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Treme Week Two: Read At Your Own Risk!

by Tim Appelo
April 20, 2010 5:10 AM
10 Comments
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Thompson on Hollywood

Spoiler Alert: Tim Appelo and I are so delighted by David Simon's latest HBO series, Treme, that we're going to write about each new episode every week. So read on only if you have seen both episodes one and two at this point, and please join the conversation thread.

Treme’s second episode, "Meet De Boys on the Battlefront," one-ups the spectacular debut. Creator David Simon claims he told an HBO exec, “Fuck the exposition!” but in fact, deft exposition is why the second episode is better, riffing on the themes briefly stated in the first show, filling in the shadows of characters previously sketched quick as the faun Picasso drew in the air with a penlight for Life Magazine. And we’re talking some shocking shadows, here.
Who knew wise-eyed Big Chief Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), seemingly a man of gentle sorrow, was the kind of guy to brain a copper-wire burglar bloody with a bludgeon? Or that Coco Robicheaux would go all From Dusk Till Dawn on a chicken when DJ Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) puts him on his radio show? Most stunning of all, Davis gets a job! In a cheesy Bourbon Street hotel where he can’t tell the ignorant tourists off – though he can send church youth to the down-and-dirtiest dive he knows, panicking church elders.

The kids discover the underworld where Antoine (Wendell Pierce) wails on his bone – both the trombone and, alas for his child’s mother, the other bone that preoccupies him. Granted, the only place Antoine can get a job is a strip joint, but putting Antoine in a room with a bunch of pretty young loose women is like putting your life savings in a room with Bernie Madoff. In some exceptional individuals, vice is so virtuosic, it amounts to a perverse kind of innocence. Antoine will get his comeuppance when he’s forced to introduce the mother of his child to the other mother, of his other child. Who wants to bet they’ll bond against Antoine? Nobody could play this awkward moment better than Pierce.

Stumbling home after a stripper gig, Antoine happens upon an intriguing duo of new characters, buskers Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Sonny (Michiel Huisman). Even though they’re playing for pennies, a step down from the club, Antoine likes their groove and joins in. Annie’s protective of Sonny, who radiates hostile assholery – if John Hiatt were more Cajun, their theme song could be “She Loves the Jerk.” Sonny hates tourists, but in a different way from the various characters we’ve met so far. To watch Treme is to become a connoisseur of 31 flavors of xenophobia. Sonny is an utterly convincing, entirely transparent phoney who busts everyone in sight for his own besetting sin.

While attorney Toni (Melissa Leo) pragmatically sleuths for the missing brother of LaDonna (Khandi Aleander), her zealot professor husband Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) rails that the kids in his college are getting trained in humanistic navel-gazing instead of, say, the skills urgently needed to rebuild the city: “Let's not learn how to do anything, let's just sit and learn about the glory of me, in all my complexity!”

I studied Humanities 101 at Reed College when Eric Overmyer was getting his start in the theatre department; do I hear a critique of our luftmenschy alma mater? (One other real-life point I hesitate to bring up, but I’d be lying if it didn’t worry me: if John Goodman gets any fatter, he’ll explode like Mr. Creosote, who agrees to one more bite in Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life – and if anything could cause a guy to go pop, it’s the kind of operatic jeremiads scripted by David Simon, Eric Overmyer, and David Mills.)

The rap on Treme is that it’s shapeless, but it’s actually rigidly disciplined. When Twin Peaks first wowed everybody and everybody was asking who killed Laura Palmer, Elmore Leonard sarcastically replied, “I don’t think they know who killed Laura Palmer.” But the makers of Treme know exactly what they’re doing and where they’re going. Everyone in the city is a free spirit captive on an invisible train of fate. It’s not too late to catch a ride.

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More: Reviews, TV, Treme, HBO

10 Comments

  • hbo | April 22, 2010 11:03 AMReply

    Miss an episode? Catch up on http://www.hboepisodes.com

  • Jane | April 22, 2010 9:32 AMReply

    If interested check out the following story from the Canadian newspaper the National Post entitled:
    'Still swinging and alive'
    Treme; TV series brings New Orleans music back to the mainstream
    from today's paper
    http://www.nationalpost.com/arts/story.html?id=2936496

  • Mike Drew | April 21, 2010 7:44 AMReply

    @Anne

    You're so right about the parents/kids that you forgot one: Zahn, too, had to hit up mom and pop! (He got the job b/c his dad's loan was contingent on it.)

  • Cotty | April 21, 2010 6:56 AMReply

    Ain't the show grand? It's not that there's no exposition (no story-telling), it's that there's no EXPLANATION.

    At the end of the first episode a man shows up in a giant suit of orange feathers. If you don't know your Mardi Gras Indians, you won't have a clue why the hell that could be happening or what it means, and you won't have known what the neighbor meant when he said he followed Big Chief Monk Boudreaux and the Golden Eagles.

    But that's the glory of it; it presumes you might be interested enough to learn, you might be intrigued enough to follow. It presumes you're not a sluggard. Hollywood screenwriting (perhaps at the direction, from my experience, of many junior executives) is afraid to make that presumption.

    I'll be curious to hear what they're saying about it in New Orleans. Corinne and I head down tomorrow for first weekend of Jazz Fest. I'll have a cochon de lait po'boy at the Fairgrounds and think of you, Anne. Thanks for paying so much attention to this great show. We've got it for at least two years. Allez-y!

  • Davis T. Peters | April 21, 2010 4:15 AMReply

    Echoing gb above, please recheck your notes on the storyline for ep2.

    In the version broadcast on Sunday night (and repeated on Monday and Tuesday), Batiste does not join Sonny and Annie when they're playing for the Wisconsinites.

    And Antoine isn't playing in the bar where Sonny and Annie are having drinks with the former Iraq soldier.

  • Jane | April 21, 2010 3:44 AMReply

    I am addicted to this show and because of the incredible music even my husband has been seduced into watching episodic TV (no small feat)!

    I, too, was shocked by the Big Chief Lambreaux's (my favourite character) brutal beating of the 'copper miner'. Nothing is going to stand in the way of his determination to get his life back to something familiar and fulfilling - his duties as Big Chief. The scene in episode 1 of him emerging from the dark in full regalia was pure magic. I am eagerly awaiting seeing how he gets his group reassembled.

    (I anticipate that his son will have to return to Treme due to his minor drug bust in this episode???)

    I am glad that Davis was more toned down in this episode. He does kind of serve as a bit of comic relief but he was a bit over the top in episode 1.

    I am eager to see where all the story lines and characters go, and how/if they converge. To me it does matter - I love the gradual character revelations, the plot surprises, and the jazz.I can't wait for next week!!

  • gb | April 20, 2010 12:15 PMReply

    I'm not sure of the part where Antoine runs into the buskers after his gig. Did I miss something? Maybe that's EP3. Well, I better watch it again!

    I think the busker duo is going to be the darkest story line yet, if you've heard of the Zach Bowen/Addie Hall story. Everything about them so far is completely in line with that chain of events.

  • Bill Barol | April 20, 2010 9:26 AMReply

    Tim: Good analysis, as always. For me the really shocking moment was the one when Chief Lambreaux wails on the sneak thief with the pipe. They didn't sugarcoat that moment -- it was savage -- but they also didn't overplay it. It was just right. In retrospect, in fact, I can't believe I ever thought Lambreaux would continue to bear up like Job under his burdens. That may have been me getting lulled into thinking Lambreaux would exhibit the preternatural poise shown by Clarke Peters as Lester Freamon in "The Wire"; is it possible Simon et al were playing on our memories of that character and pulling the rug out from under us? Short answer: Sure. They're good, these guys. They know what they're doing.

  • ProgGrrl | April 20, 2010 8:54 AMReply

    I just caught up on both week's of this new show the other day, really liked it. Love how the entire show is marinating in the music. Excellent filmmaking, terrific casting, powerful stuff.

    Davis is beyond annoying, and hilarious. He's comic relief, gentrification/renovation critique, and anti-hero all rolled into one.

    The constant repetition this week of the phrase 'there's pride down on Bourbon' made a big impression. Love the way this show presents outsiders and tourists as both blessing and curse. That earnest threesome of tourists who come upon Annie/Sonny, then Davis at his new hotel gig. Davis gets the job...he loses the job. The way the local players talk about Bourbon Street gigs. Complex, man. Complex.

    Chief continues to fascinate. You just don't know what will come next with that guy. The surprise and thrill of his scene with the copper thief being just one of many of his facets. I also love the fact that his son comes to him apparently to try to convince him to leave -- but almost immediately takes some local gigs and moves right on into the bar with his Dad.

    Goodman gets 2-3 marvelous bits of business per episode. His mini-rant about the university's downsizing was this week's best one.

    Another favorite moment for ep 2: LaDonna standing at Antoine's door, realizing he has (YET ANOTHER) new child. And then, Antoine's latest lady friend catches up. Eek.

  • Anne Thompson | April 20, 2010 7:01 AMReply

    I am addicted to this show. In the first episode Simon and Overmyer precisely and evocatively lay out each of the characters (with help from director Agnieszka Holland). The detail is in the clothes, the gestures, the side-long glances and the sets. And the music threads us along seamlessly from one story to another. The music!!! I am in heaven.

    The second episode is darker, nastier. I gasped when the chief went south in the dark. He is tamping down a lot of anger and it makes sense that he would explode, but I wasn't expecting it. (I found it difficult to see a lot of the night scenes.)

    One theme of Treme 2 was parents and children--the restaurateur asking her parents for money, Antoine dealing with his two families, Goodman talking his daughter into dealing with school issues, the older mother not recognizing her son in prison--because it isn't him.

    I think that the show is building up the struggles and issues these people are confronting--things are not going to get easier for any of them.

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