Review: Louis C.K. takes on trans issues in the latest ‘Horace and Pete’

Senior Television Writer
03.17.16 12 Comments

A few belated thoughts on the latest Horace and Pete coming up just as soon as I find your cancer sexually attractive…

I was under the weather on Monday, and not up to writing much more about Horace episode 7 than this tweet.  Also, frankly, I wanted to sit with the episode a few more days to see if my feelings changed about that closing scene between Horace and Rhonda, which they ultimately didn't.

Though it advanced the stories of Sylvia's cancer (in remission, apparently) and the fight for the bar's future (Pete trying to make an end-run by having the place declared a landmark), this episode was more of a short-story collection than some other installments. The different vignettes were linked by many of the series' usual themes about loneliness (and, as we see with Horace's daughter's new relationship, the compromises we sometimes make to avoid loneliness), unexpected attractions (with comedian Rick Shapiro making a memorable cameo as the guy unsuccessfully hitting on Sylvia), and generational traditions (the revelation that Horace's kids were fathered with different mothers but raised together, in a situation with some parallels to everyone believing Pete was Horace and Sylvia's brother), and they offered a wealth of interesting guest performances. (I was happy, for instance, to see Craig Mums Grant – whom I'll always think of as Poet from Oz – as Pete's childhood friend, now a cop on Bill de Blasio's security detail.)

All those earlier pieces (including Kurt's gay panic riff on the Biblical story of Sodom and Gomorrah) worked, and fit well enough. But that final scene, where Horace's attempt to have breakfast with one-night stand Rhonda (Karen Pittman, so good as one of Elizabeth's assets last season on The Americans) took an unexpected right turn when Rhonda suggested she was trans, needed a lot more room to breathe than it had in a relatively busy episode.

The scene was very reminiscent of a certain type of Louie episode where Louie finds his assumptions about himself and/or society at large being questioned by someone he's just met. When it works – like in “So Did the Fat Lady” – it can feel like it's coming naturally out of the other character's mouth. When it doesn't, like here, it can feel like Louis C.K. had a subject he found really interesting and found a way to work it into his show, somehow. Trans issues are incredibly complicated – even a show like Transparent seems reluctant at times to take the mantle of being the primary fictional depiction of the subject – and perhaps harder to work into this setting than many of the other topics on C.K.'s mind(*) that become fodder for bar debates.

(*) See also Kurt's opening rant about the political sermonizing of comedian “Casey Lewiston” – basically, “Louis C.K.” backwards – after C.K.'s anti-Trump email became national news.

That the episode leaves ambiguous whether Rhonda really is trans or is just screwing with Horace is designed to make her point, but instead it's oddly distracting, because if Rhonda (about whom we know nothing, save that she's a heavy drinker and was charmed by Horace) isn't trans, then this seems a bizarre fight to pick with a total stranger. If Rhonda's going to be sticking around for a bit (and her admission that she's a drunk suggests she might see more in Horace than that one night together), maybe this will be addressed again down the road. But if Pittman's the latest actress C.K. has brought in for a single showcase, the whole thing feels like more trouble than it was worth.

What did everybody else think?

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