Sunday, May 02, 2010

Treme, "At the Foot of Canal Street": The out-of-towners

A review of tonight's "Treme" coming up just as soon as my coffee drink is comped on behalf of my overwhelming righteousness...
"But New Orleans is still my home!" -Antoine
On "The Wire," David Simon was fond of illustrating a thematic point by having characters in very different social circles experience the same kind of event: McNulty and D'Angelo getting chewed out by middle management in the series pilot, or Namond and Clay Davis espousing the same philosophy about free money. With "At the Foot of Canal Street," Simon and company - here with "Wire" alum George Pelecanos scripting a story he wrote with Eric Overmyer - are doing parallel play again, as we see Antoine, Sonny and Delmond all traveling out of town for different reasons.

Antoine is a son of New Orleans, through and through. Born there, raised there, with no interest in going anywhere else (though perhaps he'd feel differently had his musical career gone differently), he has to be goaded repeatedly by Ladonna just to take the bus to Baton Rouge to see their sons, and even then he mainly goes for the promise of free dentistry from Larry.

Delmond is a son of the city, too, but a prodigal one. Never invested in his father's Indian traditions, or the city's music, he got out as quick as he could, and as he tells his manager, while he's from New Orleans, he doesn't play New Orleans. He has a girlfriend in New York (one of several, it would appear), and would be happy to never go back were it not for family or professional obligations.

Sonny's no son of New Orleans, but he wishes he was. He tells everyone, including Annie, that he dreamed his whole life of living there and playing that music. But a year and a half into living his dream, he's still basically on the outside looking in: a street musician always playing in the shadow of his more talented partner. So he journeys to Houston, hoping to be more accepted in the world of New Orleans expatriates than he's been in the city itself.

Ultimately, each man's trip away from New Orleans is only so satisfying. Antoine's time in Baton Rouge prepares him for a permanent solution to his embouchure problem, but the bridge he builds with his sons is only temporary at best; even he can recognize how guarded they are around him after so many years of disappointment. Sonny's fantasy of acceptance only lasts as long as it takes the band leader to spot another, more accomplished keyboard player in the crowd. And while Delmond has access to the finest in New York culture, he finds that professionally, he has to tie himself back to his home city to succeed.

Antoine happily returns to New Orleans. Sonny's trip back is more mixed - Houston didn't quite work out, and he returns to see Annie thriving without him - but at least he takes pleasure in bringing the Houston bouncer along with him, and introducing another outsider to the city he loves. And Delmond isn't going back yet, nor does he seem particularly eager to go.

In the wake of the storm, many natives had to leave the city, and many of them never returned. "Treme" is focusing on either the ones who never left or the ones who found a way back, but "At the Foot of Canal Street" provides a brief glimpse of three worlds that many New Orleanians found themselves in after Katrina.

Speaking of leaving town, Delmond's scenes in New York had to be filmed out of production order, which means I got this episode very late in the process. In the interest of getting the review done in time for posting after it airs, let's deal with everything else bullet point-style:

• I'm sure Baton Rouge has many fine independent restaurants, but of course Antoine's kids would have fallen in love with Friday's and The Olive Garden, wouldn't they?

• Ladonna does Antoine a good turn, largely for the sake of those boys, but you see in the trip back to the jail to confront her brother's impersonator that she is not to be messed with. Khandi Alexander beautifully portrays the character's soft and harsh sides, doesn't she?

• Once again, please go read Dave Walker at the Times-Picayune for his weekly explanations of all things New Orleans on "Treme." I'm sure he will have much to say on the notion of the lagniappe.

• As Dave has written about in the past, many of the characters on "Treme" are based on real-life New Orleanians. Much of Creighton's character in general and his YouTube rant in particular come from the late blogger Ashley Morris, for instance. Delmond, meanwhile, owes quite a bit to Donald Harrison Jr., who was also the son of a Mardi Gras Indian chief and left the city to play jazz from a different school. What's interesting, though, is that it appears Delmond will be touring with Harrison (who already played alongside Delmond in the pilot episode); I'll be curious to see if the two characters bond over their shared past, or if Harrison will mainly be there to play music while Delmond lives out a fictionalized version of his story.

• Anwan Glover returns as the fake Daymo, and we get two other "Wire" alums in small guest roles: Jim True-Frost (aka Prez) as Delmond's manager, and Steve Earle (aka Bubbs' sponsor Walon, and also the singer of the season 5 theme song) as one of Annie's musician friends (the other was played by Earle's son, Justin Townes Earle). And unlike most of the other famous musicians who wander through this show, Earle isn't playing himself.

• Darius and his aunt Lula return, and things seem to be setting up nicely for Albert to take the kid under his wing to teach him some combination about life, contracting work, and Indian tribes. With Lorenzo leaving town and Delmond never showing an interest, Albert's got to have someone to pass this stuff on to - just as the writers need a novice character for him to explain the culture to, the way Lester had Prez on "The Wire." (Also nice to see that Albert is just as gracious with the ladies as Cool Lester Smooth.)

• I thought it was a nice touch that the insurance salesman understood what a horrible thing he was doing to Albert and so many customers like him, and that he acknowledged it a bit by explaining that he sleeps at night by drinking.

• I was waiting to see if or when the show would address Michiel Husiman's slight Dutch accent, and here Sonny talks about growing up in Amsterdam. (And his friends, in turn, allow Pelecanos to throw in a joking nod to the Hamsterdam story from "Wire" season 3.)

• Though Creighton has plenty of venom for the rest of America, he seems to be softening just a bit towards Davis, doesn't he? He gives him a ride back to his busted car, empathizes with him about the stolen instruments - and the diminished nature of lagniappe - and looks like he can relate as Davis goes to town on the inflatable lawn display.

• Janette, on the other hand, has far less patience for Davis as things go from bad to worse at the restaurant, and then as he turns his attention from her troubles to appearing to flirt with Annie at the bar. And as with McNulty poring over tidal charts on "The Wire," this show isn't afraid to spend long portions of episodes just watching characters work in (near) silence, here with Davis composing his political "pot for potholes" song.

• Very funny reaction from Rob Brown after Delmond's girlfriend pretends to spot Janet at the party.

Finally, in case you've missed the news, this is the last "Treme" review I'll be doing before I relocate to HitFix.com. I'll still be reviewing every episode there the exact way I did here, so just change your bookmarks accordingly.

What did everybody else think?

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thought I heard a little shout-out to "Hamsterdam." Apparently Simon and Pelecanos couldn't resist.

Brother Mouzone said...

I like the little reference from Sonny's friend: "I mean, Texas itself, shit, it's not Holland or Hamsterdam or wherever you're from."

Anonymous said...

Alan, pardon my pedantry, but as a saxophonist, I have to point out that the term is "embouchure", not "embrasure"

Amanda said...

Haven't seen the ep yet but quick correction: Steve Earle's son is called Justin Townes Earle. He goes by Justin, not Townes. As a long time Steve Earle fan, after two albums Justin is on track to surpass his dad in all areas, already has in some.

HNIC1971 said...

That scene with Delmond and the African-American cultural elite really illustrated to me how far he really is from New Orleans. Also, how much he likes it.

Anonymous said...

I know it's pretty nitpicky, but one thing that stood out to me was the fact that Creighton's computer was running Vista, which wasn't realized until 2007.

One of the extremely few errors -- anachronism or otherwise -- that a David Simon show has made. Obviously it takes nothing away from the episode itself, which again was fantastic.

Anonymous said...

When Davis went to town on that Santa in front of John Goodman, all I could think was "this is what happens when you **** a stranger in the ass!"

machpo said...

Nice call-back to Season 2 of The Wire - for the Greek, it's "Business, always business." and for Antoine it's "Pleasure, always pleasure"

Chuchundra said...

I agree, Anon. I was having a bit of a Lebowski flash there myself.

I have to say, the show doesn't really seem to be going anywhere, but I really enjoy just spending time with these characters.

Pamela Jaye said...

I just wanted to pop in, on a show I don't even watch, to say, it's been fun here (you made me love Chuck more than I think I might have on my own, though the decision to watch the show was made on seeing the very first promo).

And I wish you all the best in your new home (and I'm glad you won't be pulling this all down - though comments to old posts are moderated if I recall, I hope you'll check in to pass them through (I finished Gilmore Girls last month, for example)) and now I must remember to peek into hitfix tomorrow but I guess that won't be hard, as tomorrow is Chuck day - the day I'm least likely to forget to check your blog (these days, it's like dessert after Chuck).

Onwards.

Anonymous said...

I'm pretty sure that was XP, not Vista.

TrueBloodfan said...

The best show on tv right now.

Anonymous said...

I don't know if it was just the lighting in the scene but ol' Prezbo looked so much older than I remember. I heard the voice and connected it immediately but really had to examine my TV because I kept doubting myself.

Also I was very happy to hear Earle play. His Wire character was one of my favourites.

Creighton and Davis finding an equal ground through wanton destruction and gravel could lead to great things. They'd make a damn fine dynamic duo.

LP said...

I had no idea that he was supposed to be from Holland.

JP said...

The only anachronism that's getting me is...in the scenes in the Spotted Cat, the stage is misplaced. The stage used to be against the left-hand wall as you look at it from the bar, rather than against the front windows. The stage was moved in 2008-2009 timeframe.

But I'm just wistful for how you used to be able to set up a chair on the street and listen in from the front door. No biggie.

Alan Sepinwall said...

Hamsterdam! I knew there were going to be things I forgot to put in the review in the rush to get it posted on time. Thanks for pointing it out, guys. Now added to the official review.

Doug S said...

I woudln't be able to tell Vista from XP, but I'm positive there was a video on the You Tube sidebar labeled "Katrina 2 year anniversary" in the scene where Creighton was watching GWB's speech. Jarred me a bit.

I like this show for the atmosphere (it actually plays like a documentary), but wonder what the long-term arc/point is. Merely to show how the lives of several residents were upended by Katrina? Powerful, I guess, but lacking an overall line of conflict, which to me is necessary to sustain a show over a couple of dozen episodes. I would expect interest to lag soon if this plays like an inside-baseball view of NO much longer.

Carrie said...

This show gives me more pure pleasure than any other on television right now. The music, the actors, the accents, the writing...the whole vibe is just fantastic.

Loved seeing Steve and Justin Townes Earle. As Amanda said upthread, JTE's first two albums are pretty great. Talented guy.

Chuchundra said...

One other minor computer nit. Creighton's flat screen monitor is a little out of place for late 2005. He'd be more more likely to have a CRT or maybe a much smaller, LCD. Those big, wide-screen monitors did exist in 2005, but they were very expensive. Also, I don't think that YouTube's page layout looked like that in 2005, but I'm not 100% sure.

This type of thing is going to create big headaches for production designers in the years ahead. If you want to set a show or movie five or ten years ago, you're going to have to spend a lot of effort to make sure the technology is appropriate, otherwise it's going to stick out like a sore thumb.

Hutch said...

I love the show, although I am finding the "famous musician of the week" cameos are getting a little distracting. It seems somewhat contrived and takes me out of the show. If they did this occasionally I think these appearances would be more successfully integrated into the storyline.

Brad said...

I wish I can take credit for my favorite Twitter of the day thus far:
"Steve Zahn is the Jar Jar Binks of Treme." I could not agree more. After last week's scaled down version of his annoying antics, he was back in full force in last night's episode. And in keeping with Alan's code of not discussing previews, I'll just say his new venture along the "Pot for Potholes"campaign only promises to make the Davis character that much more irritating. My wife does not watch the show simply because of Zahn and the sound of his voice blaring from the other room. More Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce please. God, ANY other character but Davis. Ziggy was a pleasure to watch in comparison. So unlike D. Simon to have a clown character like this have so much focus. I am loving Treme thus far so I guess having one major beef with the show isn't so bad. BTW - Alan, big CONGRATS on the move - I will continue to follow you on the new site. I am such a big fan of your writing & insights on my/our favorite shows! Keep up the great work.

Sarah Redmond said...

Re: Sonny
When they mentioned that Sonny was from Amsterdam, I figured the writers were at least a little inspired by musician/songwriter Anders Osborne, who immigrated to New Orleans from Sweden in the 90s. More on him here:


http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anders_Osborne

Seems plausible.

Anonymous said...

What does they clap on the 1 and the 3 mean?

Anonymous said...

Clapping on one and three (as opposed to on the backbeat of two and four), is another in the many digs at white people that this show does. Imagine the outrage if any other group was reduced to such a cultural stereotype. Do 99% of the white people on the fringes of the music scene in this show have to be clowns? Really?

So far we've learned that New Orleans is wonderful, the government is evil, and white people have no rhythm. Did we even find out if Antoine lost his trombone? This show is all gravy and no potatoes. It's extremely well done, but four episodes in there really is no story to speak of. I'll hang in there with it, but I'm just sayin'...

Kevin said...

"What does they clap on the 1 and the 3 mean?"

Music is mostly kept in 4/4 time. That means there are 4 beats in each measure (a segment of time defined as a number of beats of a given duration).

So when you hear music, you can usually count it off in rhythm as: 1-2-3-4,1-2-3-4,1-2-3-4 and so on. The proper way to keep rhythm by clapping is to clap on the second and fourth beat. So when he said they clap on the 1 and 3, he was basically saying they can't keep a proper rhythm

Alan Sepinwall said...

Did we even find out if Antoine lost his trombone?

Toni told Creighton she spent all day looking for it, unsuccessfully, at the police's chaotic evidence control center.

Colby said...

I guess I need to rewatch the episode, 'cause I don't remember "white people" being alluded to at all, much less in the "Portland, Oregon" discussion.

Yeesh, in the Simon-verse, can they even come much whiter than Jim True-Frost?

Colby said...

Also- 'cause now I'm off like a pistol- the only real clown on the show is Davis (and this is just a guess, but I don't expect him to stay a pure clown for long. Even Ziggy killed a guy). Sure, Sonny's a mope, but the show treats him seriously. His girl is a serious musician. Creighton, his wife, and Jaenette are all portrayed as smart, capable people. Hell, even the college missionary-type kids were shown to be open minded and appreciative.

I know that "acting black" is as popular of a knock on Simon as you can get (which isn't saying much), but in this show, so far, it's kind of a complaint in search of facts.

belinda said...

Hamsterdam! Thanks to the reader, I didn't even think about that until I read this post.

I don't know if it's purely because I hate lawn decorations, but seeing Davis fight with Santa made me like Davis a little more. He's still kind of the clown in the show, though.

Khandi Alexander ROCKS. Ladonna is my favorite character so far in the show.

I also noticed the whole windows vista/xp discrepancy (I thought that it IS vista, which would make it 'wrong', but I'm not sure) and the youtube page not looking right for the year, but while it is a little annoying, I don't mind it so much (at least, not yet!). Seeing Creighton's little wry smile on his face after his rant was worth the technical discrepancy.

berkowit28 said...

@Kevin: "The proper way to keep rhythm by clapping is to clap on the second and fourth beat. So when he said they clap on the 1 and 3, he was basically saying they can't keep a proper rhythm "

That's the "proper way" for jazz - as heard on the show - and for a lot of popular music, yes. Not for all music (hence the unnecessary derogatory comments of Anonymous #826).

Ryan said...

I love this show mainly because of the music and characters, which are some of the best on television. Plus we have tons of Wire-esque engaging confrontations and subtly witty dialogue sprinkled throughout this show. From start to finish, Treme is always a great time. The stories aren't exactly gripping me quite yet, but it's still very early and I'm soaking everything in.

The acting is superb, particularly from these great actors: Wendell Pierce as Antoine; Steve Zahn as Davis; John Goodman as Creighton; Khandi Alexander as LaDonna; and Clarke Peters as Albert. I look forward to seeing these five in every scene they are in for various reasons. Alexander in particular is a revelation - I have never seen her act before, but those piercing, menacing eyes and her convincing expressions are top-notch. And I can see why some viewers may hate the divisive Davis, but he's a passionate, eager, witty young man and the way Zahn plays him makes him a blast to watch!

Drifter said...

Since we're talking nitpicks, I think it was Antoine standing in front of a sporting goods store hailing a cab in this episode and a Saints #25 jersey was in the window. 25 of course being Reggie Bush, and one of the best selling Saints jerseys. Howeer Reggie wasn't a Saint until May 2006, and wasn't #25 until that summer. Reggie got the #25 from one of the older running backs (name escapes me at the moment) who never had that many carries and thus didn't move a lot of jerseys. So it's highly unlikely a store would hang a #25 in the window.

And that's my only criticism of this show so far. I find myself caring about Antoine's bone more than most shows and their running plotlines.

Anonymous said...

#25=Fred McAfee

Speaking of jerseys, Deuce McAllister's #26 was looking a bit small for Antoine's eldest, like the nerf bat and ball for his youngest. Loved how he wore it anyway, and the long hug he had for Antoine at the depot.

Caravelle said...

On Creighton's computer : it is Vista, check out the toolbar on the bottom of the screen. XP had that green start button/blue bar motif IIRC, unless you chose the Win95 pattern of gray on gray.

Huh, and me who was anxiously looking at the youtube page to see if they'd made it look like in 2005, which was difficult because I don't even remember if it looked different in 2005. But evidently they're not overly worried about computer-related historical verisimilitude. More power to them I say; I can enjoy Treme without it being the Mad Men of 2005.

PanAm53 said...

"XP had that green start button/blue bar motif"

We still have XP with the green start button/blue bar motif. I think Treme is more enjoyable because it isn't trying to be the Mad Men of 2006. Nitpicking about all these little anachronisms is distracting. I feel the same way about Mad Men. As long as the whole looks right for the time, a couple of tiny details really don't matter. I don't think that people who are constantly on the watch for teensy little anachronisms are enjoying the shows as much as the people who just sit back and look at the big picture.

Anonymous said...

While Vista didn't come out until 2007, you could get Vista style themes for XP from as early as 2004. Crisis averted.

Anonymous said...

Longhorn (Vista's internal MS codename) skins from that period didn't include the icon translucency nor the windows styles of the final Vista RTM which was shown on his desktop and when he launched the webcam App. Still it's nice that we have enough geeks who watch the show to actually notice it and that he wasn't using a shiny iMac like most of the pretentious TV/Movie set designers want.

Anonymous said...

Easy on Steve Zahn. His character is based on a real person, New Orleans DJ/musician Davis Logan. And every tourist town -- mine, Charleston, SC, included -- has its zealots who go a little overboard sometime pining for the authentic.

And please, can we not nitpick Creighton's computer to death? It's a damn good show. Enjoy it.

LA said...

Finally watched last night, and I decided to read comments before I added my own. Now I'm simply LMAO over the minutiae between XP v. Vista and don't even remember what I was going to say.

Matthias Galvin said...

Great writing, Alan.

There is one thing that lots of people seemed to have missed: at the Houston Club where Sonny begins to realize himself as something of a literal and figurative alien, the singer there is John Boutte, who also sings the opening song to the show.

mjrhoff said...

Good catch, machpo. I think Antoine's "always for pleasure" line is also a reference to the 1978 New Orleans documentary "Always for Pleasure," which Simon apparently used as something of a model for the show.
http://tunedin.blogs.time.com/2010/04/09/dead-tree-alert-treme-plus-full-treme-review/

mjrhoff said...

Also, the ponytailed guy in the hospital waiting room was played by Sam Medina, who appeared as a thug in "Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans" and apparently popped up occasionally on "K-Ville," "Treme"'s evil twin.

http://www.imdb.com/name/nm2795989/