Sunday, April 18, 2010

Treme, "Meet De Boys on the Battlefront": Pride on Bourbon St.

A review of the second "Treme" coming up just as soon as my position is untenable...
"People do a lot of dumb s--t 'cause it's easier." -Albert
What Albert tells his buddy with the damaged plaster sounds like a sentiment that could have come from the mouth of Clarke Peters' "Wire" character, Lester Freamon, and it's been a kind of guiding principal of David Simon and company on both series. Lots of TV shows go for the quick fix (telegraphed plots, shorthand characterization) because that's easy to do (and, to be fair, because they can't afford the kind of patience that HBO allows Simon), but a Simon show doesn't. It doesn't do the equivalent of slapping sheet rock over plaster, or closing college departments with practical applications in a town that could use plenty of practical knowledge, or trying to tear down a largely-undamaged housing project at a time when intact low-cost housing is hard to come by. It takes its time, figures out the best way to do the job, and gets it done right.

So episode 2 of "Treme" is still very carefully setting things up, introducing new characters, and showing us different facets to many of the people from last week - and giving us even more music in a standard-length episode than we got in the 80-minute pilot.

We meet Sonny and Annie (played by Michael Huisman and professional violinist Lucia Micarelli), busking away and getting the approval not only of the naive but well-meaning white Wisconsin kids, but some of the black natives. At first they seem mismatched - Sonny is dark and defensive, and pretty contemptuous of the church kids, while Annie is bright and open and tries to cover for Sonny's hostility - but we also see that she plays along with his game (she's the one who says that "'Saints' is extra"), and later that she has both eyes open in their relationship. When a friend asks about Sonny's tales of rescuing people during and after the storm, Annie says in a sad, knowing tone, "He says he did... I wasn't on the boat."

We learned last week from his big chief dance that Albert is a man who is not moved easily off a plan, and we see here that he's also not a man to be trifled with, as he savagely beats on the thief who stole his extensive and expensive tool collection(*). Delmond looks at his father like a crazy man half the time, and that's without knowing Albert's capable of putting a much younger man in the hospital.

(*) As Fienberg watched this scene, he sent me an IM that said, simply, "Do not steal Lester's tools," followed by another one suggesting that Albert hide the body inside a vacant house.

Meanwhile, we get to see a different side of Davis. In the pilot, he came across as fairly insufferable, where here he's... well, he's a guy who means well, even if he has serious blinders on half the time. He doesn't think the on-air voodoo sacrifice will get him fired, and is just trying to share some local culture with his audience. He takes the hotel job his parents insist he try in exchange for a loan, and makes an effort to be polite and not lecture all the tourists on how obnoxious and backwards he finds them. And where at first I worried he was deliberately sending the Wisconsin kids to a trouble spot, it turns out that Bullets was a place where they had a great time, met Antoine(**) and heard some fine music before ultimately doing a few things the church group won't approve of.

(**) "The Wire" was also very good about having random characters cross paths, and because the barriers between this show's different worlds aren't nearly as strong as on "The Wire," there's a lot more of of that fluidity. Frankly, it would have been a disappointment if Davis had sent them to a place where they didn't run into another main character.

Though the full ensemble is now on stage, the world of "Treme" is still being built, piece by piece. Toni and LaDonna appear to finally find Daymo, only for him to turn out to be another man entirely, as part of the ongoing post-Katrina bureaucratic nightmare. Antoine keeps hustling for work, but the best he can find is playing at a Bourbon Street strip club (which won't help Desiree's fears that he's stepping out on her). Janette fails to get the needed loan from her parents, as we get a better sense of how badly her house is wrecked and how much trouble the restaurant is in. (She's in such a slump she even burns an omelet.) Delmond jams with Elvis Costello, but then gets popped for smoking a joint in front of some patrol cops. And Creighton starts preparing Sofia to return to school in town, but at the expense of some other kids displaced by the storm.

And in the end, Albert not only gets his tools back, but finally connects with another member of his Indian tribe. Their two-man rehearsal doesn't look like much now, but as with the rest of "Treme," it's a very promising start.

Some other thoughts:

• First, some very good news: HBO has already ordered a second season of "Treme," after only a single episode aired. (The previous HBO regime gave "The Wire" a fifth season renewal after the season four premiere; maybe this is their way of making it up to David Simon after letting "The Wire" dangle so long after season three.)

• And speaking of "The Wire," yup, that was Anwan Glover, better known to many of you as Slim Charles from "The Wire," as the inmate mistakenly incarcerated as Daymo.

• Some more real-life New Orleans musicians in this one, with Coco Robicheaux hilariously ending Davis's radio career by sacrificing a live chicken on air (and leaving some blood spatter behind in the studio), and the great Allen Toussaint producing Elvis Costello (and Delmond and the rest of the session musicians) for "The River in Reverse" recording sessions.

• Albert's right: Delmond's been gone from the city and its music for a really long time, and you can see the strain in his face as he tries to play it, particularly in the impromptu bar gig. The music sounds great, but it's a lot more effort to do this than to play the New York jazz we heard him perform at the Blue Note last week.

• Not a lot of John Goodman as Creighton in this one, but he does get a lovely David Simon rant on when he discusses all the impractical departments that Tulane chose to keep (including his own): "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." Not too far removed from Frank Sobotka's speech about how we used to build things in this country, is it?

• Loved the first meeting of Antoine's ex-wife and his current baby mama, who wasn't at all pleased to hear either that Antoine and Ladonna have been talking lately, or that Antoine has other kids from other women floating around the city.

• And is it a surprise Antoine has kids all over town? Wendell Pierce is one charming SOB, isn't he? I've watched this episode several times now, and the look on his face as he plays his 'bone while flirting with the Bourbon St. stripper is 10 different kinds of slick and/or priceless.

• Interesting contrast between Sofia, who's desperate to get out of Baton Rouge for good, and Ladonna's husband, whose mind seems clearly made up on never going back to New Orleans. Though he's clearly much more stable a partner than Antoine, I wouldn't be surprised if this marriage of Ladonna's ends just as badly as the last one.

• Last week, I endorsed checking out all of Dave Walker's great coverage of "Treme," and he took things to another level immediately after the premiere ended with his exhaustive annotations for the pilot episode, which he intends to continue for ensuing episodes (at least for as long as we get them in advance). If you want to know anything about the local details on the show, keep Dave bookmarked.

What did everybody else think?

45 comments:

Alan Sepinwall said...

The direct link to Dave Walker's latest annotations.

David J. Loehr said...

It's also worth checking on the HBO site for the show for the music playlists alone...

Shenonymous said...

I didn't think the show had the best pilot but my expectations were huge. Goodman's scene about the cut faculty tonight assured me I am in good hands. Signing up for the long haul after this one.

GMan said...

1) Great episode. Like how they are clearing re-establishing Wendell Pearce and Clarke Peters. Batiste, the charming smooth talking trombone player instead of the more serious, more fashion conscious Bunk, and Peters as Lambreaux, a man with a level of anger and violence underneath.

2) Know they don't have a jazz band strip club in New Orleans, but somebody needs to open one pronto. Would be there in a minute.

3) As a Tulane grad, will be intrigued to follow Creighton's progression through the series.

Damn, David Simon wins me over in exactly two episodes. Love that rascal bastard of a man.

Tulanienne said...

This show made my heart ache, an impressive showing for a second episode.

However, it was also kind of preachy with some annoying, unopposed rants. For example, it was upsetting that Tulane got rid of the engineering programs. But if they are going to make that historical fact a plot point, I wish they had also mentioned some of the reasons they did that the University was struggling to survive, just like every other business and institution in New Orleans.

I wish the tourists were less cartoonish. Obviously, tourists can be annoying but they aren't all annoying. And these were cute humanitarian tourists. I'm glad some of the characters were nice to them.

I really want to go to Bullet's. It looked awesome.

scone said...

Slim Charles! (that may have been a highlight for me)

I actually liked Steve Zahn's character even less in this episode than the premiere, as we find out that he's only living "authentically" in his neighborhood because he takes loans from his loaded parents. Not sure how that makes him any better than the couple next door or the tourists he sent to Bullets.

It was fairly shocking to see Lester beat someone that savagely. It made it harder for me to enjoy the final scene.

Andrew said...

Just a little technical note - what Delmond was smoking is referred to as a blunt, not a joint; the difference being that a joint is rolled with cigarette paper and a blunt with the paper/leaf of a hollowed out cigar. To be fair, it probably reflects better on you that you didn't know that!

VenetianBlond said...

This was about reversals: we find Daymo, no we don't; kids are missing, no they're fine; Delmond's got it made, he gets popped for practically nothing; the dentist is better than Antoine, maybe not. I think that this speaks not only to the fluidity of that time in New Orleans (will there be power today?) but also to the strength of the writing. It rachets up the tension when anything could happen to anybody, doesn't it?

Mag said...

Once again, another great ep. from Simon and Co. The scene with Creighton talking about the Engineering School being gutted, while all those useless Liberal Arts programs were being kept physically affected me, as I am a graduate of the old Tulane School of Engineering (BME, Class of 2000). Hearing them talking about gutting the programs in the show got me just as riled up now as I was when I first heard about it a few years back. It still pisses me off something fierce, especially since Tulane had one of the better if not one of the best engineering programs in the South.

Scott J. said...

Am I supposed to be wondering whether or not the thief is dead? Should it be obvious?

I'm enjoying this show very much so far, but a "mystery" like that seems out of place. I'm hoping I missed something.

Amanda said...

Creighton's rant at the university was amusing -- I was a bit taken aback by his talk with his daughter about the school situation. Set up as a preachy uber liberal-type, I like that he'as actually a preachy ... something else.

Chris Littmann said...

Two things I'd note:

1. You talked about Dan's IM to you and the vacants. My friend I watched with made the same comment when they showed the boarded up projects. (Also, another great call-back line we thought of during that strip club scene: "Trace lab ain't got sh*t on The Bunk!")

2. Trombone Shorty is another authentic local, I believe. He was the one Antoine ran into on his way to the strip club gig.

Matt said...

The band Delmond jammed with is Galactic, also from New Orleans. They just released an album "Ya-Ka-May" but I recommend their live album "We Love 'Em Tonight (Live at Tipitina's)" recorded at a a local uptown club in NO.

belinda said...

Don't mess with Lester's tools, indeed. I'm horrified, yet kind of cheering him on at the same time.

I really liked the Bullets story that Antoine told, as well as the introduction of Sonny and Annie (are they semi regulars in this show? If so, yay). Their dynamic is very interesting, and love that violin playing.

I'm not finding Davis to be too annoying - I'm just seeing him as this naive guy (though now I have to wonder exactly what Janette saw in him enough to have fun with this guy). Maybe I was too amused by the opening to find hims annoying.

Anonymous said...

That kid from Wisconsin sure reminded me of Dawson (of the creek fame), which added to just how strange it was to see Dawson hanging out at Bullets. Heh.

Anonymous said...

The tourists Zahn didn't like where the ones who asked where Bourbon St was. Zahn was geniunely excited to introduce these kids to real New Orleans music.

As a former front desk worker, I cheered when he gave the directions ("go through the front door") to the tourists.

Alan Sepinwall said...

I wish the tourists were less cartoonish. Obviously, tourists can be annoying but they aren't all annoying. And these were cute humanitarian tourists. I'm glad some of the characters were nice to them.

Yeah, I don't think the show came down as anti all the tourists. Sonny clearly resented the Wisconsin kids, but Annie didn't, Davis made a point to send them someplace cool and Antoine enjoyed hanging with them at Bullets. I think the show's taken on the Wisconsin-ites is that they meant well and were willing to learn about the place, even if they were fairly sheltered and clueless about New Orleans before the storm.

George said...

Another strong establishing episode, for some reason I was surprised by the addition of new main characters such as Sonny and Annie, I assumed with all the big name headliners that Simon would be content with just a handful of main characters, how naive of me.

At the moment I feel that Ladonna is the most fully rounded character. That contractor of hers was running scared, but she seemed a lot more comforting at home with her kids, and mix of those two aspects upon seeing Antoine, out of everyone I think she has lost most in the flood. You could sense that moving to Baton Rouge permanently with her respectable husband leaving her bar, her people and the memories of her brother would really tear her apart, like moving would just mean NO wasn't worth saving.

Albert is differentiating himself from Lester, if only with that savage beating. I think he's got that Tony Soprano dynamic in that he can do something so horrible and then still send and excited shiver down my spine when he and his friend started practicing alone.

I'm sorry, but I like Davis, I really do. His excitement turning to horror as he realised Coco was going to sacrifice the chicken was priceless, yet he still keeps that elitist tick which cracks me up. I get the complaint about about him being pretentious and living an authentic NO life so unauthentically, but I find him funny and extremely recognisable. I don't know where he will go from here having been fired from two jobs in quick succession, though.

Antoine is good, too, but there's a lot of Bunk in him. Half way through one of his conversations I found myself looking up his 'plural of pussy' scene on youtube. That scene in the strip club, was priceless and one of a number of great moments.

Creighton isn't much more that Simon airing his greivances about FEMA and Katrina so far, but we'll see how he develops. I also like Sonny and Annie, and their dynamic, bit of an odd couple, I guess.

Tracey is a bit lost in life and in the show, she pops up sporadically, but that scene with her burning the omelet and the breaking down was extremely honest and reflective of the emotional and mental strife that I'm sure many experienced after the storm.

Solid start. I'm in for the long haul

c-man73 said...

FYI --- It took a while to occur to me, but the tune Antoine and the band are playing in the strip club is Parliament's "Up For the Down Stroke." Perfect.

Anonymous said...

I liked this show much more than the pilot and there were many good moments. But I really don't like John Goodman's arch, obvious style of acting - never have really, and in this episode he may have expressed some feelings the way Frank Sobotka did, but he's not nearly as good as the actor who played Sobotka.

I was really disturbed by Albert Lambeaux's horrible beating of that young man. The guy tried several times to leave and while he was disrespectful and did steal the tools, he didn't deserve to be beaten almost to death. On the other hand, the final scene of Lester, er, Albert, and the other guy rehearsing was great.

And yes! Slim Charles! so nice to see him. I was only disappointed that he was NOT Daymon and so probably wouldn't be appearing again.

aempey said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. Everett Dixon said...

Glad to see Bullets and Slim in the same episode; I went to Bullets to see Kermit play last time I was in NOLA, and Anwan Glover was there watching the show. So meta!

Anonymous said...

loved the episode

anyone knows who's performing the song "down in Mississippi" at the end titles?

Anonymous said...

That's 2 for 2 on Treme writeups that mention the wire.

Yep, I'm counting. As I try to enjoy the show on its own merits I wonder if it is fair to the show to compare it anything, and to compare it to the Wire at all.

I do not find a lot of similarity to the two shows; nor do I think it is much like the new 90210 (which also had an actor from the Wire on it).

Anonymous said...

I think the guy in the bar that Sonny and Annie were talking to was a National Guardsman, not a friend. They were all over New Orleans at that time.

Also, I think Albert's beating of the thief, while brutal and shocking, was very realistic. A lot of people in the city at that time faced temporary bouts of insanity. It was an extremely testing time. Albert's living in a bar, barely has water, doesn't have electricity and this leach steals his tools, his main source of income. And, to top it off, the guy is copper mining houses that have had their electrical re-run. That was an absolutely deplorable thing to do. Combine that with the stolen tools and I don't think it's too unrealistic for Albert to go over the edge. Obviously, this was a dramatic portrayal of those emotions, but I guarantee that the sentiment existed in many upon returning to New Orleans. Oh, and you watch too much TV if you think the guy died from that beating.

Does anyone know if there is a set number of seasons planned from the outset for this series as with The Wire?

Also, I was so disappointed when I realized that this was probably going to be our last look at Slim Charles. Maybe he'll resurface as Batiste's cousin or something!

CajunBoy said...

Well, I think the similarities between Treme and The Wire are more subtle than the basic plots. The Wire, ultimately ended up being about the city of Baltimore as much as it was a cop drama. Treme is obviously about a city. Other similarities include great characters, brilliant dialogue and an otherworldly attention to detail. Both The Wire and Treme, to this point, are amazingly true to their respective subject matters. I know New Orleans, and Treme captures the city about as accurately as I could ever imagine. Conversely, I don't know Baltimore at all, but The Wire made me FEEL like I do.

Media Mindset said...

I posted my thoughts on episode 2 on my blog a few hours ago and I'm sad to say I'm not as positive as some of the internet talk has been today. I don't know, it actually got worse this week and what I liked in ep. 1 was nearly lost totally in ep. 2. I don't see me getting too involved with this show after this week. Of course, that's just me.

http://amediamindset.blogspot.com/

M.A.Peel said...

I'm in. The intersection of a city that isn't the usual tv fare with the specific of recent history is great television. I'm one of the few people on the planet who didn't watch The Wire, so I have no comparison issues. I do remember Wendell Pierce from a few differen Law & Orders.

And I do order King cakes and others savories from Haydels Bakery to help the NO economy. http://www.haydelbakery.com/cakes.htm

Mark said...

great review, as someone who lives (and tweets!) from the Treme neighborhood, and thanks.

Jeff W. said...

Why is no one else making television like this? I mean just the style of it. Because Simon has a unique talent for naturalistic television, or because this kind of show doesn't get big ratings?

Also, how great is that opening credits sequence... I almost always skip opening credits, even good ones, but I think I'll be watching, and dancing to, this one every week.

"Kermit's barbecue tastes right, but it doesn't taste that right..."

Kujo said...

Albert's beating/murder? of the young thief was shocking. Since this a David Simon show, I'm sure this won't be forgotten in terms of the plot. That scene reminded me of moments in "The Wire". Explosive violence. Albert is quite the complex character.

Really enjoyed this ep. Yeah, the tourist were annoying, but I think they captured them pretty accurately.

Nice seeing a cameo by "Slim".

Love how the show has the same type of direction, and cinematography feel of "The Wire". It's a David Simon trademark.

DB Cooper said...

Never disliked a Steve Zahn character before, but Davis is pushing it. The opening scene ("HEY EVERYBODY, LOOK! Coco Robicheaux - LOCAL COLOR!!!!") was as telegraphed and simplistic as anything in the Scott Templeton storyline in season 5 of The Wire.

But Davis was much more charming, if only slightly more believable when interacting with the tourists.

Not thrilled w/ Khandi Alexander's accent, either, but her character is interesting.

All that said, I still liked it. The music is g-d--mn contagious.

tribalism said...

Hurray for a much less annoying Davis! If they can just keep toning him down with each subsequent episode, he'll be tolerable soon.

I have no problem being patient with this show. It took five episodes of The Wire before I started digging it. Right now, Treme is still laying the groundwork. The stakes may not be as the stuff the Major Crimes Unit faced, but if it's a character-driven show it's going to take some time before we're fully invested in it.

Right now, I'm enjoying the bungled case of LaDonna's brother. The ineptitude of monolithic institutions is going to be a persistent theme for Simon no matter what show he's writing for.

You can find more of my thoughts about this episode on my blog where I go into detail about Albert's beatdown of Skinny and what that means in relation to rebuilding the community. Click my username for the link.

Abigail said...

I was in my junior year of Chemical Engineering at Tulane when Katrina hit, and it was so demoralizing to find out most of the other departments were closing just a couple weeks before we were supposed to return.
It's startling to me just how immersive this show is. It's my bands, my bars, my restaurants. Though I can't imagine how I would feel about this show if I hadn't lived in the city at that time.
I absolutely love it.

Scott J. said...

Anonymous said...

Oh, and you watch too much TV if you think the guy died from that beating.


Haha. Thanks for clearing that up. I know this isn't LOST, where the slightest bump on the head is instantly fatal, but still...

Yeah, I do watch too much TV.

Anonymous said...

What happened to the lines of the week? Was that purely a "Wire" feature?

extra said...

They shot @ Tip's ... episode 6.

Anonymous said...

One thing Simon nailed was how tourists are treated differently by different types of New Orleanians....

True locals; born and bred in NOLA, especially a musician like Antoine, would be kinder.

Whereas locals, living in NOLA, but from somewhere else tend to look down on tourists...because they know they are basically "tourists" themselves. they treat out-of-towners like crap so they can feel like "locals." The irony being locals are usually kind to tourists because they recognize the city's entire economy is predicated on tourism.

Guy said...

Among other things, one of the biggest differences between The Wire and Treme is that The Wire made scared of getting lost in Baltimore and Treme makes you want to visit New Orleans.

Anonymous said...

Do you think Albert had a nail gun with his tools?

Cajun Boy said...

Come on Guy, The Wire didn't make you want to get lost and bump into Bodie on a corner? I wouldn't have minded hanging with him for a little while. Of course, I'm talking about Bodie-Seasons 4-5. I definitely wouldn't want to have run into Bodie in season 1!

Dennis said...

The poster who used the phrase "I'm in" as their first line pretty much nailed it for me.

The only thing that was keeping me back from committing was how they would write Zahn's character because I like that guy's acting and I found his scenes in the first ep infuriating; the scene in the record store was the closest I have ever come to turning off a Simon show.

But they bounced back with his portrayal in the second ep and now they have my full trust.

I'll close with a couple of comments on how they're using Simon's old warhorses and I believe Lester will have a harder time gaining distance from his old character more than will Bunk.

I would watch Peters do what he does but more and more I see him as the 50 something that's been there and done that and has more wisdom than he really needs.

OTOH we have Bunk now in the form of a hustling whoremaster who's devoted to the music and wants to play in the right way at the right locations.

Anonymous said...

Scott J. said...

Haha. Thanks for clearing that up. I know this isn't LOST, where the slightest bump on the head is instantly fatal, but still...

Yeah, I do watch too much TV.


I'm confused. I would argue that your typical TV shows (LOST included) have people survive (and walk away from) unrealistically savage beatings all the time. Hell, on most TV dramas for mass-consumption a character isn't dead unless you see them get shot in the head or explode. In real life, an explosive beating like the one Albert dished out could absolutely be fatal, especially when you add the fact that he was hitting him with a pipe and Albert takes 2 or 3 swings AFTER the kid is already unconscious. At the very least the fate of the thief was meant to be ambiguous.

Scott J. said...

True, TV characters survive more than they should, but a good blow to the head often means instant death. I mentioned LOST, because we recently saw a man slip on a wet floor and smack his head on a table, killing him instantly. Of course, Treme is clear at the other end of the spectrum from LOST in terms of realism.

I thought the thief was dead. Which I'll be fine with, if that's the story. Then I read Alan's review, where he said that Albert is "capable of putting a much younger man in the hospital," and nothing about him possibly being a murderer. Now this is the big thing sticking with me from this episode. Is Albert a murderer? It's just not the kind of question I expected Treme to leave me pondering.

Laurie said...

i'm from NO and maybe i put my own spin on Janette's crying after she burned an omlette, but i remember a couple of months after the storm any little thing which normally you would never cry about, could make you cry. Sometimes nothing in particular made you cry. could be PTSD? it wasn't just me either, my sister and friends said they did too.