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Louis C.K.’s ‘Horace and Pete’ is a grand experiment in TV-watching

Louis C.K. tweaks the model again.

Feb 29, 2020, 12:00 pm*

Streaming

Audra Schroeder 

Audra Schroeder

In one scene in episode 2 of Louis C.K.‘s new webseries Horace and Pete, a suitor tries to get Marsha (played by Jessica Lange) to leave the bar with him. She declines, suggesting they just stay there and drink. Can Marsha or any of the other patrons leave this Brooklyn bar? Are they real? Are they… trapped?

Horace and Pete brings up a lot of questions. C.K. dropped the new series on fans last weekend without much fanfare, pushing the episode for just $5. In a message to fans last week, in regards to the surprise debut, he explained: 

Part of the idea behind launching it on the site was to create a show in a new way and to provide it to you directly and immediately, without the usual promotion, banner ads, billboards and clips that tell you what the show feels and looks like before you get to see it for yourself. As a writer, there’s always a weird feeing that as you unfold the story and reveal the characters and the tone, you always know that the audience will never get the benefit of seeing it the way you wrote it because they always know so much before they watch it. And as a TV watcher I’m always delighted when I can see a thing without knowing anything about it because of the promotion. So making this show and just posting it out of the blue gave me the rare opportunity to give you that experience of discovery.

C.K. funded, directed, wrote, produced, and is now distributing the multi-camera series. The episodes are being created in real time, apparently on a weekly basis, and touch on very topical issues like Donald Trump. “Basically this is a hand-made, one guy paid for it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation,” C.K. said. 

So asking $5 is not so much while attempting to build a new model, one C.K. has already tested out. In 2012, he released Tig Notaro‘s now-legendary Largo set exclusively through his website, and he sells tickets to his standup shows there as well, in order to circumvent exorbitant fees and scalping. C.K. discounted the second episode of Horace and Pete for fans on Saturday, lowering the price to just $2. He says the rest of the episodes will cost $3 each. It’s all an experiment. 

And so is Horace and Pete. Episode 2 is bookended by a sexual fantasy storyline involving Lange’s character, which allows for much dialogue about boners and love. In this way, Horace and Pete is not much different than Louie; in both, C.K. is getting out his neuroses and insecurities. “I’m just trying to sleep more and wrap it up,” Horace tells his brother Pete (played by Steve Buscemi) early on. 

Are Buscemi and C.K. True Detective season 3 material? Not quite. Seeing the two of them trade lines is exciting at first, but there is a dynamism missing from much of the structure and dialogue. C.K. has surrounded himself with top-notch actors (Edie Falco, Alan Alda), which allows him to continue doing the “Wait…what?” face and put-upon white guy bit. But, at least in the first two episodes, there are long pauses. Stilted conversations. It’s not a comfortable watch. 

And perhaps that’s C.K.’s intent: This isn’t a show that would air on Fox or maybe even NetflixHorace and Pete is set up like a stage play, complete with an intermission, picking at the threads of TV’s format. That he’s delivering this show weekly further plays with traditional (and streaming) TV’s pacing, sans all the promo drilled into viewers’ heads. 

In an email to fans about episode 2, C.K. addressed what Horace and Pete is not: 

Warning: this show is not a “comedy.” I dunno what it is. It can be funny. And also not. Both. I believe that “funny” works best in its natural habitat. Right in the jungle along with “awful,” “sad,” “confusing” and “nothing.” 

C.K. has reached a level of fame where he can do things like this, and turn television viewing to the stage. He’s hoping we keep asking questions. 

Screengrab via louisck.net  

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*First Published: Feb 7, 2016, 4:28 pm