On January 30th, without any prior promotion, warning or announcement, comedian Louis CK released the first episode of his new ‘TV’ show Horace and Pete on his website.
As the world woke up to its existence, news of its accidental discovery spread. CK had been on hiatus from his other, more popular show, the semi-autobiographical and increasingly surreal Louie, which itself is one of the greatest shows ever created. After completing its fifth season in 2015, its parent network FX announced that the show would be going on indefinite hiatus till such time CK was in the mood for more. No concrete reason was given. This is the kind of luxury not many creators are afforded, except perhaps Larry David and his open invitation to return to HBO with more Curb Your Enthusiasm (something that grows unlikelier by the year).
But there it was, on that January morning, the reason behind Louis CK’s absence. And return. The show was called Horace and Pete, and it makes the oddball ‘Louie’ look as mainstream as an Avengers movie. Everything about Horace and Pete is aggressively weird. It’s shot like a stage play, much like how it’s written. Episodes are taped only a week before they are aired. There is a raw sense of amateurishness with the way it’s put together, from the cluelessness of the camera to the improvisational style of the dialogue. Whether or not it is intentional is up for debate.
As far as the show is concerned, deciding whether or not it’s one of the most ambitious undertakings in the history of television, albeit on a smaller scale, is something only time will tell. After all, only three episodes have aired so far. Putting your finger on it is difficult, but there’s no denying that something special is afoot.
It’s about two sad sacks, two losers who find themselves as the owners of a century-old bar and, as it turns out, a TV programme named after them. They’re Horace and Pete, and they’re played by Louis CK and Steve Buscemi. And yes, the rest of the cast is just as confoundingly great. There’s Edie Falco as Louie’s sister, Jessica Lange as a hanger on and Alan Alda as their drunk, racist uncle in what has to be one of the best performances he has ever given. And the theme song is by Paul Simon. Yes, the very same Paul Simon.
It is a meditation on misery, and, like much of CK’s work, finds itself chuckling at the unending sorrows of life. Horace and Pete are the owners of a bar that is stuck in time. The only reason they’re running it is because of some cuckoo fantasy reason that dictates the proprietors can only be persons named Horace or Pete. The dusty nature of the dump suggests it could be set in any one of the 10 decades between 1916 and today, something that you take as a matter of fact till Horace suddenly whips out his iPhone in one scene. The conversations are rambling, morose and filled with sharp observations on anything ranging from Donald Trump to mental health. It’s dark. It’s so dark. And it’s disturbingly great. It gets weirder.
Remember, this is a show CK is producing independently. There are literally no restrictions. The third episode opens with a nine-minute monologue by Laurie Metcalf, playing Horace’s ex-wife, as she recounts a sordid sex story. The stunning scene opens an equally brilliant episode. It’s just the two of them, sitting across a table, baring their souls to each other.
It’s no wonder then that show comes with its own statutory 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.’ I just think it’s fair this one time to warn you since you have every right to expect a comedy from a comedian. I will not warn you again.” That’s the enigmatic message CK left on his website announcing the release of episode 2.
Which brings us to the whole affair of its manner of presentation. The show is available on CK’s website, not on a network, not on Netflix. It just… is. The first episode can be bought for 5 bucks, the second episode for 2 and the rest for 3. You’ll need a PayPal account though. Everything about this entire story is foggy with surreal mystery.
The first time CK spoke about the show was in a message on his site. “Hello friend guy lady or other,” he said. “Some of you are aware that, last Saturday, I launched a new series on my site called “Horace and Pete”. I’m writing now to tell you some stuff about it….”
You can read the rest of the letter on his site. There’s no point in repeating it here. Louis CK is one of the greatest thinkers of this age. The genius is at work. Let’s take a leap of faith and observe. We could be in the middle of something special.
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The author tweets @NaaharRohan