Tag Archives: Treme

The Year End Review: TV

It’s that time of year again. And I mean, it’s really that time of year. Any more time and it’d be next year. Speaking of which, how many of you are absolutely sick of the fact that I can’t get my s**t together and update this thing more regularly? Well, too bad! I’m pretty set in my ways, and if I wouldn’t change for any of my three wives, I probably won’t change for you. Anyway, it was a pretty good year for TV, and for those of you who care, these are my top 10 picks. If I had more time on my hands, this list might look somewhat different**, but I can’t watch everything. So, in no particular order…

Lost. I’d be remiss (what does that mean?) if I didn’t mention one of the greatest TV shows in the history of TV (and shows). ‘Lost’ earns its place on the list more in recognition of the entire series than the sixth season, which most people will admit had its problems. But for all of the questions that were left unanswered and weird, glowy caves that had holes in the middle that needed to be plugged up or else the world would explode — I mean, seriously, what was that? — the show delivered a finale that was as emotionally satisfying as I could have hoped for. And before the numbers, polar bears and four-toed statues, it was the characters that made the show what it was. And that damn dog gets me every time.

Treme. For a little while, ‘Treme’ felt like the kid who was a little too cool for school. It didn’t really invite us into its world, but kept us at arm’s length, telling us that we just didn’t get it. But slowly, as if in the arms of a generous lover, it opened up to us. And once the characters started doing a little more than hang out, drink and play music it turned into appointment television. And the fact that it comes from David Simon and could probably go on for six or seven seasons without building toward any clear ending makes it one of the best character studies in recent memory.

Louie. Hands down, the best comedy of the year. FX told Louie CK that, even though they couldn’t pay him as much as other networks, they would give him complete creative control over his own show, and the opportunity was not wasted. I hate to sound trite (no I don’t), but he’s really reinvented the sitcom, with each episode taking the form of a mostly-self-contained short film. And not only is it hilarious, but introspective and thoughtful. Not to mention gorgeously shot. If you haven’t caught this one yet, you can stream it on Netflix. I really can’t recommend it enough.

Archer. ‘Mad Men’ and ‘Boardwalk Empire’ are all good and well, but man cannot live on live-action drama alone. Solid animated fare is important, and unfortunately ‘American Dad’ can’t carry the load all by itself. ‘Archer’ comes from the fine folks who brought us ‘Frisky Dingo,’ which for two short years carried the mantle ‘Arrested Development’ left behind after it was canceled. The show takes the world’s most self-absorbed incompetent, gives him a double-0 rating and sets him loose on the world. Hilarity ensues. And when I say hilarity ensues, I mean it. Did you read what I said about ‘Frisky Dingo’? The show comes back for another season in January, so check it out.

Breaking Bad. Suck it, ‘Supernatural’ fans. In its third season, ‘Breaking Bad’ made the jump from engrossing (and high-grossing!), to the best show on TV. And the season before was already pretty great. Watching the lengths Walter White is willing to go to, at first to provide for his family, but then to satisfy his own ego is completely devastating. Walter shooting that drug dealer in the head at the end of “Half Measures” had me screaming at my TV, and if the season finale is any indication (it is), things are only going to get darker going forward. Unfortunately, AMC’s schedule is all jacked up, so the show won’t be back until July. The curse of cable television!

Mad Men. This is another show that doesn’t really have any sort of clear end in sight. And because it’s AMC’s darling, they’re probably going to try and keep it around for as long as they can. The trick then becomes how to keep it feeling fresh and not like it’s spinning its wheels. Season 4 did that. Don has his own agency, and now that he’s divorced he’s back out on the prowl. Although I guess that was the case even when he was married. Anyway, the season featured some of the series’ best work. “The Suitcase” and the showdown between Don and Peggy being only one example. Expect that one to be showered with Emmys at next year’s ceremony. For my money, the show came in just a hair behind ‘Breaking Bad’ this year, but…it was a very fine hair.

Fringe. I don’t think anyone really gives a s**t if a show comes “from the mind of J.J. Abrams” anymore. And if you ask me that’s only worked in ‘Fringe’s’ favor. When it wasn’t the hit some expected it to be, it kind of dropped off the radar. That really gave it carte blanche to go balls to wall and make a show for the people who were watching it, the people who were carrying it into second and third season renewals. This season’s proved that like no other, and really shows what risks the showrunners were willing to take with things. Thankfully they all paid off. I’m feeling a little better about the show’s move to Friday now than I was when I first heard about it, so hopefully its audience will move with it and it’ll be back for a fourth season.

Boardwalk Empire. AMC winning all those Emmys must have really pissed HBO off, because they’re coming back in a big way. It took ‘Boardwalk Empire’ about four episodes to find its footing, but after that it was strong all the way to the finish. It’s always good to see such a big show get things right, and that was before we saw exactly how big a freak Agent Van Alden was, and met Richard Harrow (who’s thankfully been promoted to a series regular in season two). What the show lacks in ‘Sopranos’ it makes up for in ‘Deadwood,’ which sucks me in every single time. Can we lay down some cash that season two will open with a montage of all the characters getting dressed in the morning?

30 Rock. Oh ’30 Rock,’ it’s so good to have you back. After a lackluster fourth season, the show’s really amped things up this year, delivering several episodes that are as good as anything they’ve done in the past. I mean, you’ve got Matt Damon! Paul Giamatti! Liz’s Julia Roberts laugh! John Effing Slattery! I cower before the brilliance of his performance. Now, if the show could just find more excuses to bring Jon Hamm back, all would be right with the world. Really, this is the show propping up NBC’s Thursday night lineup. ‘The Office’ has turned into the grandpa with Parkinson’s disease. Every once in a while it remembers how good it was, but it mostly thinks we’re its wife and yells at us for not having supper on the table when it gets home from work. ‘Outsourced’ is garbage and ‘Community’ is too busy smelling its own private parts to do much else. When the lineup grows by a hour come January, it’s gonna be ’30 Rock’ and ‘Parks and Rec,’ so get ready for it.

Justified. FX is really trying to roll with the big dogs as of late, at thanks to shows like ‘Justified,’ it’s paying off. The show had a mix of procedural and serialized storytelling, and I think that as the season progressed, it realized how much stronger those serialized elements were, and so followed them more as the season closed out. Timothy Olyphant is a great actor, and fans of ‘Deadwood’ know that this role was almost tailor-made for him. The back and forth between him and Walt Goggins is great, but honestly, I’d watch a show of Olyphant just ramming Dewey Crow’s face into steering wheels.

And there you have it. A pretty good year, all things considered. And next year we’ve got ‘Game of Thrones,’ ‘Luck,’ ‘Lights Out,’ ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ and more ‘Parks and Rec’ to look forward to, so it’s going to be pretty crowded. So until then and as a always, excelsior true believers!

**’Community’ still wouldn’t be on it, because it still isn’t that good.

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.

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.