Blogging Treme: Meet De Boys on the Battlefront.

From the very start, we were warned.

“Treme” is not “The Wire,” and anyone tuning in to HBO at 10 p.m. Sunday – or watching the show through some illegal feed – expecting something similar was going to be disappointed. You would have to be patient, meet the characters and learn their motivations and ambitions before rendering judgment.

This ain’t no hackneyed cop drama, you dig? And this isn’t some BET-inspired minstrelsy. This is a show about real people enduring real troubles in a city that’s as much myth as anything else.

LaToya Peterson said as much before the pilot episode ever aired:

These types of shows are about affirmation in a vacuum of constructed portrayals, of individually truthful narratives where people only expect to see pathology.

And to some people that might be boring. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

But if viewers stick around until the end, I get the feeling that “Treme” will be rewarding in ways that fans of David Simon have come to expect.

After two episodes of “Treme,” Simon and Co. are still painstakingly introducing us to the show’s central characters. There’s not a lot of time for shots of dead bodies, or abandoned neighborhoods, or even flashbacks to the flood. Nothing gratuitous like that.

Instead we start off with New Orleans blues legend Coco Robicheaux sacrificing a chicken in Davis’ studio, something of a nod to the influence of voodoo in the area’s culture. We don’t see the bloody sacrifice, mind you, but we know that it happens when we see the blood smears on the wall later in the show.

From there we revisit restaurant owner Janette Desautal (played by Kim Dickens of “Friday Night Lights” and “Deadwood”) who leans hard on her family for a $6,000 loan to keep her business open while she waits for insurance and government loans to come through.  As Tim Fernholz mentioned over at The American Prospect, it reminds us of the troubles small businesses in poor neighborhoods had securing development loans from the federal government.

We’re then introduced to street keyboardist Sonny (played by Michiel Huisman), who can barely contain his contempt for a group of Wisconsin students in town to help with the recovery efforts – or as its often known in other precincts – disaster tourism.

I’m not sure if this is the voice of the writers or a really well-drawn character. Either way, I find it hard to sympathize with Sonny or Davis or even lovable Antoine Baptiste, who all come off as condescending in their smug devotion to authenticity.

“Have you ever even heard of the Ninth Ward before the storm? So why are you so fired up about it now?” Sonny asks the out-of-town do-gooders.

His annoyance is understandable. And not at all productive – that’s no way to earn a few extra bucks.

Maybe it’s a musician thing; once again, I don’t know. But tourists are people too and I suppose it’s here, with Sonny and the others, that Simon and Co. will highlight this dichotomy between the locals’ appreciation for charity and frustration with the general cluelessness.

Antoine is still drifting around town, stopping only to visit his girlfriend and baby mama Desiree (played by real-life Katrina evacuee Phyllis Montana LeBlanc) who is rightfully suspicious about where he spends his time away from the home. Whatever he’s doing, she figures, it’s not nearly enough to feed a family.

“There is a difference between a gig and a job, Antoine, you gotta get a job,” she tells him.

And it’s not even clear Antoine is all that worried about the difference; he nearly turns down one gig on Bourbon Street later in the show presumably because it’s, well, Bourbon Street.

Meanwhile, Antoine’s ex Ladonna is struggling to maintain her lounge in Treme while caring for her family in Baton Rouge.  Over at TAP, I suggested that Ladonna’s relationships with her current husband and Antoine might work as a class narrative, where “Treme” may explore some of these divisions even within racial groups.

What better place to highlight these class conflicts than in New Orleans — one of the original homes of the “paper-bag parties”?

You’ve got LaDonna’s current husband, who might be considered, ahem, light-skinned in some quarters, who seems to have a respectable job and is tugging at her and her family to abandon post-Katrina New Orleans. And then you’ve got Antoine, who Aminatou Sow noted in the TAP dialogue seems only to have “women and money problems in his life” and doesn’t seem to be looking to leave.

And then there’s Albert, who’s clearly not going anywhere either.

If only Albert could be our stoic hero. But “Treme” won’t make it that easy for us.

He wants to rebuild his tribe, his home, his city. This episode suggests things could get ugly if anyone gets in the his way, and offers a possible explanation as to how he ascended to “big chief.”

In a search for a copper thief who stole his tools, Albert confronts the likely suspect in an abandoned home. The boy’s insolence earns him a brutal beating at Albert’s hands. Possibly a fatal one – it’s not immediately clear.

If you were looking for a violent outburst reminiscent of “The Wire,” there you go.

But there’s no guarantee that there will be more bloody brawls. Kate Shea Kennon at blogcritics points to a recent radio interview where Simon and “Treme” co-creator Eric Overmyer posed the question: “Can you do a show about regular people – [a show] not about doctors saving lives or gangsters killing people or people making decisions about the fate of democracy in the West Wing?”

I think you can. And so far, I think Simon and Overmyer have done it well.

But the real question is: does anyone want to watch that show?


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • Great recap. Surprised you didn’t mention Steve Zahn’s character, Davis. To me his character symbolizes the heartbeat and urgency of the ‘real New Orleans’- in addition to being one of the most hilarious slackers I’ve seen in a long time. When he put his speakers in the window blasting Mystikal’s-Bouncin Back at his yuppie neighbors, I was hysterical!

  • Ash

    Well, The Wire took a while to introduce the characters and establish itself too. I have yet to see the second episode since I don’t get HBO, but so far, I’ve been impressed. It feels so real.

  • Great write up!

    The cameos and music were amazing. If all the show does is introduce me to N.O. legends and their music I think I’ll come away satisfied. I got the impression we might see more of Allen Toussaint with the Elvis Costello story line. That would be very cool.

    Even though I think Saints belongs on the PB overplayed to death list from a few weeks back I was offended or at least resembled Sonny’s remarks. I am a frequent NO tourist and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of Tipitina, but what the hell, there’s pride on Bourbon St 😀 I couldn’t help thinking what Sonny needed most was a smack for being rude. But when my daughter protested Sonny’s attitude my correction to her was for empathy. Dude had a right to be cranky no matter how misplaced and its interesting how Treme is slowly covering all the angles in terms of post Katrina experiences and feelings. His is a legitimate question; the 9th was a war zone pre-Katrina and still is now. But it doesn’t lessen the impact regular folks from out of town had on rebuilding. I used to frequent a foodie website called Egullet that helped document the rebuilding of Willie Mae’s Scotch House (maybe the best fried chicken I’ve ever had) If you scroll down a bit and click through the various links they’ve photo documented the entire reconstruction, it’s fascinating.

  • The Slim Charles cameo is the closest Treme will ever get to The Wire….and I think it will be it’s own, equally important, show as a result.

    I think I must have liked The Wire for all the wrong reasons because I don’t find Treme boring in the slightest. I’m sitting here constantly Googling the Nola cultural references, enamored by Simon’s depiction of the *physical* life after the storm–the buildings, the streets, etc.

    Anyways, am I alone in seeing a little bit of David Simon in Goodman’s character Creighton? Or, at least, a little taste of how Simon sees himself? Articulate, outspoken, too sharp for his own good, fucking angry all the time, writer, pundit, artist, critic etc?

    • blackink

      I’m right there with you, in thinking Creighton has a little bit – or a lot – of Simon in his character. I really think he’s going to be the outlet for Simon’s political and personal feelings about the rebuilding effort and all things related to post-Katrina New Orleans.

      Which is fine. But I do hope Creighton is about a little more than bluster, you know?

      And in a way, for the moment, I’m comfortable not having seen “The Wire.” That way I don’t have any substantive expectations for the “Treme.”

      So far, I think it’s an interesting show in its own right. Then again, I’m already interested in most things New Orleans. I could see where others don’t feel quite the same way and just want to, you know, see some shit go down.

  • low mein

    just fyi. the creighton character is based on Ashley Morris who, sadly, died a couple of years ago. the zaun character is based on Davis Rogan. But still, I do think there is a bit of simon in both of them.

  • ” I really think he’s going to be the outlet for Simon’s political and personal feelings about the rebuilding effort and all things related to post-Katrina New Orleans.”

    Yeah that’s it right there.

    • Not to go back to ‘The Wire’, but do you think there was a character on that show who functioned in large part as a mouthpiece for Simon?

      I sorta want to say Bunny Colvin.

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  • Thanks for the mention. You have a superior blog here! A welcome discovery.

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