Sunday, February 21, 2016

REVIEW: 'Horace and Pete' - Uncle Pete Has a Genuine but Frank Conversation About Sex with Pete in Episode 4

Louis C.K.'s Horace and Pete - Episode 4

A half-hour dramatic play featuring Louis C.K., Steve Buscemi, Steven Wright, Kurt Metzger, Alan Alda and Nina Arianda.

At 30 minutes, the fourth episode of Horace and Pete is its shortest one yet. It's less distinctive and ambitious as last week's episode was. And yet, that hour with Louis C.K. and Laurie Metcalf was so phenomenal that it's a good thing that the show doesn't try to mimic that success again so soon. Instead, this episode plays as a more typical episode of the show. It's broken up into three specific acts - the bar regulars arguing about abortion, Horace's conversation with Maggie (Nina Arianda) in his apartment, and a weird but tender moment between Uncle Pete and Pete. Each of these individual story beats are meaningful to the characters and continue to showcase the poetry that is this show. It's just perhaps a bit more slight than the show has been in its previous three episodes. The spark of originality doesn't burn as bright with this episode. It's far from a bad episode. It's always good to spend more time in this universe. It's just not as special or memorable as the other episodes have been.

The show has established its willingness to talk about topical and divisive issues. The debates that happen in the bar showcase the depths and opinions of the characters. It mostly allows C.K. a chance to offer his opinions on all the difficult subjects in today's society. But they have frequently been engaging with how they thematically connect with what's happening on a more personal level with the main characters. The conversation about abortion that starts this episode is a bit longer and more important than past debates. It covers the first third of this episode. But it's also mostly the characters talking about this issue while also just setting up plot for the remainder of the episode. It does a solid enough job showcasing how white men enjoy debating about these kinds of issues while not letting any kind of outsider perspective into their universe. But it also feels like a conversation without a unique edge to it. C.K.'s writing has always been very distinctive. This debate largely feels like the characters reacting to the world's opinion of this debate without really adding a fresh perspective to the mix.

It's amusing that Uncle Pete holds onto the view that abortion is a sin and both the mother and the fetus will go to Hell because of it. That's the mentality he has had on the subject for his entire life and it's not going to change now just because a bunch of people want to debate with him about it. Meanwhile, Pete gets to point out how the Church itself has gone back-and-forth on the issue. Do the fetuses go to Hell or are they just in a limbo state? It's a lot of big questions being presented by this group of white men who don't really have a ton of purpose in their lives. But it also feels routine and formulaic that they are too busy arguing with each other to even let the female bar patron into the conversation with her take on the subject. It's very symbolic of our country where men always have the most power and women are frequently cast aside by it. But it's also weird that this conversation only really produces one genuinely funny moment - when Leon ponders if God was aborted and that's why he is so mad all the time. That was great and very distinctive of this show. The rest of it felt like it dragged on a little too long.

But again, the abortion conversation was only one part of this episode. Because it was a third of it though, it does weaken the overall effect of this viewing experience. But the show more than makes up for it once it follows Horace up to his apartment in search of a booty call. He calls upon his ex-girlfriend, Maggie, whose life has changed a lot since a year ago when they separated. Their relationship was largely about sex. She worked at the bar around the time Horace's father passed away. Horace was fun and good for sexual pleasure. But that was about it. Both of them have changed significantly since last they saw each other. And yet, Maggie knows exactly why. Horace does not. She sees that he is not himself. So, she decides to share this incredible story about quickly getting married and then being widowed a week later.

It really is a terrific story and a great showcase for Arianda. This show continues to be so good on a purely acting level. It's a horrifying tale of her finding happiness and love only for it to end just as quickly as it began. She went on this whirlwind adventure with this pilot. It gave her excitement in her life for the first time ever. It was completely unexpected but it felt right. And now, she's back in New York doing the exact same things she did before she met the guy. It now plays more like a dream than something that actually happened to her. It's significant that she's telling this story not to make Horace sad but to give him an update on what has happened to her over the past year. She has an upbeat delivery of the story. Even though she is lost in this world once more, she at least has the confidence knowing who she is. That's something lacking within Horace. He doesn't know why he feels upset. He just is. His life is fine to him. He's not doing a whole lot for the business or his family. But everyone is fine to him. Maggie's story does make him sad. All he wanted was to get laid. And now, even that comes into question.

Horace and Maggie used to have fun together. Pete knows this about their relationship. He may not know what's happening upstairs with them now. But he's more than comfortable sharing the details with Uncle Pete as they lock the bar up for the night. It allows for a really frank but poetic conversation about sex and love between father and son. This scene shows that Uncle Pete is more capable of giving Pete the appreciation he needs right now instead of Horace. Uncle Pete agrees that Pete's idea to buy bar supplies cheaply from a nearby business that has closed down is a good idea. That's something that Pete had to pull out of Horace earlier in the hour. And then, it leads to a conversation between the two that shows just how genuine their connection can be. Uncle Pete can frequently be very ignorant and stubborn about his ways. That's simply who he is and he's not going to change just because his views are outdated and misinformed about the world. But he's still a complex character capable of providing beautiful context to a really delicate conversation.

Uncle Pete and Pete disagree over whether going down on a woman is demeaning or not. Uncle Pete judges a guy differently if he knows that he has done that to a woman. He thinks the same of a woman as well - granted he enjoys what she's doing down there. Meanwhile, Pete thinks it's a selfless act that shows that both really appreciate the other as equals. That's how he defines love. Uncle Pete counters with love actually being about actual intercourse when the man and woman hold each other tight and enjoy each other until completion. The way he delivers that declaration makes it hard to argue with him. Even Pete seems changed by the amount of passion that Uncle Pete has when he talks about this subject. But it's even more significant that he's telling this to his son. He even acknowledges Pete as such. Their relationship is still so very complicated. But Uncle Pete really did connect with his son in an emotional moment. It was brief but it was a stepping stone to establishing a much more meaningful and genuine dynamic between the two.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 4" was written by Louis C.K. and directed by Louis C.K.
  • As great as Uncle Pete is in that final conversation with Pete, does that lingering shot on the door as he leaves the bar with the money from the register imply that something horrible is about to happen to him? That plus the lack of music over the credits seemed a little too eerie.
  • Uncle Pete also calls Horace a racist for never having sex with an Asian girl. It only comes up because Uncle Pete wants to find Horace a hook up via the phone book.
  • Pete seems like a stronger manager for the bar than Horace. Horace's life started getting more depressing after he inherited the place. Pete is at least making an effort to make the place better though. Horace is just wandering through his life right now with no purpose.
  • The direction really was fantastic here. The staging of Maggie sitting on the countertop with Horace eventually reduced down to a chair was quite powerful. As was the cut to the empty bar during Uncle Pete and Pete's conversation to show how close they really were with this very sensitive subject.