Category Archives: recaps/Treme

Treme, “At the Foot of Canal Street”: New Orleans is still my home.

I think it’s safe to say that Treme is sort of like the Seinfeld of dramas. There’s nothing really happening. I mean, sure, LaDonna is trying to find her brother and Janette is trying to keep her restaurant afloat, but for the most part everyone is just drinking, playing music and hanging out. And while it may seem like a show like that isn’t doing a lot to bring you into its world, I felt like this was the episode that did just that. I finally feel like I’m caught up in the characters and what they’re going through. And while it’s made the show that much more enjoyable to watch, it’s also made me feel like less of an outsider to the whole Treme phenomenon. And while this show may not have the mythology of Lost, or keep me on the edge of my seat like Breaking Bad, I do feel like that’s progress.

While some of the show’s characters still seem to be on somewhat nebulous trajectories, I think we’re getting an idea on where some of these characters may end up by the end of the season. Leading the pack here is Sonny, who went with some friends to Texas to play at a roadhouse. I was worried what we were going to get was some stereotypical Texas honky tonk bar, where guys in 10-gallon hats walk around saying things like, “I’ll take whiskey, and make it a t-bone!” Luckily, what we saw was pretty on the level. Things didn’t work out exactly as Sonny had planned though, and besides making for an interesting scene, I think it speaks to Sonny as a character, and to his arc throughout Treme’s first season. Sonny got to New Orleans as fast as he could. And while I don’t think he had dreams of becoming a famous jazz musician, I think it’s reasonable to say that he expected his music to take him somewhere. But instead, one thing after another falls through. Now, he’s using drugs. Meanwhile’s Annie’s playing gigs back in New Orleans, and after being asked to play with Tom McDermott, it looks like her trajectory may be pointed a little higher than his. We’ll see how things pan out, but I think the happy couple’s days are numbered.

But things don’t look so bleak for all of our characters. Darius, the kid Albert found messing around in his bar stumbles on his Mardi Gras practice. Later, when his aunt comes looking for him, she invites Albert to dinner. It’s not like there’s much to be read into the dinner scene, as her intentions — not to mention Albert’s — were pretty obvious… They’re going to have sex. Both of them. Together. So that’s something to look forward to.

Toni’s come one step closer to finding Daymo, when she discovers that an accused murderer switched ID bracelets with him during the storm. I understand that situations like these are somewhat embellished for television, although I suspect that David Simon would portray them more realistically than most. Still, I don’t want to look at this all doe-eyed, saying, “Can you believe something like this could actually happen?” I can only imagine the madhouse that the justice system had become after the storm, with all the lost paperwork and what not. I think it’s situations like this that give us viewers the bigger glimpse into the post-Katrina chaos, even more than things like Janette and her restaurant.

The last character I wanted to touch on is Davis, who after running his car into a pothole filled with gravel has had the idea to run for city council. You can count me in with the crowd who hasn’t been completely turned off by Zahn’s character, but I am glad that they seem to have finally found something for him to do, and as it seems somewhat of an unlikely path, I’ll be interested to see how it all plays out.

Four episodes in, and I feel like I’ve watched much more of Treme than I actually have. While this show may not have the impact of other show’s, I am glad to be swept up in it, and that it seems to be picking up steam.

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Treme, “Right Place, Wrong Time”: We get s**t done to us.

There’s a scene at the end of last week’s Treme that illustrates one of the bigger themes of the show, and that is, for those of us who are not native sons and daughters of New Orleans, there are things we will never understand about the city. Of course, living through something like Hurricane Katrina only compounds that. So we’re all left on the outside to look in, our faces pressed up against the glass, or for those of us watching the show, our television sets.

And we’re not the only ones. Sonny found himself watching Annie this week at an upscale party she had been invited to perform at with Tom McDermott. While it might be easy to write-off Sonny’s attitude toward Tom and the party to being overprotective of his girlfriend, it goes much deeper than that. Annie is clearly the more gifted musician, and if she wanted to she could probably go a lot further than Sonny. Coming to terms with that is probably going to be a long and painful process for him.

Albert and his friends found themselves being watched during the service for Wild Man Jesse by a Katrina Tour bus, tourists being taken around to visit devastated parts of the city. The bus driver seemed just about as crude as you could get with his, “What’s this all about?” but he came to his senses pretty quickly and the apology he gave before driving away was sincere. Still, it’s a feeling our characters are going to have to get used to, as they’re going to be under the magnifying glass for a long time.Speaking of which, that feeling seemed to be summed up perfectly by LaDonna, after finding out that her roof guy had cut out early. “We get shit done to us.” Both literally and figuratively, that’s for sure.

Finding themselves on display like that isn’t the only thing they’ll have to get used to. On the outside, it still looks like much of city is living under marshal law, with the cops and National Guard out in force. Antoine finds out just how on-edge they are after drunkenly bumping into one of their cars and scraping it with his trombone. He hadn’t gotten more than a few words out of his mouth before he was thrown on the ground and beaten. Toni’s able to get him out of jail (along with Davis earlier in the episode), but she’s so overloaded I don’t think there’s a whole lot of chance of him getting any sort of recompense. Because he lost his trombone in the middle of the whole thing, that could mean trouble. Alan Sepinwall seems to think that might be BIG trouble, but I can’t help but think that Antoine’s so well-connected with other musicians in the city that he’ll have no trouble finding a replacement. Well, minimal trouble. But that’s all, right? He defineitely egged them on, but Davis found himself in jail after pissing of some Guard boys. As Toni’s getting him out, he presses his head against the wall and says, “I just want my city back.” I can understand the sentiment, although the line felt just a little heavy-handed.

The show’s characters seem to be crossing each others’ paths with more frequency now, which I really like. With no cash to pay Toni, Davis offers to teach her daughter piano lessons, which made for some good back and forth between him and Creighton. Antoine gets into his scuff-up with the cops after singing a tune with Sonny and Annie after one of his gigs on Bourbon Street. Toni’s still trying to help LaDonna find Daymo. While there’s something to be said about keeping certain characters separate, I think bringing them together makes the show’s cast feel much more like an ensemble. But maybe that’s just me.

Stuff I liked:

  • “It’s called YouTube.”
  • What a great look on Antoine’s face when he realizes that, no, he’s got nothing left.
  • Not sure who I’m rooting for in the Creighton/Davis match-up. I love Creighton’s attitude, but Davis is only trying to do Toni a solid and doesn’t seem like he’s trying to do anything crazy with their daughter. I think Creighton can afford to ease up a bit.

Treme, “Meet De Boys on the Battlefront”: Shallow Water Hold Mama.

While Treme’s premiere episode felt more like a snapshot of New Orleans and the people living there after Katrina, this week’s episode felt much more like an actual television series, giving its characters more clearly defined narratives and trajectories.

One thing that will really stick out for people is what a large cast the show has. And this will be a problem for some people, while others won’t care too much about it. But as with similar shows (The West Wing and Lost come to mind) no one character is ever going to get an overabundance of screentime, and so we’ll be following them in weekly, ten-minute blocks. Again, a problem for some, for others not so much. For me it’s kind of a mixed bag. During this week’s episode, by the time we got around to seeing Kim Dickens asking her parents for another loan, I had almost completely forgotten that her character had been in the episode at all. But still, I think the show is handling its cast deftly. It’s given us a lot of moving parts and we’re beginning to see how they’re coming together.

We were introduced to two new cast members this week. Street musicians Sonny and Annie, played by Michael Huisman and Lucia Micarelli. I see Sonny as a likely type for many residents of well-known cities. He becomes quickly annoyed with the Wisconsin church kids looking for the “real” New Orleans, just like New Yorkers would tire of the endless streams of tourists, Austinites would get fed up with people asking them about hard it is getting around on a horse, or people from Idaho who are constantly bombarded with people looking for directions out of Idaho. While we were given hints that Annie may not be completely unjaded, she certainly serves as Sonny’s lighter side.

This week we also found out that Albert’s got a dark side to him. By day he fixes up his bar and tries getting the band back together, but by night, he takes to the streets, tracking down the punk who stole his tools. And when the guy is more than willing to say he was sorry and get out of there, Albert beats the ever-loving hell out of him. But by the end of the episode, the mostly easy-going but still a little pensive looking old man is back, rehearsing with a second member of his band who’s come back. If Dexter has taught us anything, and I like to think it has, expect Albert’s dark passenger to show up again. He might not be chopping people up, but he may beat a few street toughs with a wrench.

We also saw a different side of Steve Zahn’s Davis. Honestly, in the pilot, he seemed to take some sort of satisfaction in being a dick for the pure sake of being a dick. But this week we saw him out there, taking a job as a hotel clerk when an unfortunate voodoo ritual got him fired from the radio station. With all of his, “I’m a musician” talk last week, you would expect him to only half-ass something like this, if he even tried it at all. But he was there with a smile on his face, sending guests out to different New Orleans hot-spots. Sure, he got fired in the end, and that may been a little expected, but the handling of the entire thing I thought was well done.

Other characters, like Antoine and Creighton, are still trying to keep their heads above water (ugh). Antoine takes on any gigs he can trying to earn just a few more dollars, while Creighton bemoans the courses and departments Tulane has chosen to axe. All of these characters find themselves in different circumstances, but it’s obvious they’re all still reeling from the disaster and its effects.

Stuff I liked:

  • John Goodman’s rant about which departments Tulane was keeping and which it was shutting down. “It’s all about identity. Let’s not learn how to do anything. Let’s just sit and contemplate the glory of me, in all my complexities. Who am I? I am black Jewish woman, hear me roar.”
  • I’m very impressed at how seamlessly the show is able to weave its musical interludes throughout the episode almost without you realizing it.
  • Elvis Costello made another appearance this week. I wonder how much more we’ll be seeing of him. He always wears such nice jackets.

Treme, “Do You Know What It Means”: We all got gigs.

I think there are a fair share of people out there who are breathing a sigh of relief now that Treme has premiered. Ever since it started airing original programming, there’s always been television on HBO. Whether it was Oz, which made us sure that if we ever set foot inside a prison, we’d end up bent over someone’s knee having a swastika tattooed on our ass, or Deadwood, which finally brought the word “hooplehead” into the mainstream vernacular.

But ever since Deadwood was yanked away from us in 2006 and The Sopranos went off the air a year later, it seemed as if HBO had been spinning its wheels, or perhaps biding its time. Now that isn’t to say that its original shows were bad. Generation Kill and John Adams were gems, and lord knows people love True Blood. But with Treme we’re seeing the first in a string of very promising shows that the network will be premiering through this year and into next. Others include Boardwalk Empire, the much-ballyhooed Game of Thrones and David Milch’s Luck. So why are people breathing a sigh of relief? It looks like after a few years away, HBO is finally taking its place back on top.

So…Treme. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I should probably make mention of the fact that while I saw and loved Generation Kill, I have yet to watch a single episode of The Wire. So while it may be impossible for some to not draw comparisons between the two shows, I don’t have that luxury (crutch?). But give it a while. When I finally do watch it, I’ll wonder why it’s so much more violent than Treme. Anyway, onto the show.

I thought it was a good move for the show to just throw us into the middle of things, even though it didn’t really throw us into the middle of things. The culture is New Orleans is obviously very rich and I enjoyed just trying to make sense of everything as it came up, rather than having every little thing explained to me. Some things I’m still trying to figure out, like Clarke Peters’ fire monster suit or whatever that was. And forgive me, but when I saw him taking it out of its bag, for a second I had this horrible feeling that his character was going to turn out to be a transvestite. Glad I called that one wrong.

I say that we weren’t really thrown into the middle of things because honestly, not a whole lot happened in the show’s 90-minute pilot. And that’s understandable and okay, depending on how you look at it. It’s the first episode, so we spent most of the time getting to know the characters, watching them in their element and seeing what they were all about. And because the show is set in New Orleans, we got a healthy dose of jazz music, which I liked a lot and gelled a lot more than I thought it would. The musical interludes probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but what are you going to do? And as for the lack of a central narrative, it seems like a lot of that is David Simon’s style. We’re going to see a lot of these characters just doing what they do. It worked in Generation Kill, it seems to have worked in The Wire and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here.

I didn’t realize this until after I had watched it, but almost every character in the show is in a relationship, with their significant other as another main character. John Goodman and Melissa Leo. Kim Dickens and Steve Zahn. Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexandar. I’m not sure if this will have some sort of thematic significance later in the show, or if it’s just the way things turned out. As with many things, we’ll have to wait and see. That aside, I think the show has a very strong cast, which I felt was mostly held up by Wendell Pierce as struggling trombonist Antoine Batiste. But while I enjoyed him the most, everyone here is really pulling their own weight. It’s hard say anything bad about an actress like Kim Dickens, whose characters all seem to lead lives of quiet desperation.

I know Steve Zahn’s character has taken a lot of flak for being over-the-top or too stupid or whatever it is you’re reading is saying. I understand that he brings in a little comedic relief, and I thought that was okay. He doesn’t seem like a very over-the-top character, so I thought he brought some good balance to the weightier themes that the show is dealing with.

Because I’m a big, stupid American who often can’t see past my own television screen, I realize that I’ve never really grasped the exact scope of Katrina and the effect it’s had on the people who lived through it, so for me one of the most powerful images in the entire pilot weren’t things like Clarke Peters coming back to his home to find it completely ruined, but the pictures of the bridge full of convicts Melissa Leo is searching through while trying to help Khandi Alexandar look for a lost relative. I felt those images did the best job of conveying the fact that during the disaster, society had almost completely broken down. And when you take other things into account, like the fact that even three months later there are still bodies waiting to be cleared out of the abandoned houses, it gives you an idea of how difficult piecing all of that back together is going to be for these characters.

Not even a full hour and a half and Treme’s showed us a world more vibrant than other shows are able to convey after several episodes. It really looks like HBO’s got another winner here and I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out over the season.

Stuff I liked:

  • I don’t think I could ever get tired of listening to John Goodman yell at people.
  • Another John Goodman moment. It was a nice beat, watching him laugh when his wife started screaming and throwing things after dealing with the sheriff’s office.
  • Elvis Costello.
  • How long until the season 1 soundtrack comes out?
  • No, seriously. How long?