Horace & Pete’s – Episodes 1 to 5

Old “Friends”

horace and pete

Episode 5 ends with a title card that reads “End of Act I”. From the first episode, it was apparent that Horace and Pete was a TV show meant to elicit the feel of a live theater performance. The lights come up on an empty set, and the audience is often placed in the vantage point of a theater house. Off the top of my head, there have only been a total of 3 set pieces, one of them a bench in a New York park. Not just any theater either, but Modern (capital M) theater. Miller and O’Neill seem to be Louis C.K.’s biggest influences when producing the script and feel of the show.

In the beginning, it didn’t feel like there was any predictable format to the show other than that, and 5 episodes in, it doesn’t feel like convention is something C.K. is after. The episodes vary in length. Episode 1 was over an hour, and Episodes 4 and 5 are each 30 minutes. The veneer of a plot, which centers around the decision to save or sell the bar, aptly named Horace and Pete, barely enters the field of action.

Instead, we’re given scenes of Horace, played by C.K., trying to reconcile with his daughter, bemoaning her willful habit of texting him whenever he calls. There’s a series of scenes with Pete having schizophrenic freak outs because he hasn’t had his medicine. Sylvie, their sister, berates her own daughter after a funeral. Uncle Pete (not to be confused with Pete) goes on many sexist and racist tirades. Horace has a sexual fantasy or two about his dead father’s lover. In an especially ballsy move by the show, Horace’s ex-wife is introduced at the beginning of Episode 3 and continues with a monologue about carrying on an affair with her new husband’s father for the next 20 minutes. And then there are just these lulls in the show to allow for the painful ennui of the barflies and barkeeps to wash over us. As outlandish and absurd as any of the scenarios above sound – and they are outlandish and absurd – that could appear in Louie, they’re taken at face value on Horace and Pete. 

If Louie, C.K.s other highly successful TV program, is a comedy eclair with a drama filling, Horace and Pete is a heavy Black Forest cake of drama with chocolate shavings of comedy. And it’s all dark.

The show has plenty of philosophizing on life from all the characters, and it’s especially entertaining when the barflies or racist and sexist Uncle Pete, played by a disheveled Alan Alda. Uncle Pete, who seems to have no redeeming value on the show, gives us a beautiful and heartfelt speech on the wonders of making love to a woman…as opposed to giving or receiving oral sex to or from her. Leon, played by the morose and irreverent stand-up comedian Steven Wright wonders what it would be like if everyone in the world killed themselves at the same time. And it’s really funny. Then Horace tells his sister, “The only thing worse than living with somebody who doesn’t love you…is living with somebody who really loves you a lot.”

These contradictions litter the show, seem to be the central question holding up all the themes of old establishments in the face of modernity (Sylvie, who is the biggest proponent of selling the old and failing bar, informs Horace and Pete, that the air rights alone are worth $6 million dollars), face-to-face dialogue in the age of the digital, character versus plot, and theater in the age of television. Youth, middle age, old age. The old Brooklyn versus the up-and-coming Brooklyn. The show is a juxtaposition and jumble of so many of these elements and themes, and five episodes in, it covers a wide array of topics that just seem to be thrown into the mix over and over again. It could have been chaos, but there’s dramatic order in it all, at least by the end of Episode 5.

The assembled cast is amazing. Steve Buscemi plays his cousin, er, brother Pete, and Horace’s sister is played by Edie Falco (both prominent The Sopranos alumni). Jessica Lange plays Horace Sr.’s old lover; he died before the start of the show, and she just kept hanging around, a would-be glamour worn to keep the tragedy she’s mired in from touching her. Notable Louie alumni are the aforementioned Stephen Wright, Nick Di Paolo, and Marie Dizzia. Finally, the gold star goes to Alan Alda, who plays Uncle Pete. Ornery would be an understatement. The man is vile, and Alda plays him without pulling any punches.

The title song, written by Paul Simon, sounds like it could have been a continuation of the old Simon and Garfunkel song Old Friends/Bookends. He wistfully sings over the show credits, “I can’t complain about my problems/I’m ok the way things are/I pull my stool up to the bar/at Horace and Pete’s.” As Sylvie argues for selling the bar and damn the tradition of having Horace and Pete around – both the men and the bar – I can’t help but hear the lyrics to Old Friends: “Preserve your memories/they’re all that’s left of you.”

If all of this sounds way heavy for a show by Louis C.K., well it is heavy, and it’s designed to be that way. I didn’t know if I would like this show after two episodes, and I still don’t know that I really like the show. Part of my hesitation to allow myself to say I enjoy the show is just an expectation of what a Pig Newton (the name of C.K.’s production company) show is as written by the comedian Louis C.K.

At the same time, if you’ve watched all of Louie, you know that the man digs deep into the human experience. It’s just that now he has given himself a new vehicle with which to explore it without having to apologize with comedy. It’s an acquired taste, to be sure, and while I am still unsure, I’ve entered the bar, paid for all 5 episodes, and will likely be paying for the rest of the season…that is, Acts. And if you enter with something weighing heavily on your own heart, in the way that people enter middle age, you yourself may decide to go when you find out they only serve liquor unmixed or Budweiser beer; or, for better or worse, you may find yourself staying.

Horace and Pete Episodes for Purchase

Title and Deed by Will Eno (June 13, 2012)

To the wUndertUnge,
How have you been? It has been a long time, hasn’t it? Maybe two months? Apologies for being incommunicado, but it gets harder to keep in contact as one gets older. The isolation of adulthood hits, and suddenly it takes effort to stay in touch. I’d start off by asking all of the usual catch-up questions, but they’re all pretty standard. I’m sure if you have something important to tell me, you’ll do just that. And I don’t want to go off about myself because you’ll think I’ve become conceited. Then you’ll think that maybe I’ve always been conceited and that you never liked me in the first place. So no, I’m not going to talk about myself.
So what else is there if not you and me? Well, I did meet someone last week, Wednesday evening to be precise. This story could be the whole reason I’m writing to you. The sky was feathered in transluscent orange-blue light, that evening sky that you can only get here during a certain time of year. The man approached from the left – that is, my left – wearing a blue denim coat, or maybe corduroy. His pants were well-pressed, and he spoke in an Irish accent. He was middle-aged, but he was still able-bodied and full of a vitality, though his shoulders stooped slightly.

“I’m not from here.” That’s the first thing he said to me. It wasn’t out of fear or panic, and he wasn’t asking for help, at least not in a direct way. He was just stating a fact. Still, it made me uncomfortable. Then he said, “I’ll assume you are, though.” And he smiled, which made me feel better.

He was carrying a vague-beige knapsack, which he set down, as if to say to me, this is going to happen. You and I are going to have a conversation, right here, right now. And he said some interesting things, or at least I found them interesting.

First he told me about having to go through customs at the airport, then he talked about customs and rituals from home, the differences between ours and theirs. He seemed a bit flustered, like he was trying acclimate to his environment. I didn’t tell him that I wasn’t from around here either, at least not natively. I’ve been here for awhile, but is this my home? It made me think about all the people I’d met who were born and raised here, my reaction. There’d be a subtle defensiveness, like I was judging them, but I was just curious.

He talked about habitat, loves, death, mothers, fathers, tubas, trivia, good people, language, here and there, being home and being lost. He was amicable, and even though I didn’t really talk, he was often waiting to listen. And he asked me questions that I rarely answered except maybe in shrugs and non-committed mumbles. And if all of this sounds like it could’ve gotten heavy or intense (and it sometimes did), the man had plenty of charm and good jokes, too.

For instance, he says to me, “I’ve had occassion – this is embarrassing – to question my existence, just the plainest fact of it. Not in big ways, just little constant daily ones. This might be something the folks instilled in me. Bless their hearts, they loved me like only they could: out of the corners of their eyes, kind of, and with pentrating questions like, ‘Who exactly do you think you are?” and “And now where do you think you’re going?”” Then he said, “They brought me into this world, of course, and taught me the difference between right and left.”

I liked him very much.

He was often apologetic and slightly ashamed of certain things. For instance, he said to me, “I sound so dour, and I’m not,” as if trying to convince me of something. I wanted to tell him that he didn’t have to feel sorry all the time. He apologized with his shoulders. I eventually got around to asking him if he was homeless. He said that he was “unhomed.” Then he said, “Made-up word. What word isn’t?” Peculiar thing to say. What word isn’t, indeed. Pretty smart if you ask me. He might’ve been “unhomed,” but he was clean and well-spoken. He spoke  plainly, and most of our colloquialisms and words the same, except for one: skipplejick. Sometimes he’d stop and stammer to find the proper or, more accurately, accurate word. Boy, could he ramble. Ramble, what a word…

You could tell that he was homesick. And lonely. And sensitive. Early on, he said, “Oh, so, one other thing – don’t hate me, if you wouldn’t mind. Thanks. I know that’s not something you can ask a person.” And he was very delicate with his words and phrases, his actions and steps backward and forward. He was always measuring distance between us based on how comfortable he felt. He stayed calm most of the time until he started hitting himself with his stick. We weren’t even drinking, but it was happy hour at the pubs. Pub. That’s a word I imagine hearing in his light, Irish brogue, but he never said it. And he definitely wasn’t intoxicated.

If the man was high on anything at all, it was words. “Lamp” and “horse” get the job done, he says to me. He loved the pragmatism of language, too, all things the two of you probably have in common, wUndertUNGE. Then he’d go full-blown enraptured and say something like, “Trace the origin of any word, and if you’re half a man, and I can say without bragging I am, or half a woman, which is sort of my type, you’ll shed some serious tear at the long and trembling history of these frail little sounds, made up out of nowhere.”

He wasn’t being cheesy or pretentious, no. There was plenty of profundity. And sincerity. And jokes! Did I mention the jokes? He wasn’t arrogant either, and even though he talked a lot (the whole time!), I miss him. Maybe that’s an overstatement. But seriously, was our conversation enough? What do you have to do to get the full meaning of a man? How well do you and I know each other? What about lovers? Friends? Do I know the characters from my novels better than they know themselves, or better than the other characters know them? I remember the names of his loves: Lisa and Lauren. How am I doing? Am I describing him adequately? Do you even care? If we’d shared accents, would it feel like I knew him better? I didn’t even get his name, not that it would help.

We would’ve had more time to talk that night. I might’ve been able to tell him a thing or two, or show him around, but things ended abruptly and a bit, well…it was so odd…

Towards the end, he pulls out a metal, blue lunch box. “This’ll offer us a little diversion,” he says. “Now, this object tells an interesting story.” And he stares at it, and his vision is so drawn to the object that I can’t help myself either. He held it up with his hands palm-up, like an offering, and I’m just stuck on it, too Someone goes by and laughs. He looks at me, irritated, so I give him a look like, I didn’t do it. Then he goes back to the lunch box. Just staring. Intently.

And we just stood there for a minute, maybe more, and it felt like that could’ve been the entire story. Beyond all the words, that silence was it. Then, even though the sun was completely down, there seemed to be more light. And then, stars. Dead stars hanging all around us, like we could touch them. Or maybe they were chunks of earth that had been torn out of the ground. I felt almost like I was dreaming at this point. “We should thank our stars,” he says, “if we believe in stars, for the listeners of the world. You’re doing fine, is what I’m saying. You’re doing very well and I thank you.”

Or maybe that happened earlier.I’m starting to get confused. I guess you had to be there. I was there and I don’t have many answers. Then again, I didn’t ask any questions. I’ve been going back to that place to see if he might still be there, but he said he was leaving Sunday. Come to think of it, he never told me where he was going, either. No name, no destination. Home, maybe? I hope so. It sounded like he really missed it.

In any case, this might be a good place to stop. Here. My jaw is starting to click, and it’s making me nervous. I might start repeating myself. I hope you respond soon. Hope you’re well. Hope…that’s another word. ”We don’t need hope,” he said. “Things move quickly enough.”

Let’s talk soon. I’ve forgotten the sound of your voice.

——–
Title and Deed by Will Eno
Starring Conor Lovett
Directed by Judy Hegarty Lovett
Scenic Design Christine Jones
Costume Design Andrea Lauer
Lighting Design Ben Stanton
Production Stage Manager Donald Fried

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