaolo, all serve to hasten the entire affair towards existential annihilation and despairing nihilism. As a whole, Horace and Pete is a stunning experiment in negating the expectations of the casual viewer, while rewarding those willing to indulge C.K. on his latest cinematic outing that has characteristically come entirely out of left field. There is a certain dialogue at play throughout the show that promises to continue on for however many more episodes are yet to come, though the intent and purpose of said conversation seems equally as willing to obfuscate and alienate as it is to clarify and expound upon the contemporary world.
Many have already made claims to the extent that C.K. has tricked his fans into watching a modern theatrical performance from the comfort of their own homes and at a more affordable cost, and that is certainly not off the mark. The first episode takes place entirely within two established sets, and plays with minimal camera work, lighting, and effects, with the actors performing as if they were on Broadway. But the fact that the entire performance has been decimated via the internet through multi-media download means that this contemporary work of stage drama is entirely divorced from the theater experience, and as such becomes an ever more peculiar and disorienting affair. Horace and Pete might be the boldest piece of material that C.K. has produced yet, and if you are of a certain mind, you will find yourself wanting more, no matter the cost or platform.
Played off like an entirely realistic episode of Cheers, C.K. experiments with the boundaries of what viewers can be expected to enjoy as much as he has on his critically acclaimed FX series produced for television that is Louie, only here the comedian has found himself in a position where he truly holds all the cards. The next episode of Horace and Pete could be a radio play delivered via podcast, or a short story written out in a series of messages on Twitter, or an animated gif disseminated entirely by privately owned social media accounts, and you’d be hard pressed to find anyone surprised by the circumstances by which C.K. might choose to release his latest work. Obviously, such an event is unlikely, given the comedian’s well-known distaste for maintaining an online presence of any kind, but the point is that C.K. is now operating from the position of someone in a position of seemingly absolute autonomy over any and all creative work he might wish to engage in next. He only has to announced his next creative venture, and the audience that he has singularly cultivated and played to will likely follow him down whichever rabbit hole of invention he feels inclined to burrow into next.
Horace and Pete may not be for everyone. But the people that will speak to be will be moved immensely by a piece of social commentary that gives all sides a fair say, without resorting to bland statements of disapproval or commendation of one or the other side and opponent. Already having graduated onto its third episode, C.K.’s latest web-series might be his most daring venture yet, and stands as further proof of the fact that he his at the very top of his game as a deeply personal storyteller and comic entertainer. However long the show continues on for remains relatively unknown, and C.K. may or may not release yet another unexpected project yet in the near future, though for now viewers should feel free to let Paul Simon’s lilting theme song wash over them and continue to enjoy the peculiar charm of the new show. Louis C.K. has fast become one of the most unpredictable and exciting performers to watch, and his latest creative venture released independently and entirely online proves that fact in spades, and should be required viewing of everyone.
Featured Image: Pig Newton, Inc