By James Hancock February 8th, 2016
For anyone who has been paying attention to Louis C.K. over the last few years it has been impossible not to notice his evolution both as a comedian and a filmmaker. I started following his work after seeing him perform live at Caroline’s in Manhattan back in 2008. I was blown away, particularly by his ability to obliterate hecklers, and rapidly hunted down as much of his stand up as I could find online. When he launched his show Louie on FX, I was an instant fan and was even more impressed by the fact that he had total creative control as writer and director and admitted to editing many episodes personally on his laptop. The first season was incredible and somehow Louis managed to improve upon the format in later seasons as we saw with the brilliant 3-part story ‘Late Show’ featuring David Lynch which brought Season 3 to a close. For any performer who is funny as hell, fans often resent it when said filmmaker tries to grow as a storyteller, witness Woody Allen’s shift in the late 70s as a perfect example, but personally I loved watching Louis gaining confidence as a director over the course of five seasons, a career he had been trying to resurrect ever since the horrible experience he had while directing Pootie Tang back in 2001. So when I learned last week that Louis C. K. had created a new show called Horace and Pete and unceremoniously made it available on his website louisck.net without any advertising or promotion, I was instantly intrigued.
In an interview with the New York Times, Louis C.K. said that his show “may best be described as a ‘Cheers’ spec script by Eugene O’Neill: a snapshot of a family — and a country — suffering a hangover decades in the making.” Only two episodes in, I am absolutely loving it. Shot with four cameras like a classic sitcom, the format is a clever act of subterfuge on the part of Louis C.K. The show’s storytelling style and atmosphere have far more in common with a serious drama on the stage including an intermission each episode, but with the added bonus of some of the darkest humor of Louis C.K.’s career. From what I’ve been reading online, it seems like a lot of viewers are either confused or outright annoyed by this unusual hybrid format. From my perspective, the same people who are complaining about this show are likely the same people who would walk into a theater to see a play like Death of a Salesman or Waiting for Godot and then act bewildered that what they were watching didn’t have as many catchy tunes as Mamma Mia!. I’m not trying to compare Louis C.K. to Arthur Miller or Samuel Beckett but my point is that one needs to be open minded going into the show. It is unlike anything else being done on television or online today.
First and foremost the show has an astonishing cast. Alan Alda, Jessica Lange, Edie Falco and Steve Buscemi bring the dramatic gravitas while stand up comedians like Steven Wright, Kurt Metzger and Nick DiPaolo flesh out the cast nicely with some outstanding levity. The show is being shot and posted online with such speed that it frequently references current events as recent as the Iowa caucus. I suspect that the politics of Horace and Pete might be one of the reasons many viewers are bewildered by the show. Unlike most shows that overtly tackle politics, this show refuses to present a one-sided partisan view of the world, making the show difficult to categorize on that front. In today’s climate where people more often than not only want to be stimulated by the superficial outrage embraced by their chosen camp rather than have a nuanced view of the world, a show like Horace and Pete will not give them the endorphin rush they seek. In that the show takes place in a 100-year-old dive bar in Brooklyn and for the most part lacks a central storyline, the setting gives Louis the freedom to comment on a variety of topics from humorless hipsters who take themselves too seriously to being sexually aroused by his vivid fantasies of his dead father’s former mistress. So at the risk of overselling the show, I am a fan. There is plenty to criticize but I have no desire to do so until I see how this season plays out. I have tremendous respect for Louis C.K.’s willingness to risk his own money investing in an experimental format being sold solely through his website. That type of intestinal and testicular fortitude is what filmmaking is all about and as long as Louis C.K. is risking his money and reputation on this kind of endeavor, I will be in his corner to support him 100%.
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