Steve Barnes' World of Happiness

Horace And Pete: the feeling of theatre on film.

I heard about this series a while ago and shrugged it off. Louis CK not playing himself? That seemed odd.

But the 68-minute first episode was free on his site (which I love: it's simple, and though oriented to his professional life, the tone is personal and all media and payment stuff is contained neatly within it), so I decided to watch it late last night.

I had decided earlier in the day, actually, once I'd seen the first minute. A static shot of a dark pub, chairs tilted inward toward the tables to leave the floor accessible for sweeping, still and quiet after the music has faded. A guy (Louis CK not playing himself) stumbles down the stairs, looks around, adjusts his clothing awkwardly, and decides to start righting the chairs, very much at his under-excited leisure. There was something about it which I shortly put my finger on: it was a film, but it didn't feel like a film. It felt like a play, where – especially in those opening moments – exposition is established by the stage directions, which reach the audience almost entirely by way of the actor's pace, body and face, rather than the engagements of music, lighting or cameras. Films, especially today, rely so heavily on the latter group, but this production seemed content to leave those habits for others to play with (save the bookending theme song by Paul Simon).

No undermining of the laid expectations were forthcoming. It was about as much a play as a film could be. It's possible there were genuine cuts between adjacent shots, but for all I could tell, each scene was genuinely rehearsed and performed straight through by the small cast, shot with no masks or frills of any kind. One actor even stumbled over one line at one point (just once), and that apparently made it in. No big deal, just as it wouldn't have been if a real person had done it. There was even a labelled intermission in the middle of the hour – something I haven't seen in films that weren't decades old.

The themes seemed to include family, tradition and politics. Humour peppered the scenes, of course, but I'd say this opening episode made the series out to be more of a semi-mature, lugubrious, apathetic drama than a comedy. I'm sincerely tempted to carry on: it seems like proper art, and an example of art which fully sloughs popular convention just because it's popular. It feels unconcerned and unhurried, which is something I keep noticing recent TV and movies just can't seem to bear.

(Oh, and after watching, Louis CK probably is just playing himself. I suppose.)