Horace and Pete | Louis CK's new web series, reviewed by Jay Richardson

Horace and Pete

Louis CK's new web series, reviewed by Jay Richardson

Successfully kept under wraps until it appearing without forewarning yesterday, Horace and Pete is a curious new offering from Louis CK's burgeoning career behind the camera.

A dramedy with emphasis on familial dysfunction, Episode 1 doesn't look or feel like the first in a web series, but more like a static, three-act theatre piece.

It'll certainly be intriguing to see any subsequent instalments, if only to see how the various tensions are resolved.

Though set in what one character enthusiastically describes as a 'dive' bar in Brooklyn, CK's origins – and the presence of his collaborator and fellow Bostonian Steven Wright among the barflies – bring to mind a grim, alternative version of Cheers, with knowing someone's name unnecessary to carry on drinking with them after closing time.

The fug of resignation extends organically from the sighing CK and the hunched Steve Buscemi, the latest, fiftysomething generation of Horace and Petes to run the bar since their ancestors opened it a century ago. They are seemingly bound by inheritance to a roles they have little appetite for. CK may be in a relationship with Rachel, played by the perky Rebecca Hall, yet she seems like an outlier in Horace's life.

Beaten down – just as CK is in his stand-up and his TV series Louie – his difficult relationship with his daughter, estrangement from his son and confrontation over the bar's ownership with his sister (Nurse Jackie's Edie Falco), feels more like the natural order of things.

Buscemi's Pete seems even further into his rut, but he's also struggling without his medication and prone to psychotic episodes.

Meanwhile, like the Ghost of Christmas Past, the physical embodiment of the bar's history, the previous generation's Pete, is still pouring drinks and sharing his bigoted, regressive opinions. Alan Alda is wonderfully cast against type as the sour old stick-in-the-mud, chasing away youthful customers and poisoning the ambience with his bile.

Indeed, he's the most compelling element of Horace and Pete's pitch of conservatism against progressiveness, echoed in the heated exchange of opinions between Democrats and Republican voices at the bar, one of the more regrettable sequences when the characters become mere voice pieces, even as up-to-the-minute references to Hilary Clinton and Donald Trump give it topicality.

The likes of Jessica Lange and stand-up Nick Di Paolo fill out a cannily cast group of cynical and embittered drinkers. And the laughs, while infrequent, are rich, even if CK seems much more interested in getting to the nub of what makes families repeat their mistakes.

So steer clear if you think Louie needs the gag rate upped. But if you're hoping to see CK challenge himself as a storyteller, Horace and Pete promises to do just that.

• Episode one of Horace and Pete is available for $5 (about £3.50) here.

Review date: 31 Jan 2016
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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