Stand-up comics aren’t supposed to be gifted dramatists, and TV stars aren’t supposed to take a break from lucrative jobs that come with boundless freedom and critical praise. Louis C.K. is not good at supposed to, though, and Horace and Pete is a fine example of that. Because a show about a bunch of sad bastards in an equally glum bar with a crazy uncle and a put-upon protagonist is supposed to be played for laughs, but this isn’t Cheers. And with a meat and potatoes script and the absence of the occasional pinch of absurdism and visual flare, it isn’t Louie, either. It’s barely a show. It feels more like a 67-minute-long dramatic play (with both the look and rhythm of such a thing) that C.K. decided to film and release on his website for $5 an episode with nearly zero fanfare, another thing you’re not really supposed to do.
On its face, the century-old family-run bar at the center of Horace and Pete sounds like a charming establishment with a cute backstory about successive Horaces and Petes running it from its inception. It’s the kind of thing you’d read about in the life section of a Sunday paper, but as the “morning” transitions from a light shuffle by Horace (C.K.) and his brother/business partner, Pete, (Steve Buscemi) to something joyless and far less musical, the weight of the family legacy becomes more clear. In a way, Horace and Pete are indentured servants, damned by their names and other people’s expectations — specifically, their Uncle Pete (Alan Alda), a canker sore of a man.
Really, the bar is a glue trap, but complacency is more perceivable than discontentment at first, specifically when it comes to Horace.