A few days ago, Louis C.K. dropped the first episode of Horace and Pete on his website, without any preceding fanfare or hype. For the nominal charge of $5 per episode, the famed comedian tries out a new show format and gets it directly into the hands of his fans.
The episode clocks in at just over an hour and straddles the line between script and improv. It feels more like a live theatre recording than a sitcom, and begins with two men opening up a bar of the same name – Horace (Louis C.K.) and Pete (Steve Buscemi). The cast is a who’s who of Hollywood’s finest, with many familiar faces among the bar patrons that you know, or should know. But you’ve never seen them like this before.
The strong theatrical aspect comes out between the lines, in those awkward and uncomfortable pauses that make up real life. Characters frequently deliver the most bigoted, racist slurs in the most offhand ways, in between the “how are you’s” and watering hole small talk. Alan Alda as crotchety uncle Pete (it’s a family thing, as he’ll explain) gets the N-word and the politically incorrect sissy remarks, but he’s really about treating everyone equally in the same horrible fashion.
What’s exciting about Horace and Pete is the immediate relevancy of the format. The first episode was probably filmed within the last week – if that. The story is able to comment on American politics and $100 prescription pills with specificity instead of in general terms, which really makes the direct download format work. Even if you’re not there for the commentary, C.K. packs enough punches in the source material, including those always-entertaining ways of being mean to hipsters. But unlike C.K.’s previous work, this is not pure comedy, and there is no laugh track to rely on. The show remains true to its offbeat, darker humour, but also slowly and deliberately doles out the secrets of its characters over time. Instead of leaving it on a traditional cliffhanger, the episode ends softly with the two leads soaking in its impact, in much the same manner as the couch-watching audience does.
It is insane and ingenious to try to contain all of this madness under one roof. The first episode of Horace and Pete hooked me with its not-quite TV, not-quite standup format, with a great cast that plays between both lines.
Episode 1 of Horace and Pete is now available for direct download at www.louisck.net.