Monday, April 12, 2010

Treme: Do You Know What It Means

When it comes to details, character, and atmosphere, "Do You Know What It Means," the initial episode of David Simon's Treme, wins the lottery. But if you want conflict, well, there are a lot of torn-up ticket stubs scattered across the streets and buildings of New Orleans: The tensest moment of the premiere occurs when Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) helps himself to $400 bottle of wine at the restaurant owned by Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens of Deadwood and Friday Night Lights). 

That being said, the music and acting are terrific, each scene is well-developed and smartly composed, and Treme seems to capture a truth about the feel of the city at its best -- an easy camaraderie fused by  love for its music. New Orleans native Wendell Pierce's (The Wire) wry, restrained portrayal of a trombonist (Antoine Batiste) constantly short of cab fare reveals the not-so-glamorous truth of the life of a working musician. There's a great scene in which he leaves his "'bone" with a cabbie as collateral, dashes into a backyard barbecue to beg for a gig that night, then cadges an advance so that he can pay off the cabbie. Later, he joins the Treme Brass Band for a funeral parade; as they wait for the pallbearers to emerge from the church, Antoine gossips with other band members about the dead man and, in a wonderful touch, dons the official cap handed him at the last second.

Treme's wit is both dry ("What girl wouldn't be seduced by this?") and broad (something about a "cucumber up the archbishop's ass"). The interplay between Antoine and his ex-wife (Khandi Alexander) is so free and easy that you wonder why they're divorced until she reminds us: He's a musician. When the musicians -- and many of them are actual New Orleans musicians -- banter between sets and after gigs, we feel as if we're sitting at the bar with them.

Any show set in New Orleans "three months later" has to consider Katrina, and Treme's treatment of it can be problematic. Again, the imagery and details are impressive: Running the opening credits over various moldy walls is a stroke of genius. Wrecked houses and piles of debris appear as a cab drives past them. An excited and naked McAlary leaps out of bed at the sounds of the first second-line since Katrina. On the other hand, Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) is presented as an expert on the federal flood, but we're never told why. He makes all the right points, but bombastically. Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is a lawyer who tracks the missing, but her relationship to the other characters is obscure.

Clarke Peters (The Wire) as Albert Lambreaux, a Mardi Gras Indian trying to pull his life together, fares much better. Exiled to Houston, he wants desperately to return home but faces a daunting task not made easier by adult children who want him to give up. His home all but destroyed, he wearily turns his attention to an abandoned neighborhood bar that might be salvageable. His story resonates more deeply than that of the affluent Bernettes, who returned to the comforts of their Garden District home.

All in all, though, Treme promises to be a fascinating study of a city's response to an unprecedented catastrophe. I've read that one has to give Treme a chance; on the basis of the first episode, I see no reason not to...

Nick's Auto Body...

Drinks Before Dinner points out that it took more than a brain-dead individual decision to omit any mention of slavery from the governor's proclamation celebrating Confederate History Month...

Resplendency...

Sliding Delta...

Duk Duk if you seem them coming...

When Eisenhower was president: Nancy Kwan on the cover of Life, October 24, 1960...

Mr. Handsome's home inspection...

NOLA's Kermit Ruffins "Smokin' With Some Barbecue":

10 comments:

sussah said...

I surprised myself how much I enjoyed Treme last night. There had been so much argument and speculation that I wasn't prepared for the exact tone of it. You might enjoy this:
http://bigezbear.blogspot.com/2010/04/deep-sighs-and-cigarettes.html
Thanks for your good review, sp

Foxessa said...

It's made very clear that Toni's job is that of lawyer.

"Why doesn't he like me?"

"You sued him last year."

I can say more :) but I'll say it elsewhere.

I think we saw something rather different!

Love, C.

K. said...

sussak: Thanks for the link; that was a very nice writeup.

C: I'm not saying that I didn't like it -- I did. But in this episode, I found more pleasure in the details, the imagery, and the feel than I did in the narrative.

nursemyra said...

I'm looking forward to watching this series in Australia. Wonder how long we'll have to wait.....

Thanks for the linkage ;-)

Cowtown Pattie said...

I didn't expect to get hooked, we were just going to watch a few minutes of it, and suddenly it was an hour and a half later.

I think it will prove to be quite good, give it a little time.

I love also finding that wwoz is a real station! Online! Cool gumbo!

K. said...

NM: Can you recommend an Australian series that I could track down on Netflix? I'm always looking for something different. This is my #1 accidental discovery. Chilling, to say the least.

CP: WWOZ is also available as a iPhone app. It's a bit a battery drain, so it helps to have a newer model.

nursemyra said...

I suppose you've already seen the American shows like Deadwood, Firefly, Curb Your Enthusiasm and True Blood?

How about English satires and comedies: The Royale Family, People Like Us, Black Books, Blackadder, Stella Street and my absolute favourite Nighty Night.

What about the old Canadian series The Newsroom? Or the Larry Sanders Show.

Then there's Flight of the Conchords and Australian comedy Summer Heights High. That last one might be an acquired taste but I love it

Foxessa said...

The Bernettes don't live in the Garden District -- certainly not on a Tulane faculty member's salary!

They live around Octavia, which is nice, but not the Garden District.

Love, C.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

Just to drop you a dime, you need to watch this blog:
http://backoftown.wordpress.com
"Treme" is starting to open wounds.
That's all I'm saying right now.

NOTELLA~I dropped this comment in a post above. I'm starting to get lost again, with "Treme".
We've only had the first episode and already... we'll see.
It isn't what I saw. It just isn't.
But then again, I was running scared at the time frame of this story.
And now... I'm just not one of the Romantic Survivors... or whatever the fuck they are trying to portray.
The fact of the matter is this: the Guard would have arrested that Indian Chief after curfew, perhaps even whipped his ass and thrown him into the makeshift jail at the Train Station and he would have ended up in North Louisiana in his Mardi Gras outfit and you would not have heard about it for 3 Fucking Months.
That's the fucking truth. That is the Reality upon which this Fiction is based. They caught you after curfew and You Were Gone. Period.
What the fuck ever.

Editilla~New Orleans Ladder said...

And that whole thing with the $400 bottle of wine is Absolute Horse Shit.
Anyone who has eaten Susan Spicer's food knows she wouldn't fuck a dumbass crass cliche addicted bastard like that.
I mean, come on.