By Anne Thompson | Thompson on Hollywood April 26, 2010 at 12:34PM
Tim Appelo and I are riffing on each episode of David Simon's HBO series Treme, which brought me to tears during Ep. 3:
TIM: Is it just me, Anne, or do the women put the men to shame in Treme’s third episode ("Right Place, Wrong Time")? Is anybody cooler than Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Batiste-Williams? I’m loving the way she snaps her index finger in righteous indictment of her AWOL roof contractor. Desiree (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc), who’s married to LaDonna’s ex Antoine (Wendell Pierce), has the same feminine toughness. Everybody raves about the priceless hapless look on Antone’s face when Desiree reaches for her propers minutes after he’s been improper with a stripper. But how about the look on LaDonna’s face when she finds out about Antoine and Desiree’s baby?
Antoine has one of his best scenes to date when he stumbles home after his strip-joint gig, digs buskers Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Sonny (Michiel Huisman), and croons a beautifully raspy “Ghost of a Chance” with them. But Annie’s character grabs me even more than Antoine the bad luck magnet. Annie’s protective of Sonny, who resents her greater talent and radiates hostile assholery – if John Hiatt were Cajun, their theme song could be “She Loves the Jerk.” Even before Sonny said much of anything, my wife said, “That guy looks like trouble. Cute, though.” So is Micarelli – she’s like Meg Tilly in 1983, only sweeter, smarter-seeming. And didn’t you think this was the night’s best line delivery? Plucky restaurateur Janette (Kim Dickens) to her ex Davis (Steve Zahn) when his motormouth slows down the sex reunion she’s indulging in against her better judgment: “Davis, try not to talk.”
ANNE: Didn't Janette say that to Davis the last time they slept together? She's feeling so lousy about her tough straits, as they enjoy a fancy-dancy dinner at a more prosperous restaurant, that she looks appraisingly at Davis and figures they might as well have some fun. "Have you at least changed your sheets?" she asks.
Yes, LaDonna dominates this episode, from the way she flirts with her husband to get him to talk to his brother the judge, to the look she throws over her shoulder at her brother-in-law's secretary when he lets her into his office. She opens up to her lawyer (Melissa Leo), admitting that it feels like she and her folks just don't matter to the Creoles or anybody else. That got to me, because it's about how thousands of people in New Orleans felt abandoned after the flood.
Everyone seems to be on a short fuse, as both Antoine and David run afoul of hot-tempered cops. The episode sets up the contrast between the Dr. John recording session of "My Indian Red," and the down-and-dirty authentic percussive version performed by Albert Lambreaux and the Mardi Gras Indians. Their bonding ritual also moved me; they're there for each other--only to be gawked at by a Katrina Tour bus. (HBO's Treme website posts the music from each episode; some songs are available iTunes.)
Doesn't Lambreaux remind you a bit of Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino-mode? There's tamped anger ready to pop behind the glint in his eye. And it looks like he may get some romantic action around the corner in that little yellow house.
TIM: Exactly, Anne – Clarke Peters’ Lambreaux has Clint’s do-ya-feel-lucky-punk vibe. In The Wire, he was so professorially virtuous, shooting glances over those half-glasses, but here he’s a hissing fuse. I don’t know which was more startling, when he beat that thief kid or when he got a terrified guilty look when somebody told him the kid was in hospital and might die. Now I wish I’d waited until the third episode to tell everybody to watch Treme. It definitely felt diffuse in the first show, a bit so in the second, and I can see why it was no-sale to some. Susan Orlean blogged, “Forgive the blasphemy but I was underwhelmed by ‘Treme.’” I implored her to give it one more chance – The Wire was not built in a day. And the third episode is where it all starts to come together, gather momentum. But I wonder if it’s like Desperate Housewives or Lost – if you don’t watch religiously, you won’t get the stories?
Another nagging worry: The Wire gave you everybody’s point of view, cops, criminals, politicos. So far, the cops are strictly seen from outside, as the bad guys shooing the buskers, keeping streets free of art, or brutally avenging Antoine’s innocent drunken trombone-scrape on a squad car by smashing his ‘bone and his embrochure, like they were reenacting SNL’s “Let’s Hit Al Hirt in the Mouth With a Brick Contest.” I know, New Orleans cops pop up in the real news as real bad guys, but even if Treme plans to not have any good cops, can we at least see something through their dastardly eyes? Or is writer Eric Overmyer so O.D.’d on Homicide and Law & Order he just won’t go there anymore?
By the way, even if she’s wrong about Treme, I recommend Susan Orleans’ blog for this recent post: “Wow, until now, I never really appreciated the fierce sexual competitiveness between Wendy and Tinkerbelle.” Wonder if Treme will give us some sexual competitiveness between LaDonna (clearly still crushing on ex Antoine, no?) and Antoine’s second baby mama Desiree? Or do you think they’ll be fast friends bonded against him, busting him for his stripper-shtupping, child-unsupporting ways?
ANNE: No way LaDonna gets back with Antoine. He disappointed her too deeply for her to feel any trace of attraction. She just wants him paying some attention to their kids--and that's why she was so taken aback when she saw his his current squeeze Desiree and child. She knows it's a doomed exercise, now. And his Desiree doesn't even know if she can hang on to him, either. LaDonna is in love with her current husband. One of the layers playing out in all the relationships is class--LaDonna feels snubbed by her husband's people, Janette feels she is too good for Davis, and John Goodman's academic has high ambitions for his daughter that do not include Davis's striding "piano lessons."
My sense is that these characters are laid out and it's unlikely we'll get too many new ones to follow...but tangling with the cops is likely to be an ongoing trope.
Check this HBO tribute.