Horace, Pete, and Time
One of the strongest things I felt watching Louis CK's fantastic show Horace & Pete was the intensity of time passing. Time making itself brutally felt in a variety of ways: slow-moving, or moving all too fast, showing itself welded to the core of the characters and showing itself through the overall structure.
In some of the main characters and most of the supporting characters, in true sitcom style, time seems to stand still. These are mostly static characters, mostly changeless. The sitcom cuteness of characters never changing (because we don’t really want them to) is exchanged here with characters who are brutally and self-destructedly stuck in their ways. A habit, even destructive ones, still gives a comfort because you recognize it as part of yourself, as they rhythmically mark otherwise chaotic time and give a known structure to days. The loss of a habit can be extremely frightening, and these characters hang on to theirs with clenched fists. Horace & Pete might be the world’s first sit-trag(edy). “Return next week to see your favorite characters still stuck in their ruin!”
Until, suddenly, they’re not.
At least twice the show catches you completely off-guard with a brutal ellipsis, as an extremely important dramatic event happens between episodes. These events are referred to only indirectly for the first few minutes, leaving the viewer feeling as if she’s missed something, not being primed for the new extremity of the situation, feeling as if the rug has been pulled under her. Suddenly things are different. There’s no emotional gradient, no gradual getting used to things, just an implicit order to get used to it.
But the show is also extremely generous with time. Just as much at it is about what and how time takes away, it is a show that fights against time by affording focus on characters, letting them speak and explain themselves. The monologue here becomes a way of generously offering time to a person. Horace & Pete tells us to slow down and listen to this person that is speaking. That could mean listening uninterrupted to a monologue for seven minutes, or the following conversation for forty-five minutes, but that is the least the characters deserve. This show is a goddamned good listener. One of the most striking moments of all the episodes comes when somebody we’ve never met before is shrugged off by a central character, and who then proceeds to demand her and our focus and time, and deliver an incredibly heartfelt monologue, explaining himself and his motives.
One the flip side of this we have Uncle Pete, who explains himself quite a lot, but who just seems more and more bizarre the more he talks. Time is built into the fabric of his being, but not our time. He is utterly anachronistic, and his ossified views are not just relics from a time that has mostly past, but they also have an extreme strangeness and surreality to them, that seems like a metaphorical way of saying that we are forever cut off from the past. A representative of the previous generation, his alien behavior often feels more as if he’d been beamed in from hundreds of years back.
In the background lies time on a bigger scale: the handing down of the pub through the generations of Horaces and Petes, and tradition threatened by gentrification. Though Horace and Pete cling to the traditions of their pub, there’s a sense of an impending doom just outside the doors, made all the more ominous by us never actually seeing the outside, but only getting an indirect image of it through the “authenticity”-seeking hipsters who come in and wonder at the quaintness of the place. Destruction-through-gentrification is an immediate threat, that is brought up and fought against throughout the show, but it also hints at the greater threat that lies at the core of the it: that though this place might survive a little longer, nothing, in the long run, will.
In the meantime it might be comforting to give your time to somebody's stories.