Blogging Treme: Right Place, Wrong Time.

I have to admit, I hadn’t watched Treme until last night. It’s not because I didn’t want to watch it, it’s because I really really did. I’ve never started watched a David Simon show as it unfolds, but rather in a months-long Netflix binge that makes the whole thing more like reading a book than watching a weekly show, which is as it should be. I knew the first complaints about Treme was that it would be slow. I wanted to watch it build instead.

And that’s what the show does, a slow-motion immersion into a new world that both respects you enough to get it’s peculiarities on your own and doesn’t care whether you do. Sunday night’s episode, the third, concentrated on indignities, large and small, the Treme-residents are still putting up with four months after the storm.

The episode opens with Antoine banging a stripper, and then coming home to his wife, who rightly accuses him of cheating on her. We then quickly visit Davis in jail, who rather heavy-handidly tells his attorney, played by Melissa Leo, “I just want my city back.” I understand that his character loves New Orleans, and Treme, and wants everything to be normal, but this lines makes too broad a really personal sentiment. I wish he’d said something that sounded more like it related to him rather than a grand vision of a Great American City, and said “I just want it to be normal here again.” Some of the other characters occasionally drop lines of a city-wide ethos and desire, but when they say it, it rings true.

Ladonna’s family still can’t find her brother, one of the many prisoners lost during the storm, and almost no one cares to find him. She reaches out to her brother-in-law, a civil court judge who promises to make some calls (which, realistically, might be all he could do in real life, but he’s a jack-ass about it.) Leo, who also is this family’s attorney, tries to reach out to a small-parish sheriff and asks him, sensibly, to simply take fingerprints. But the sheriff rudely puts her off. One can imagine the bureaucratic nightmare that would be opened by him acknowledging that he has a prisoner under the wrong name, but one can’t forgive him for refusing this sensible act.

Sonny, the keyboard player who feels left out after his girlfriend Ann gets a fiddle gig, goes home and drinks the wine he bought her for her birthday after scraping together $20 in change. Lambreaux finds a body that’s languished for months under a boat, and when he and his group sing a plaintive and then somewhat jubilant lament, a Katrina Tour bus comes through to survey the disaster porn. And the troubles aren’t over for Antoine, who stops to sing a beautiful little song on the street where Sonny and Ann are playing, only to run into a cop car, get beaten for no reason, and being forced to drop his trombone.

Up until then, the music had been a salve, an interjection to the frustrations of normal life. Now, the music was the source of the indignity, bringing the unwanted gawkers into a private moment. The show is slow-paced and impressionistic, but only so that it can build more power along the way.

  • Kia

    I can relate to how the viewing experience is altered by watching a series in “real” time.

    That Davis would make such a broad statement seems fitting to me, he’s nothing if not over the top, but from what little I’ve read he seems a problematic character for lots of people.

    LaDonna’s phone message to her brother in law along with her line that her light skinned in laws acting like they are another race, made me so happy that Khandi Alexander escaped CSI Miami (not that I begrudge her a network paycheck) and has some material worthy of her talent.

    Lastly, did you recognize the teenager Lambreaux chased off his premises and later came by with his aunt looking for work? I didn’t but my husband was sure he was the little kid from those ubiquitous People Pc ads. These kinds of sightings always make me feel old !

    • Scipio Africanus

      The boy that got chased off looks like a young Louis Armstrong to me.

  • Nice recap, yo.

    A few things:

    1. Finally, I’m starting to understand why Simon and Co. had so many of the lead characters as musicians. Because, in a way, it’s easier for them to interact with everyone else and tie the other story lines together, whether it’s in the Quarter, at clubs in other part of the city or, hell, even in jail. So many viewers were waiting to see how the characters are connected, and I think this is how it’s going to be done. I mean, even Albert’s son Delmond serves in this role for the show.

    2. It was first brought to my attention during TAP’s dialogue about the show, but geez, I really hope Sonny and Annie are not patterned after the story of Zack Bowen and Addie Hall.

    But it would explain why there’s this sinister feel to Sonny. That dude just seems dangerous to me.

    3. I’m glad that you mentioned Davis’ comment about wanting his city back. Delmond kinda digs into this idea later, when he’s sitting around talking with his musician buddies after a recording session. He’s encouraging one of his friends to leave the city, and build his career in some place like New York or Paris.

    And then the conversation turns when one of the older musicians says something to the effect of “there’s no place like New Orleans.”

    Of course, this is literally true. But I hope that “Treme” doesn’t spend so much time celebrating all the things that make the city great at the expense of digging into some of the uglier sides of New Orleans and the post-Katrina recovery. I mean, there’s a way to find a balance. And if anyone can do it, I’m sure it’s David Simon and his crew.

    4. I mentioned that every time I saw a NOPD car or some other law-enforcement agent that I figured some shit was going down. I hope it’s not always that way. I think, no matter what we think of what went on down there in the days after the flood, that the role of the government is more complicated than them being fuck-ups and assholes.

    At a certain point, vilifying them totally and completely seems too cartoonish.

    5. Davis gets on my damn nerves.

    • quadmoniker

      Yeah, I had Davis too, but I don’t know whether it’s him or Steve Zahn I hate.

      • On Davis:

        I think he is going to be the vehicle for a critique of whites that claim to represent *the* “authentic” New Orleans. When he tries to challenge his neighbors, he goes into a typical rant about how they don’t know shit, and he knows everything, and he appreciates the true, “authentic” NOLA. Ok fine; he can rattle of some locally famous musicians names and addresses.

        But then he says something to the effect of ‘You don’t understand, the Treme is one of the most important black neighborhoods in all of New Orleans!’ His lack of self-awareness is palpable–look motherfucker, you’re white! you’re doing the same so-called invading you abhor!–but it played out purposefully to me. As in, Simon intentionally has him written as the little white cheerleader for the black musicians, and at some point, his punk wannabe ass is going to get put in his place. You know, something that situates New Orleans as more than its black residents, something that critiques its white cheerleaders for fetishizing the racialized “authentic.”

  • This week’s ending completely blew me away. Three years ago was our first time back to N.O post Katrina and the city wasn’t really “back” yet. Water lines were still seen everywhere. The one thing that really stood out to me that trip was how hard everyone was pushing those 9th Ward tours to tourists. The hotels, organized tours, cab drivers, everyone was trying to extract max dollars out of the tragedy. It reminded me of those buy a piece of Ground Zero people post 9/11 and hit me in the pit of my stomach, made me sick. Predatory opportunism at its absolute worst. Simon and Co. are recreating both angles; the natural hustle in native New Orleans people and the human cost for that perfectly.

    The other thing I think the show is getting to, that is so important to N.O., is that the powers that be from the Federal Government to the big real estate developers like Trump to the insurance companies did not want people to come back. FEMA was slow-notice how the stripper got her trailer quicker, the insurance companies delayed paying out. They were trying to break people to make them more open to leaving N.O. with the idea of turning N.O. into a Las Vegas on the Gulf. But they didn’t bank on people like Chief Lambreaux and LaDonna’s mother, people who own their little part of the city and refused to leave it.

    I like Davis. He is a pitiful PITA but at least he is a genuine a$$. 😛

    I think I could have done without the Delmond New Orleans doesn’t love its musicians conversation but I think it’s going to lead us to a something with his character. Big Chief isn’t clear of his dirt quite yet.

    • Scipio Africanus

      I’m only up this episode so far, but I kind of like Davis, too. It’s John Goodman’s character that’s annoying me. I compare them becasue they’re both white men and they both kind of elitist white liberal dorky jerks. But Davis seems to be totally aware that he’s a dork, whereas John Goodman’s character is comnpletely smug and seeminglyun-self-aware. I’m not seeing anything from Smon and o. that indicates that I am supposed to find John Goodman’s character problematic, but there’s plenty ofthat from them about Davis.

  • girlfriend

    i first got hip to David Simon through a guy i was seeing, he loaned me a book called “the corner”…i could not put it down! i know that they were writing about real people but…it was a great read, so when i heard that he wrote “the wire” it was definitely a must see.

    treme is different, different city, different people, different plot line. the wire it is not. entertaining it is. i will keep watching.

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