You Should Watch “Horace and Pete”
“The world is too noisy and distracted to probably ultimately survive. Everyone needs to shut the fuck up. The answers are in the silence. Monks set themselves on fire to protest and to make this point. Just consider it.” –Garry Shandling
Recently I’ve found myself treasuring moments of silence. The moments when the music in the bar isn’t pumping at 20,000 decibels, or I’m not running from rehearsal to class to audition to party, or I don’t feel the need to constantly refresh my Twitter feed because some hollow part of me needs a fix of the latest “news” in order to feel like I’m contributing to society.
Horace and Pete, Louis CK’s stunning new miniseries released exclusively through his website, attempts to run counter to the rhythms of life as we perceive it to be in 2016, to the noise of modern existence. There’s no chyron in the corner encouraging you to tweet #HoraceAndPete. No end-of-episode plot twists that beg you to keep watching. There won’t be a “Which denizen of Horace and Pete’s are YOU?” Buzzfeed quiz.
There’s just this story. And these characters. And the often ponderous, circular, digressive moments that make up life.
The show is centered on Horace and Pete’s, a 100-year-old family-owned-and-operated bar in the heart of Brooklyn. For as long as it’s existed, the bar has been owned by two brothers, always named Horace and Pete. When they die, the bar is left to their children, also named Horace and Pete, who run the bar until it’s time to give it to the next generation, and on and on and on. Like any other century-old institution in this country, its insulated sense of heritage and tradition conceals a familial history of spousal abuse, bigotry, and woe
The year is 2016, and Horace the 8th (Louis CK) has been running the bar for a year with his brother Pete (Steve Buscemi). Their Uncle Pete (American Treasure Alan Alda) tends bar while vociferously opposing any sort of change, progress or modernization (no mixed drinks, no craft beers, no hipsters). Their sister (Edie Falco) wants to sell the property, tear the place down, and finally be rid of this habitat of despair. Horace is torn by conflicting impulses, whether to fulfill his responsibility as a man in this family to uphold traditions, or to rebuke those very same customs that are the source of much unhappiness in his life and the lives of many others.
There’s also Jessica Lange. And Steven Wright. And Aidy Bryant. And literally dozens of appearances and cameos by comedians, writers, actors, musicians, magicians, politicians from across the spectrum of American cultural life. The sheer multitude of famous, talented people Louis convinced to work on this show is unbelievable.
It feels worth mentioning that Horace and Pete isn’t a comedy. As Louis put it himself in an email to his fans, “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.”
Horace and Pete, rather, is defined by sadness. It lives in melancholy. The melancholy of not realizing your dreams, of continuing an unending cycle of pain and degradation that started with ancestors who’ve been dead for decades, of feeling powerless to change your lot in life. Its closest spiritual predecessor is the work of playwrights Eugene O’Neill and Arthur Miller. It even feels like filmed play, shot with multiple cameras on a large set.
This is, in all senses of the phrase, Louis CK’s state of the nation piece. The writing takes a hard look at this American experiment, at the conflicts, inconsistencies, and paradoxes that have come to define it, and explores whether or not this country of ours is even worth preserving. And if it’s not, what are we supposed to do about that?
I loved this show. I loved waking up on Saturday mornings to a note from one of my favorite comedians, letting me know that another installment of this thing was ready for my consumption. I loved that he was filming the show while he was releasing it (as evidenced by frequent conversations between characters about events that took place mere days before the episode was released). I loved the theme song, written and performed by Paul Simon (yes, he gets a cameo too. So do a few other of his beloved tunes). I loved its commitment to never offering easy answers, to searching for the complexities in the stories we tell ourselves to justify our continued existence.
This thing is worth indulging. It’s a slow burn, but by some strange alchemy you find yourself caring about these people and hope they find the answers they so desperately seek.
In the age of Peak TV, television shows have clamored to create the greatest amount of noise and seismic cultural movement. With Horace and Pete, Louis CK argues that there is a place in our world for silence, for quiet meditation on the very stuff that makes us who we are.