Sunday, March 6, 2016

REVIEW: 'Horace and Pete' - A New Couple is Quickly Destroyed by Uncomfortable Tension in Episode 6

Louis C.K.'s Horace and Pete - Episode 6

The newest episode features Steve Buscemi, Hannah Dunne, Louis C.K. and Edie Falco.

The sixth episode of Horace and Pete's run is its most awkward and uncomfortable one yet. That's a tone that Louis C.K. has mastered to great effect on his FX show. To an extent, those qualities have been present in Horace and Pete as well. Every episode has featured a conversation about a sensitive subject with characters frequently presenting their arguments in a way that can be awkward or cringe-worthy. Those topics have included politics, sex, gender and many more. But this episode has a pretty consistent tone that is meant to make the audience nervous and uncomfortable. It's the biggest focus on Pete so far in these six episodes. But it's not a large success - like Horace's spotlight episode in the third episode opposite Laurie Metcalf. This one just feels too structured and pointed without a whole lot of purpose in the action. That ultimately dooms this outing even though it's still entertaining to watch these characters despite their very horrible actions.

Pete is at his highest levels of confidence at the very beginning of this episode. Fresh out of the shower, he's getting himself ready for a big date. This is the first time the character has gone out looking for a romantic connection. It's also the first time he has left the bar on the show. It's a significant moment. He pumps himself up for this big night out. He's making sure he looks his best in order to present himself well to his date who he met online. And yet, nothing could prepare him for what he was about to encounter. Instead of the age appropriate woman he thought he was going out with, Jenny turns out to be a 26-year-old woman who likes older men because of their maturity. It immediately makes things awkward for the episode.

At the beginning of the date, neither Pete nor Jenny know exactly how to communicate what they are feeling with each other. He's taken aback by her youthfulness and doesn't see how this could be something worth pursuing seriously. Meanwhile, she doesn't seem to understand why he is so upset about what she looks like. She did trick him in order to get this date. She had her reasons. She's attracted to older men because they are chivalrous in ways guys her age aren't. But she's not attracted to older men who have a thing for younger woman. She instead wants to form a genuine connection with a guy like Pete who didn't enter this date for his own personal fetish. That's what defines Jenny throughout this episode. Her age is largely the only thing that defines her perspective and purpose. She has insightful things to say about gender that Pete doesn't completely agree with. But it's a refreshing perspective nevertheless.

This dynamic between Pete and Jenny is odd but the two of them do have a connection once they start talking and listening to one another. It's still a date filled with uncomfortable conversation. Jenny asks Pete what some of his good qualities are. When he talks about his good memory, he shows it by telling this really dark and depressing story about his first memory being of Easter at age 3 where a guy died at the bar. It's not a happy memory at all. And yet, Jenny is entranced by the story. She's actively listening and admires how Pete is unafraid to share this dark tale. Of course, she can't do the same thing when he asks it of her. But that's not too problematic either. Instead, Pete takes the opportunity to tell Jenny what all of her good qualities are. Granted, he has only known her for a couple of minutes. But he still manages to pull out an impressive list that is really genuine and charming. That shows that this couple actually does have a shark despite the major differences between them.

And yet, the structure of this episode basically dooms Pete and Jenny as a couple. This is not an episode that just focuses on the two of them sitting at a restaurant and talking. That's the first act. The first half of this episode builds them up. But then, it just completely tears them down in the second with seemingly no purpose whatsoever. It's important that they address the realities of a relationship. Pete has some serious issues that he is still doing his best to control. But the way those issues are brought up is really off-putting. Pete invites Jenny over for dinner so that she can meet Horace and Sylvia. Why he wants her to meet his family is completely unknown. But he wants them to meet and get to know each other so that they can see just how happy he is with this new woman in his life. But Horace and Sylvia aren't able to get around the age difference and are very mean when they pick this relationship apart.

On some level, it makes sense. Pete didn't tell his siblings anything about Jenny before the dinner. Nor did he tell Jenny anything about Sylvia and Horace. They are all taken aback during this first encounter. They allow their initial impressions to rule the conversation for the remainder of the episode. Sylvia voices those concerns very bluntly. She gets sick whenever she sees an old man with a young woman because of the painful history of her father perpetually cheating on her mother with younger mistresses. And now, she sees Pete following in the same tradition as so many of the men in this family. He has proven himself to be the new upholder of the tradition of the bar and the family. It's because of him that Sylvia was forced into partnering up with her brothers in the business. That wasn't the choice she wanted. But she was put into it because Pete used his illness against her. And now, she's seeing him celebrate his new happiness. To her, it's not real because Pete has willingly chosen not to tell Jenny a number of things about himself - including his parentage and mental illness.

All of that makes sense. The true curveball happens when Horace just bluntly brings up Pete's psychological issues. Sylvia had alluded to it but chose to keep it back and change the subject because Jenny and Pete wanted to avoid it. Horace brings it up in an odd way that seemingly doesn't make any sense. He forces Pete to confront these problems and the impact they might have on his new relationship. But it's only being done in a way that brings a divide between the family. It's not highlighting anything meaningful about their bond. Horace has been known to bring up really awkward issues at the most inappropriate times that ultimately push his family further away from him. But here, it felt like it happened in the service of the plot instead of the character. But that's frustrating because the story doesn't feel like it has much of a point. It's a great showcase episode for Steve Buscemi. But Hannah Dunne has very little to actually do except be charming and defend her perspective of the world. It also doesn't feel like a relationship that's going to be important for the future because Horace and Sylvia destroy it. But what's the significance of that action? It shows how mean-spirited this family is and how they each force their opinions and feelings on each other. But it didn't make for the most pleasurable or compelling viewing experience. Pete's last line to Sylvia was pretty outstanding. But it wasn't enough to make up for the problematic plotting of the rest of the episode.

Some more thoughts:
  • "Episode 6" was written by Louis C.K. and directed by Louis C.K.
  • Of course, Sylvia is supporting Hilary Clinton for President because she wants a woman to be in the job. That seems about right. And yet, the show didn't do much with Jenny's opposing opinion about it being a man's job. That popped up only to be incredibly irrelevant.
  • CK also throws in a topical joke about the face Chris Christie was making as he stood by Donald Trump's side during his big press conference of victory this past week. And yet, it didn't feel very original. It felt like the same joke I've been hearing all week long about Trump having something on Christie and making him a prisoner of this campaign.
  • The family's history with relationships that had major age differences was too much of the subtext. More of it should have been a part of the actual text which would have made Sylvia's point-of-view much more acceptable. It asked a lot of the audience.
  • It was also clear that the family dinner was going to go horribly long before Jenny even showed up to it. That scene with the three siblings in the apartment was filled with uncomfortable tension that showed how none of the siblings are really communicating all that well with each other.
  • And yet, Horace and Sylvia seem to be doing fine after Jenny and Pete both leave the dinner early. They are able to enjoy their meal and some light, painless conversation as the credits roll.