Horace and Pete

Review by Ben Venables | 03 Feb 2016

Louis CK's unexpected sitcom is more like Chekhov than Cheers.

The first episode of Horace and Pete, a new sitcom by Louis CK, was released almost entirely unannounced over the weekend, and while it may be too early to recommend a series based on one installment, the first 65 minutes already work as a standalone play.

Set in Brooklyn, CK and Steve Buscemi play two brothers – the titular Horace and Pete – who together run a down-at-heel Irish bar bearing their names. A Horace and a Pete from this family have been in charge for over a hundred years and naturally this handed-down tradition leaves many out the line of inheritance. Their sister, Sylvia (Edie Falco), arrives with the intention of challenging this outmoded custom and dissolving the business.

All in all, this is not anything like the famous bar Cheers, although the set does bear a resemblance to that sitcom. Instead, here is a family dealing with the separate memories of their shared history, their traditions versus change, and the intractable difficulties of communicating with one another – perhaps especially those we are closest to.

Covering this territory at times makes Horace and Pete more like a Chekhovian drama than a contemporary sitcom. Curiously, Anton Chekhov considered The Cherry Orchard 'a comedy in four acts', and although some would argue this description is the only funny thing about the play, he spent his formative years writing comedy (Indeed, the story Romance with Double Bass directly influenced Fawlty Towers).

There is no reason to think Horace and Pete is a deliberate homage to a classical dramatist, and there are times when it is just plain funny as a sitcom. But, as with Chekhov's works, what lingers is a sense that terms like comedy and tragedy depend very much on our perspective.

Overall, Horace and Pete is a testament to what comedians can achieve when left to their own devices.

Horace and Pete is available to download or stream now from louisck.net, $5.