Horace and Pete thus represents an entirely new mode for C.K. Even at their most experimental, as when Louie briefly pivoted into a feature-length romance or Zach Galifianakis co-creation Baskets cast Louie Anderson in normcore drag, his projects have always fit into the ever more inclusive label of “comedy.” But with its self-contained vignettes, in which a former regular who murdered his wife and best friend visits the bar after his release from prison or a cluster of strangers debate the conditions necessary for civil political discourse, and tense family debates over obligation and tradition, Horace and Pete‘s comedy is incidental to its larger concerns — concerns that C.K. evidently intends to explore not with his stand-up act’s authoritative frustration or Louie‘s visual ambition, but in the wandering, spare, and melancholy style of a play.
Remarkable as Horace and Pete‘s tone is in the context of C.K.’s filmography, however, without any further episodes, or even a release schedule on which to expect them, what may prove most significant about the series is, once again, his means of releasing it.
Horace and Pete represents, incredibly, the third time the comedian-turned-auteur has established a new model for making art, and then distributing it, on his own terms. Before his stand-up coup, a maneuver that’s since been imitated by peers like Jim Gaffigan and Aziz Ansari, C.K. brokered a deal with FX that set the most important creative precedent for our current era of premium television since David Chase showed his hero strangling a man on camera: in exchange for delivering his series on a shoestring budget, C.K. would have near-total control over Louie, writing, directing, and starring in every episode — and eventually, taking hiatuses at will and of indeterminate length.
C.K. is currently on one of those hiatuses, though most assumed he was spending it either developing yet more shows for FX or outside of television entirely. Instead, he’s opted to make what may be the first full-length television series created, produced, and distributed by a single entertainer, an endeavor that’s far more involved even than self-releasing a comedy special, which involves neither multiple installments nor an entire cast of other players to work with, not to mention pay.
As of now, C.K.’s reasons for creating Horace and Pete outside of FX’s purview are unclear. It could be simply speed; with an in-show newscast announcing Trump’s lead in the upcoming Iowa primary, Horace and Pete goes out of its way to let us know it couldn’t have been shot more than a few weeks ago, a turnaround time that’s uncommon for prestige premieres (though mid-season network shows are a different story entirely). It could be that even FX couldn’t accommodate an almost-70-minute show. Or it could be that C.K. simply wanted to do something different.
Whatever the story behind Horace and Pete, it’s the first example of a creator voluntarily reversing the now-well-worn path from self-produced web series (High Maintenance, Broad City, and Idiotsitter, to name a few) to network-funded show. Like the self-distributed specials, it’s a move that’s only available to entertainers with C.K.’s popularity and resources. But that doesn’t make its potential impact on television, a format that’s increasingly hard to define with a cast of players that’s constantly multiplying, any less significant. Louis C.K. just became the first entertainer to realize he can do anything, not just comedy, without the official go-ahead of a third party who’s neither C.K. nor his fans. If his previous efforts are any indication, it’s only a matter of time before someone else follows suit.