Some thoughts on the latest episode of Horace and Pete coming up just as soon as we let the wine breathe…
So what differentiates Horace and Pete's second act from its first? Alan Alda and Jessica Lange are still listed in the cast credits, after all (though Marsha could certainly return), and previous installments had already made clear that, as with Louie, an episode of this show can be about anything, and feel completely different from any of the ones before it.
But some time has passed since Uncle Pete's funeral. Sylvia's hair is gone from cancer treatments, and she appears to be living with Horace – and, thus, reluctantly going along with his plan for the three of them to run the bar. And Pete, who's at the center of everything, is feeling healthy enough to give online dating a try, and is surprised – and, in a nice twist, more than a little annoyed – to be matched with the much younger Jenny(*). Everyone is trying to move on with their lives after Uncle Pete's suicide, but this episode suggests the new normal is just as fraught and uncomfortable as the old one.
(*) Jenny's played by Hannah Dunne, daughter of Griffin Dunne and Carey Lowell. Some of you (especially if you're a Golden Globe voter) might recognize her as Lola Kirke's roommate on Mozart in the Jungle.
Even with no “intermission,” the episode cleaves neatly in two, presenting two different dates between Pete and Jenny: their first meeting at a restaurant, and then his attempt to introduce her to his family. The two dates function as funhouse mirror reflections of one another. The first starts out in slightly uncomfortable territory, as Pete has trouble dealing with Jenny's youth (and with accepting the idea that she genuinely wants to be with a guy his age), but then gets better and better as the two open up about themselves, and Pete proves more confident and charming than he's seemed in his modest role at the bar and in the family. (The show has long suggested that even before the truth of his parentage came out, Pete was less close to his Horace and Sylvia than they were to each other.) The date teeters on middle-aged wish-fulfillment fantasy at times, but so much of this series is about the difference between generations that giving Pete a twentysomething girlfriend doesn't seem wildly out of keeping with what's come before.
The date at Horace's apartment, on the other hand, starts out a bit awkwardly but mostly fine, and then gets uglier and uglier as Sylvia channels all her venom about her health, living, and financial situations into making Jenny and Pete as miserable as possible. It's unflinching in the general shared misery, and in the show's continuing portrait of Sylvia as, at least at this difficult moment of her life, a deeply unpleasant person to be around. It's clear almost from the start that news of Pete's biological parentage and details of his mental illness are hanging over the whole dinner, and will drop at the worst possible moments. What makes the latter revelation darkly comic is the timing and motivation for it, with Horace blurting it out because he's so uncomfortable with the thought of what Sylvia will say in response to Jenny's preference for another male president. And then he's started talking about it, he can't stop himself. It's also a reminder that, while Uncle Pete is gone, his legacy of belittling his family members – and Pete in particular – continues into the next generation.
Not an incredibly fun episode – other than the spectacle of Steve Buscemi greasing up his nipples as Pete prepped for the date – but an interesting start to the next phase of the story.
What did everybody else think?
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com