Louis C.K.’s surprise ‘Horace and Pete’ is a daring, involved diversion from comedy

It happened a couple Saturdays ago: I checked my email and noticed a new one from none other than Louis C.K. I did a double take, hoping he announced a comedy tour or album. However, all that was in the email was a link to his website with a prompt to download something called ‘Horace and Pete.’ Nothing else was said in the email, so I clicked the link and continued to his website. ‘Horace and Pete’ Episode 1 was available for $5.

Through both the continuing way content is accessed on the Internet and the almost instant gratification of how soon audiences need to see the newest shows, the element of surprise is essentially lost. Shows are relying more and more on the spectacle that the viewing experience brings, and the feeling of discovery never really comes anymore unless the show is found through rotely scrolling down the rows of Netflix recommendations. Whenever there is a show few people watch, the element of secrecy is there as the fans discuss the show in a vacuum with little exaggerated fanfare. While fanfare is not intrinsically a bad thing, it makes television that much more of a communal journey. Some of the most intriguing and mysterious shows have attracted large audiences, but the end result has been less than well received (see: Lost).

It’s exciting to find a show and realize that very few people have come across it. Whether it’s high quality or not, that thrill can still be had in small doses. Weirdness turns people off immediately while at the same time drawing in the more adventurous viewers. Appreciating the delicacy of how eccentric expressive art can be creates a connection to the artist himself – a mutual understanding of what they’ve created. Once you’ve connected to art and really start to love it, it becomes hard to stop thinking about it and how the creator works, and thus a bond is formed between the loyal viewer and the committed architect.

In the world of comedy, there are various visionaries who stretch beyond the simple task of writing stand-up material. Most have carried their talents to films, which is an excellent venue for the comedian’s voice. However, the medium that has consistently resonated with the comedian is television. Bob Newhart starred in two essential sitcoms, Jerry Seinfeld found his voice and success through Seinfeld, and Will Ferrell rejuvenated Saturday Night Live in the late 90s. As comedic instincts have grown, so has the comedian’s place in TV. Comedy has always been about meditation and contemplation of life, prompting it to get as strange as the world does.

Currently, the master of comedy is Louis C.K., a comedian whose FX show Louie serves as a collection medallion of kooky, surreal vignettes and genuinely funny musings on life. His latest expedition captures the excitement of rare discovery in the overloaded television age. C.K. released ‘Horace and Pete’ Jan. 30 through his website without any prior announcement or actual evidence that it was being made. It was a fully formed surprise; googling ‘Horace and Pete’ on that Saturday morning only yielded confused reddit posts and a link to C.K.’s website. For a brief period of time, C.K. made a television show that just existed without any marketing, promotion, or ads. To be honest, it was something of a revelation.

‘Horace and Pete’ stars Louis C.K. as Horace and Steve Buscemi as Pete, owners of a bar that has always been owned by Horaces and Petes. They run this bar and entertain the patrons with drinks of their choice, unless of course that choice includes a margarita or cocktail. This bar is strictly whiskey, beer, and similar spirits. There is something to the stoic premise of two bar owners defined by tradition that makes it easy to slip into ‘Horace and Pete,’ yet the show delves into some dark themes and intense, personal moments. The show is not a comedy, but a drama with some funny moments. C.K. has always danced between these elements in his comedy, but ‘Horace and Pete’ is his first foray into strictly dramatic territory.

The first episode begins as Horace and Pete open up the bar for the day, welcome the early (and regular) patrons, and deal with their own problems as the customers discuss shockingly recent news events, such as the 2016 presidential election or Super Bowl. The element of surprise extends here, where it becomes apparent that the show is filmed every week, instead of months in advance. It builds a very real atmosphere as the patrons delve into taboo conversations about politics and race. C.K. uses these moments to invite discussion, not create angry arguments. Whenever these topics are brought up, they are given respect and thought. ‘Horace and Pete’ begins to operate as both social commentary and a harsh exploration of its characters’ lives.

Divulging too much about the actors involved with ‘Horace and Pete’ would ruin the excitement, but it includes a fascinating and powerfully acted turn by veteran actor Alan Alda as the elder Pete who infects the mood of the bar with his blatant lack of care about racial stereotypes and hatred of goofy foodie hipsters who enter his bar to order a fancy drink. His performance is subtly tragic, as Alda portrays Pete as a man who really only loves this bar and very little else.

Although the show should be seen and not simply read about, it’s a fascinating subject all in all. The boldness of C.K.’s third series subverts the very idea of week-to-week TV and makes it all look less charming by comparison. The show will no doubt polish its voice and follow its characters to some dark places, and it should be intriguing to see just how many episodes C.K. chooses to make to explain things within the show’s universe.