Monday, February 8, 2016

REVIEW: 'Horace and Pete' - Horace Struggles with His Weird Views and Fantasies of the World in Episode 2

Louis C.K.'s Horace and Pete - Episode 2

An hourlong staged series with an all-star cast including Louis C.K., Steve Buscemi, Edie Falco, Steven Wright, Kurt Metzger, Aidy Bryant, Maria Dizzia, Jessica Lange and Alan Alda.

The first episode of Horace and Pete arrived with very little fanfare. An email was just sent out by Louis C.K. directing people to this new project he had worked on. There wasn't anything describing what it was and it cost five dollars. The product was actually quite good. Horace and Pete is an experimental series with a couple of really great performances. That first episode was so fantastic. But by the end of it, it was unclear if or when more episodes would come. This past week C.K. provided more answers. Another episode dropped this Saturday for only a two dollar purchase - with the rest of the season being three dollars an episode. The price point really is a way to recoup the costs of doing this show by himself without the backing of a major network. Doing it by himself allows the show to be as experimental as it wants to be. Episode 2 is much looser in structure and theme than the first episode was. It's not quite as successful. But when moments work, it's such a fantastic sight to behold.

The premiere episode introduced a number of storylines for a serialized narrative. Sylvia is suing the bar and her brothers just so she can sell it. Horace is trying to form a better relationship with his daughter, Alice. Uncle Pete is sticking to his sense of tradition no matter what anyone else says. Pete is struggling with his health problems. All of those plot points come up again in this hour. But they largely just play as the show addressing them as concerns that will be crucial to these characters over the long run. The joys that come from this episode have almost nothing to do with the serialized arc of the season. Instead, they just come from characters interacting in the title bar doing their best to find a connection in this world.

There is a lot of looseness going on with the structure in this episode. The first one played as a two-part play - complete with an intermission. That style and structure worked and helped make the show feel distinctive. It had to be this way in order to tell the audience what the purpose and tone of the show actually was. Horace and Pete was very successful in that regard. It told a complete story that was captivating to watch from start to finish. This episode is much more overtly comedic than the first episode was. That comes from not needing to focus on the plot too much. In his email to subscribers, C.K. notes that the show really isn't a comedy. It certainly has pretty of comedic moments. But it probably can't be classified as that - which make it a strange presence on a comedian's website. However, the show perfectly understands just how messy the world can be. Comedy is a part of that. But so are many other qualities that are reflected in the show as well. This hour largely plays as a bunch of vignettes with the characters entering various situations with each other. But that has its own appeal as well - even though the emotions involved are largely dark humor, uncomfortableness, tension, the need for connection, loneliness, depression, action, and even pointlessness.

The show is at its best in this episode when its just focusing on the small individual and random moments that happen at the bar. It's fascinating to watch as Uncle Pete, Leon and Kurt talk about the refugee crisis and connect it first to the concentration camps of Nazi Germany and then to Bambi. That's a scene filled with tragedy and darkness. But also such strong humor - like Leon's "I want to take some of those sentences back." It's also compelling to listen to Uncle Pete as he tells this humiliating tale about Horace accidentally peeing himself when he was young and playing little league baseball. That playful banter shows how Uncle Pete really doesn't take Horace seriously at all. But then, he completely changes his manner once he has to talk about Pete - his actual kid - and chooses to instead brag about him being the best baseball player, had a great girlfriend and was a straight A student. It's a subtle shift but meaningful in showing just how tense that relationship still is.

Plus, the highlight of the episode comes when yet another hipster comes into the bar but starts to complain once Uncle Pete charges him more for the same kind of beer that another (more regular) patron is having. It's a fascinating conversation. When it's Uncle Pete making the rules, it's a much more contentious argument. But when Horace takes over he just wants the guy to understand why they do this. It's great listening to Horace explain the actions of he bar. He knows that the hipster is coming in ironically in order to have the true dive bar in Brooklyn experience. He is actually paying for the whole atmosphere of the place. With the other customer, he's just here to enjoy a beer in order to bring some happiness into his depressing life. It's essentially a douche tax as the hipster points out - which he is able to easily understand as well.

It's also compelling once a woman who was in the hospital with Pete shows up looking for him. He's uncomfortable going over to talk with her because she's a part of his life that he doesn't like. His illness makes him awkward. He takes his medication in order to have some control over his life. He has recognized that he has entered the second part of his life. He doesn't want to waste any of his time left - even though he immediately falls asleep after saying that. Trisha is beautiful and easily wins over Uncle Pete and the other regulars at the bar after talking with them for a few minutes. She lives a life completely different from theirs. She is living with Tourettes and chooses not to treat it with meds in order to keep her identity intact. It's startling to Pete to see someone so willing to embrace their disease as a part of their public persona. He's scared of what happens when he goes crazy. It's an experience he doesn't want to live. So even though the two of them have this connection, he doesn't want to be with this "wacky" girl just because of their diseases.

This episode does have some major weak spots though - largely around Horace. His conversations with Sylvia and Alice largely play as retreads of the same conversations they had in the premiere. It's devastating for Horace to learn that his sister has breast cancer. She calmly says that she'll beat it. He wants to be supportive. But it being Horace means the situation wildly gets out of hand as soon as the conflict with the bar comes up again. All of these family members want to connect with each other. But Horace's action only alienates all of them more. The show really isn't subtle about that at all in this episode. First with Sylvia, he wonders if the point of all businesses is suppose to be to make money. And then with Alice, he talks about asking Rachel to move out simply so he could be a better father. Both of these actions make him look incredibly foolish. Sylvia and Alice don't want to be alone. But they also can't stand Horace in this point in his life for more than five minutes.

However, Horace does have a fantastic conversation with Marsha in this episode. Jessica Lange didn't really have a ton to do in the first episode. But this episode showcases just how complex a character Marsha really is. She just wants to sit at this bar and drink her whiskey. That's what brings her happiness and comfort in this life right now. She knows that the rest of the world only sees her as a mistress. When she brings her date to the bar, he gives these big proclamations about "treating her right." But the bar is all she needs to be happy. It's something she is desperately holding onto. She may have a fear of leaving these place. She knows she is happy here and wants to just keep enjoying that feeling. At least at the bar, Uncle Pete doesn't treat her as just a mistress. Her date turns out to be just the same as every other man in her life though. He is married with a wife waiting back at home.

How the world sees Marsha is also very evident in Horace's own interactions with her via a dream sequence. The show doesn't bring too much attention to this weird sex dream that Horace is having. He is picturing Marsha in his fantasy which is weird to him because she was his dad's last girlfriend. But both times it happens it's a very sexualized conversation. That's how Horace always sees her. That's his only experience of her. He is struggling right now with holding onto his idealistic dreams and facing the harsh reality of the world. He is lonely because he has alienated his family. But even his fantasies are weird and don't do what they are expected to do. Instead of getting aroused by Marsha's presence, he largely just takes the opportunity to take about how clean and loving he wants sex to be. He has high standards that the real world can't possibly match. That's what has him spiraling in this world right now. It should also make his character arc this season much more interesting knowing that things could always get sexual between him and Marsha.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 2" was written by Louis C.K. and directed by Louis C.K.
  • Horace pushes for Pete to talk to Trisha because she's cute and she likes him and he's not getting any younger. If only Horace could take that same advice. He messed up a good thing with Rachel. And now, he may never have that kind of love again.
  • Sylvia is pushing to sell the bar because of how lucrative the location can be for future businesses. Plus, she needs the money in order to help pay for her cancer treatments.
  • It's interesting that Sylvia says she can't support on her kids with this health crisis but Alice later tells Horace that Sylvia's daughter Brenda has already known about her illness for awhile.
  • The stuff between Horace with Alice and Sylvia almost worked because of how good C.K., Edie Falco and Aidy Bryant are.
  • The intermission was really unnecessary in this episode. It popped up simply to be a continuous element.
  • Again, it's unclear how this show is going to be classified at the Emmys (if at all). But all the awards should go to Jessica Lange solely for her delivery of "cum dumpster."
  • Horace: "If you're good, you go to some place where you get to drink lemonade out of a giant pussy."
  • Horace: "I bet when Obama has sex with Obama, I bet it's really nice and clean and full of love. And then, when they're done he goes and he's president. Why do me and Clinton have to be such pigs?"