Horace and Pete is the most culturally significant piece of art 2016 has produced so far. It’s going to take a titan later in the year to dethrone it. I feel comfortable in saying that won’t occur.
The auteur project from Louis C.K. feels like a live production of a play broadcast for television. That’s because of how the creator/writer/director wanted it to be. He wrote the project so it had a particular feel to it. It’s a drama filmed like a classic sitcom. It’s poignantly heartbreaking and has bouts of hilarity to it drizzled into it.
It’s raw, too. Emotionally, but also stylistically. The cast, which I’ll get to in a few paragraphs, did a table read on Mondays, rehearsed on Tuesdays, filmed on Wednesdays and Thursdays, before C.K. edited on Friday. It was released on Saturdays. Week by week for 10 weeks, C.K. had us all curiously waiting for the next installment.
For those of you who don’t know, this was all an experiment done by the Emmy-winning comic. He created the show and filmed it on his own. The first episode was released without any warning and nobody knew how long it would last. Not even Louis C.K.’s publicist. It’s only available for purchase on the creator’s website. He invested millions of his own money so he didn’t have to deal with networks or advertisers. The only way he makes his money back is if you support the project. I suggest you listen to Bill Simmons’ interview with C.K. on The Bill Simmons Podcast. It offers a lot of insight into the project.
C.K.’s writing is phenomenal. That much is certain. His scripts for each episode – which vary from half an hour to an hour long – feel disjointed because that’s how life really flows. Characters discuss politics, relationships, race, transgender rights, and so much more. It seems so unconnected from other conversations, but it flows so naturally.
It was filmed like no other show before. Long monologues and conversation dominated each episode. There was very little action. Again, it goes back to that idea of it being a performance and not a production. To review this as an episodic television program feels wrong, because it is so much more at the end of the day.
That’s because of the cast. I can spend numerous lengthy paragraphs discussing each individual actor, but I wanted to highlight two performances and let you witness the rest for yourself.
The first is Alan Alda as Uncle Pete. He is an old curmudgeon with a lot to say. I never really watched M*A*S*H, but I do know Alda is a powerhouse. He was terrific in The West Wing, but I have to say with bias, that this role was the role he was meant to play. The realness of how he delivered lines was astounding. He stuttered over insults perfectly, hurled curse words out with poison, and he never regretted it either. So much subtlety was delivered to the role that I think it was singlehandedly the one of the best television performances ever.
Laurie Metcalf’s guest appearance was just as stellar. Her opening scene, which is a single shot lasting nearly ten minutes as she delivers a monologue, had to be watched twice just so I could catch all of the little nuances she performed with. I’m not sure how much improv was done by the actors (some, I presume), but the combination between C.K.’s writing and Metcalf’s acting should be studied in every acting and every writing class offered. Everything around me stopped as I watched that episode. Twice.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention C.K.’s acting along with Edie Falco and Steve Buscemi though. If you expected anything less than award-caliber performances from them, you must be a fool.
I was going to give an arbitrary ranking of episodes, which “Episode 3” – the one with Metcalf – would have taken the cake for me. When it came down to it, however, none of the episodes were bad. It would be a disservice to the entire project to try to say X was worse than Y. Horace and Pete was the type of project that comes around once and then everybody tries to mimic it. Look at all of the ripped from the headline dramas coming out next year after American Crime Story: The People vs O.J. Simpson left critics raving. However, this will never be replicated with this level of intensity. It will leave you hurt and searching inside yourself well after you finish the ten episodes.
This project is something that anybody who enjoys pop culture and media cannot miss. It needs to be given your full attention. Right now. Please, I’m begging you. Go watch it.