Posts Tagged ‘horace and pete’
2016 was a nightmarish year, less for all the horrific things that happened than for the promise, the promise, of still worse things to come. And what were our guides through the blood and the shit? “Make America Great Again” on one hand and “America Is Already Great” on the other. Horace and Pete is by no means a good show, when all is said and done. But in a TV-critical environment with an insatiable, anesthetizing hunger for affirmation and uplift, it stood with Mr. Robot and Game of Thrones and not a whole lot of other shows at all and said “Fuck that.” History, provided we get one, will look favorably upon this. Is there a better, truer image for the year to end on than Horace and Pete‘s last line: a woman collapsed in on herself in grief, sobbing uncontrollably, screaming “Oh God”?
Unfortunately, the finale that led to this point was an utter catastrophe. If Louis C.K. had deliberately set out to make the worst possible Horace and Pete episode, he’d have been hard pressed to beat this turkey.
It’s really a shame. Laurie Metcalf, Rick Shapiro, Lucy Taylor, John Sharian, Tom Noonan, and occasionally Steve Buscemi were given moving material and worked wonders with it. Somewhere buried in this overwrought experiment is a quiet, thoughtful show about alcoholism, mental illness, loneliness, and failure. But that isn’t what we got at all.
Until the return of Tom Noonan as the bar’s towering, beret-wearing, piano-playing regular. After a Match.com date between a New Yorker staffer and a guy whose dad was an astronaut devolves into repeated, mutual screams of “YOU’RE NOT NICE! FUCK YOU!” (long story and not worth going into, though it should be noted this is the least worst of the show’s awkward-date asides), the gang at the bar explains why such dates never work out. Online dating services, Kurt and others argue, set people up according to shared interests, when what really connects couples is chemistry, up to and including the opposites-attract sort. But seeking out opposites doesn’t work either, because this kind of chemistry can’t be forced.
“That’s why they call it ‘falling’ in love,” Tom chimes in. “You can’t fall on purpose.” With a smile on his face, he tells the story of how he used to be an actor, and in one acting class he was trying to learn how to fall on cue without making it look like he was falling on cue. For him at least, this was impossible. “So I quit being an actor.” The little smile is still there, but its relationship to his emotions is now distressingly unclear. Tom’s point is this: “Well, you just accept…just accept the fact that love is rare and it probably won’t happen to you, ever.” “Is that what you do?” asks the New Yorker writer. “You just accept it?”
“No,” Tom replies, the smile flitting in and out of existence as he talks. “No, I…I walk around brokenhearted. And I, I get drunk and…I mean, I hate being alone. And…” Here the smile returns, as sad as fresh-dug grave. “And someday it’ll kill me.” I’ve now watched this scene twice, and each time I exhale sharply afterwards, like something really difficult to endure just happened to me. The contrast Noonan’s gentle bearing and his blunt despair is that powerful.
A low-key, simply structured episode despite the bombshell revelation at its center, Horace and Pete Episode 8 is the closest the show has come to finding a comfortable rhythm. Better late than never, I guess? Like Episode 7 before it, this installment doesn’t swing for the fences with “let’s cut the bullshit and get real” sociopolitical pontificating, nor does it artificially ratchet up the baseless interpersonal hostility it mistakes for drama. (For the most part, anyway: The pivotal doctor’s office scene begins with Horace and Pete sparring like grumpy children for no apparent reason.) It has some funny moments, some sad moments, some humane moments, Kurt Metzger’s hyperthyroidal ranting, and Paul Simon’s theme music. If this were what the show were like all the time it wouldn’t be half bad, though my sinking suspicion is that it’s the extravagant miserablism that suckered people into thinking it’s the best thing since sliced bread. But to paraphrase the song, hell no, I can’t complain about their problems.
Vinyl: “Wild Safari” by Barrabás
“Think back to the first time you heard a song that made the hairs on the back of your neck stand up,” Richie Finestra bellows at his record-label employees. “Made you want to dance, or fuck, or go out and kick somebody’s ass! That’s what I want!” Vinyl showrunner Terence Winter had similar goals, but virtually none of the musical elements of his period drama clicked. This despite the imprimatur of co-creators Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, who know a thing or two about making magic with music, and supervisors Randall Poster and Meghan Currier, whose previous collaborations with Winter and Scorsese on Boardwalk Empire and The Wolf of Wall Street were all killer, no filler.
There was one grand and glorious exception, and it had nothing to do with Jagger swagger. Rather, it was the result of an unlikely alliance between demoted A&R doofus Clark Morelle (Jack Quaid) and his mail-room buddy Jorge (Christian Navarro). When the latter takes Clark to an underground dance club, they enter in slow motion to the ecstatic sounds of the 1972 proto-disco song “Wild Safari” by Barrabás. The killer clothes, the fabulous dancing, the beatific smiles on the faces of beautiful people, the irresistible rhythm, the rapturous “WHOA-OH-OH” of the chorus, the sense that an entire world of incredible music has existed right under his nose — you can feel it all hit Clark right in the serotonin receptors, and damn if it doesn’t hit you, too. Perhaps my favorite two minutes of TV this year, this sequence demonstrates the life-affirming power and pleasure of music.
I wrote about major musical moments in The Americans, Atlanta, Better Call Saul, Game of Thrones, Halt and Catch Fire, Horace and Pete, Luke Cage, Mr. Robot, The People v. O.J. Simpson, and (yes) Vinyl in my list of 2016′s 10 Best Musical TV Moments for Vulture.
Remember the drunk cancer fetishist who tries to pick up Sylvia? When she blows him off, he delivers a monologue in a halting half-stutter about how he’s used to being treated like he doesn’t exist. “I’m a person,” he insists. “I have a story.” His story is that he was forced to raise his kid brother, just two years his junior, when his parents left one night and never came back. Now his brother doesn’t even talk to him. “I struggle, so I appear weak,” the man says. “People don’t wanna look at the weak because it reminds them of their own weakness. But they don’t get is that when you see someone who’s struggling, they’re strong. Because the weak don’t struggle—they just die. Whatever you think of me, I’m alive. I’m alive.” I’m sorry, but this is fucking beautiful, beautiful writing, humane and empathetic like nothing else on the show save the Metcalf episode, and it cuts to the heart of Horace and Pete‘s alcoholic demimonde like nothing else has. Comedian Rick Shapiro’s brief, brilliant performance here is one of the things I’ll take from this show alongside Metcalf’s star turn and Paul Simon’s theme song, and I don’t expect to take much else.
The episode, and arguably the series thus far, reaches its nadir during its second half. (Once again, no “Intermission” title card marks the obvious separation; apparently consistency is the hobgoblin of better TV shows.) For some unfathomable reason, Pete invites Jenny to dinner a family with Horace and Sylvia in the apartment they now share above the bar. Despite the psychosis for which he takes daily medication, Pete has nonetheless been shown to be a better judge, and exemplar, of character than either of his siblings (or as Sylvia would insist, “siblings”); he and Jenny are both well aware of their relationship’s problematic optics under the best of circumstances. Why on earth would he subject this woman to these two irredeemably unpleasant people, other than lousy writing forcing his hand?
I reviewed the worst episode of Horace and Pete yet for Decider. Poor Steve Buscemi.
Dr. Robert Ford, ‘Westworld’
Smile, and smile, and be a villain. As the co-founder and chief narrative architect of the Westworld theme park, Dr. Robert Ford is not unfamiliar with Shakespeare; he’d recognize Hamlet’s description of evil every time he looked in the mirror. Or would he? As played by Anthony Hopkins, who taps the quiet menace he mined so effectively decades ago as Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs, Ford spends the bulk of the HBO hit’s first season manipulating and murdering everyone, human or android, who threatens his control. But late-game twists hint at an even more disturbing truth behind Ford’s highly erudite villainy, this time one out of Nietzsche: To fight monsters, is it necessary to become a monster yourself?
The rest of the wake is characterized by needless cruelty. Marsha is mean to everyone. Everyone is, in turn, mean to Marsha, who no longer has any real tie to the family, but sticks around long enough for a story about the history of her alcoholism and tweenage promiscuity, because no one on this show has ever had a happy moment in their lives. Sylvia, whose zeal to sell the bar derives at least in part from a desire to drive a stake through the heart of the intra-family misery it’s caused, is almost abusively vicious to her distraught daughter Brenda, who’s terrified of the cancer afflicting her mother. Horace’s daughter follows her cousin out the door, basically kissing the family goodbye until the next funeral. In an argument about selling the bar, Sylvia talks about splitting its likely $6 million sale price two ways, between her and Horace, instead of three ways, between her and Horace and Pete, despite having spent literally her entire life until a few weeks ago believing Pete was her brother. (Even if you’re willing to accept anyone being so shitty a person that they’d use the shock revelation of his true paternity as an excuse to cut him out of his life’s legacy, keep in mind the show already had Sylvia talking about a two-way split before said revelation. That’s plain bad writing.) “Anyone who gets through their forties without at least ten people hating them is an asshole,” Sylvia says to Horace while she convalesces from chemo in his apartment later on. “People hating you means you look out for yourself.” Whatever you say!
It was fun while it lasted. After the unexpected marvel of its Laurie Metcalf–anchored third episode, Horace and Pete returns to its strident and unfunny form, as if the stupid sexist joke with which that previous episode was needlessly wrapped up was where its heart was all along.
I won’t mince words: With the exception of a single, pivotal line (stay tuned), Horace and Pete‘s third episode is brilliant. Much—but surprisingly, not all—of the credit goes to Laurie Metcalf, guest starring as Horace’s ex-wife Sarah. Her presence here is fitting, in a way, as Roseanne, the blue-collar sitcom in which she co-starred as the title character’s singleton sister Jackie, is one of Horace and Pete‘s obvious tonal antecedents; her dual background in television comedy and down-and-dirty theater (she’s a Steppenwolf alum) makes her a natural choice for this hybrid project. And good God, she is quite simply brilliant. Indeed, the episode begins with a continuous nine-minute closeup on the actor as she tells a then-unseen interlocutor who turns out to be Horace the story of her second marriage to a younger widower and its slow crumbling in the face of her sexual desire for the man’s 84-year-old father. Honestly, there’s almost no amount of superlatives you can heap on her work here that would overstate the case. In an episode that’s (almost—again, stay tuned) a two-hander, her presence and power elevate the proceedings to a level I couldn’t see coming.
I’ll say this for Horace and Pete: It’s a show that has time for neither “Make America Great Again” nor “America Is Already Great.” This realization sunk in sometime around when Sylvia, Horace’s sister, began unsubtly guilting him into selling the family bar for the millions it could potentially net in the “air rights” to the vertical space above it in the skyscraping, skyrocketing Brooklyn real-estate market—all the better to offset the sky-high costs of the treatment she’ll have to undergo for her just-diagnosed breast cancer. “I feel like you’re using me,” he protests, and she agrees. “You’re my brother. Please let me use you, so that I don’t die, because cancer is fucking expensive.” America: land of the free, home of the people whose only hope to afford life-saving health care is gentrification and upward wealth redistribution. Horace and Pete theme-songwriter Paul Simon might have something to say about this, but perhaps his fellow New York Metro Area musician Lou Reed had it best: “Give me your hungry, your tired, your poor—I’ll piss on ’em.”
Unfortunately, the affection I have for this aspect of the show feels more like the result of my own personal fanfic remake of Roseanne with Edie Falco in the title role than something earned by the show itself.
Is the scene between a college kid and an “older” woman (she’s clearly south of 40) he swiped right on Tinder just to have emotionless sex with really strong enough to justify its incongruity and running time? Does a subplot involving Marsha and her GoodFellas extra of a beau, a successful tire-store magnate who blanches at her alcoholic attachment to this particular watering hole over all the other attractions Brooklyn has to offer, offer anything other than the same flavor of misery in a different regional accident? Does Pete’s Tourette’s-afflicted hospital acquaintance represent a serious attempt to empathetically portray this particular illness, or is it just an excuse to shout racial slurs and curse words? When Uncle Pete makes fun of Horace for wetting his pants as a kid, or his daughter (Aidy Bryant, making the best of a thankless role) for being overweight, is he doing anything other than indulging a thirst for “oh no he didn’t/oh yes he did” cruelty? When Horace has a long mental conversation with a fantasy version of Marsha in which he justifies his most outré masturbatory fantasies, is this more than an author with a dubious reputation’s attempt to let himself off the hook?
And while this is a relatively minor problem, given how few of the dramatic fireworks it’s his responsibility to set off, Louis C.K.’s limitations as an actor are absolutely an obstacle. I know that he’s built up a formidable critical reputation with his all-but-DIY Louie, but try as I might, I’ve remained as immune to his charms as a performer as a woman in a hotel room. From where I’m sitting he has two facial expressions cum emotional poles, exhausted and bewildered; since every person and situation he encounters is exhausting and/or bewildering, he shuffles back and forth seemingly at random. C.K. is quite famously far from the first comedian-auteur to have a relatively restricted range of expression as an actor, but watching him here is like seeing Jerry Seinfeld try to write, direct, and star alongside the finest actors of his generation in Death of a Salesman. “What is the deal with despair?” My sinking suspicion is that a show this plodding and strident will not have the answer.