Sit Down and Have a Beer
We live in a curious age. An age where the extremely wealthy (and moderately creative) can cobble together vanity projects and drop them online, somewhat secretly, and get them out to an enormous audience. Recently, Louis CK went the Kanye route and corralled a group of his most famous actor friends, made a little show, and put it on his website. The result is Horace and Pete, a show that harkens back to the days of the multi-cam sitcom, most specifically Cheers (one of the first pleasures of the show is when you realize that they’ve done a lovely job paying homage to the Cheers set). The show stars CK as Horace and Steve Buscemi as Pete, owners of a family-run bar (called Horace and Pete’s) in Brooklyn. The bar has been passed down through the family for over 100 years, from fathers to sons all named either Horace or Pete. Alan Alda plays the curmudgeonly, spiky-tongued, racist, Uncle Pete, the bartender, who will only serve beer or straight alcohol, no mixed drinks. Edie Falco plays Horace’s sister, Sylvia, who is in a particularly a bad spot. There are a number of other actors you will immediately recognize and many other character actors that stop by for a drink (you’ll be pointing at the screen and saying, “that guy!” multiple times while watching).
The whole thing plays out in almost real-time, with very few locations other than the bar and has the overall feel of a filmed play. This has the effect of making the show slow and sleepy. It doesn’t help that most of the characters are sad sacks, people who are downright miserable most of the time. Everyone seems like they are living in a bit of a fog, like they haven’t seen the sun in weeks (and it’s entirely possible, Horace has an apartment upstairs, so no one really ever has to leave). It’s claustrophobic and oppressively quiet. The bar rarely has music playing and there is almost no ambient noise from the few bar patrons in the joint. And I can’t get over it. There’s nothing I hate more than the feeling of being stuck while watching a TV show.
As an experiment, Horace and Pete is fascinating, the acting is impressive and the fact that it was put together so quickly, with so many incredible actors is fun. But it relies too heavily on spoken essays instead of dialogue (there’s a fair bit of shouting!) and the pace is difficult to say the least. The show is old fashioned, both in style and sometimes in substance (I get the feeling that CK is championing the way things were, stasis over forward movement, which seems odd – there is a bit of running gag about hipsters coming into the bar who don’t love it for the “right” reasons), and that should seem surprising or shocking or at least in contrast to everything else that is happening right now. But mostly, to me, it just feels tired.
Or Some Juice
The People Vs. OJ Simpson has been getting a lot of good press and people seem to love it (the ratings have been very impressive for FX). I’m not as wowed by the show as most seem to be and I wasn’t obsessed with the actual case as a kid, although it was pretty hard to ignore. Mainly, the show has been praised as entertaining if nothing else, which is not untrue. There are some flashy performances, most notably John Travolta who plays Robert Shapiro as if he is on an entirely different TV show if not planet. The performance is big and weird and eyebrow-heavy. I can’t even say if the performance is good or bad, because it doesn’t exist in a world where there are good and bad things. In reality (if we have to settle for reality), the show belongs to Courtney B. Vance who’s Johnnie Cochran is charismatic and smart. Sarah Paulson is subtle (even if her hair is not) and steely as Marcia Clarke. My personal favourite though is Sterling K. Brown as Chris Darden, who gets more shading and humanity than any of the other lawyers, playing Darden as wide-eyed and wary at the same time. There is something greasy, grimy and tabloid-y about the show (which is part of the fun, I guess), all whip-pans and fast zooms to faces. The show oscillates from semi-, to moderately, to most definitely exploitative (because two people were in fact murdered, the show likes to remind us on occasion, while John Travolta does his pinched-faced sneer and David Schwimmer says, “Juice” over and over again), which is what I remember most about the media frenzy surrounding the whole trail. It works best, though, when it isn’t treading in nudge-nudge wink-wink waters, like when the Kardashian kids (yeah, they show up a fair bit) discuss fame, and instead focuses on the nuts and bolts, the real work of the case.
Or a Kirkland
I don’t love the show, but Louie Anderson is giving a very good performance as Zach Galifianakis’ mom on Baskets right now.
Or Some Bong Water
The hive-mind is working overtime and a lot of shows in recent years have felt very similar. For instance, romantic anti-comedies about unhappy Californians: Love, Casual, Togetherness, You’re the Worst. Or, mysterious shows about mysterious mysteries that need to be solved in small towns, usually by a single person with an unshakable moral centre, driven by something horrible that happened in their equally mysterious past: The Fall, Top of the Lake, The Killing, Broadchurch, The Missing, Happy Valley. And don’t get me started on superhero shows. That is a bit of a circuitous way of saying there is really nothing else like Broad City on TV right now and I’m so glad it’s back. The first three episodes that have aired as of this writing have been hilarious, smart and a good sign that this season might be its best yet.
Or An IV Drip (aka Remember Music Videos?)
The video for Kevin Morby’s song “I Have Been to the Mountain” includes a very fun (and somewhat disturbing) piece of dance/physical comedy from Nathan Mitchell: