Over the weekend, Louis C.K. revealed Horace and Pete, a new series from the comedian that will be streamed strictly on his website. Similar to his hit FX series Louie, C.K. is the creator, writer, and director of the show. Also like his namesake show, he has put together an outstanding cast that includes Steve Buscemi, Alan Alda, Edie Falco, Jessica Lange, and comedian Steven Wright, as well as guest stars Rebecca Hall, Aidy Bryant (Saturday Night Live), and Nick DiPaolo (Louie).
Horace and Pete’s is the name of a bar owned and operated by Horace (C.K.) and his brother Pete (Buscemi). Over the course of the hour-long first episode, we learn that for a hundred years, the bar has always been operated by a Horace and a Pete. The ‘new’ Horace and Pete have a sister named Sylvia (Falco), who is upset with this family tradition. We also meet Alice (Bryant), the daughter of C.K.’s Horace, with whom he has a strained relationship, and their Uncle Pete (Alda). While this unfolds, customers enter and leave, interacting with its owners and one another.
Like some of his previous stand-up specials, C.K. released Horace and Pete directly on his website, charging a flat rate of $5 to access the first episode. C.K. recently shared his thinking in distributing the surprise project this way. Eschewing traditional press, he revealed his thoughts directly in a note to fans via email.
Here C.K. offers an explanation as to the show’s distribution:
Part of the idea behind launching it on the site was to create a show in a new way and to provide it to you directly and immediately, without the usual promotion, banner ads, billboards and clips that tell you what the show feels and looks like before you get to see it for yourself. As a writer, there’s always a weird feeling that as you unfold the story and reveal the characters and the tone, you always know that the audience will never get the benefit of seeing it the way you wrote it because they always know so much before they watch it… So making this show and just posting it out of the blue gave me the rare opportunity to give you that experience of discovery.
C.K. goes on to explain the way in which the audience must access the show (the first episode costs $5):
Okay so let’s talk for a minute about the five dollars of it all…I always make an effort to make the work I do on my own as cheap as possible and as painless as possible to get… The dirty unmovable fact is that this show is fucking expensive…Horace and Pete is a full on TV production with four broadcast cameras, two beautiful sets and a state of the art control room and a very talented and skilled crew and a hall-of-fame cast… Basically this is a hand-made, one guy paid for it version of a thing that is usually made by a giant corporation. I charged five dollars because I need to recoup some of the cost in order for us to stay in production.
He also shares the expected cost and upcoming dates for future episodes:
I’m leaving the first episode at 5 dollars. I’m lowering the next episode to 2 dollars and the rest will be 3 dollars after that. I hope you feel that’s fair… Enjoy episode 2 of Horace and Pete. We’re shooting it now. You’ll get it on Saturday morning.
With this letter, C.K. offers a refreshingly honest and thoughtful explanation of this “experiment,” one that is rather intriguing. It’s hard not to appreciate his logic, and it almost makes you want to support him regardless of the quality of the show. C.K. has built up enough goodwill that he could have a somewhat inferior project and still incite interest (although an inferior C.K. project is arguably better than lots of other stuff out there). It’s safe to say that Horace and Pete benefits from the fact that C.K. is behind it—that if someone else distributed the same show, there would be less interest in it, and perhaps less of a willingness to continue watching it, especially with the distribution structure. But C.K. is wielding his power and influence to attempt to restructure how TV series can be developed, marketed, and exhibited. Even if you may not necessarily like the plot of Horace and Pete, you could support the philosophy behind it.
In terms of the show, while it initially appears similar to Cheers, it most definitely is not. Not only does it lack that brand of comedy, it doesn’t even offer the absurd comedy contained in C.K.’s other offering Louie. It’s possible to not even consider Horace and Pete a comedy, as the situations are so dramatic and confrontational. However, it does contain C.K.’s typical brand of melancholy and meditation, and demonstrates how funny and sad everyday life already is. The show offers a take on subjects that include politics, racism, mental health, body image, parenthood, technology, and tradition. In fact, what could often be used as a punchline in another show or stand up act is here put into context. For these reasons and more, the show is almost subversive. It is also relatable, particularly because its topics are contemporary.
This sense of realness manifests itself in the show’s design as well, which can be described as sparse. Only two sets are utilized throughout the series, and with only a few camera angles used to capture them (it’s shot in multi-cam format). In this way, the show very much resembles a play, with long takes of dialogue propelling the action, creating the sense of real time. And while it’s possible to describe it as slow, its pace reflects reality.
Horace and Pete is bold yet familiar, thoughtful yet moralizing. Like all things C.K. does, it displays strong humanistic elements that reflect life as it truly is. It only makes sense that he would choose to distribute it as frankly as his characters interact.