"People do a lot of dumb s--t 'cause it's easier." -AlbertWhat 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?