Joel Anderson: First things first, they're spot-on with regard to the accents. Also, people from New Orleans dance unlike people from anywhere else. So far, this "feels" right.
Before we go any further, I should probably admit my secret shame: I've never seen a complete episode of The Wire. So most references to it will go completely over my head.
Try not to judge me.
Tim Fernholz: Probably for the best, actually, in writing about Treme.
Aminatou Sow: You're so right about the accents and the feel. I was so not ready to see a naked Steve Zahn.
Alexandra Gutierrez: I kind of wish I were in your position, Joel. My expectations may be too clouded by The Wire. The thing that I'm most interested in is how Treme will handle the institutions that failed the city in future episodes. When Simon wanted to show us Baltimore, he showed us these problematic, grinding structures -- the dysfunctional police department, the drug trade machinery, the media that lost its way -- that often cost people their lives. And within each institution, there were characters with potential and goodness in them.
With Treme, these structures seem mostly absent so far. There have been a few cops on the periphery, but let's consider the characters we've seen: musicians who have achieved varying degrees of success, restaurant and bar workers, and a WWOZ deejay. Then there's Creighton and Toni Bernette, our professor and lawyer pair played by John Goodman and Melissa Leo. They're the only two who seem to actually be engaging with the power structures that devastated New Orleans, and they're also two of the least interesting characters. That said, I still have high hopes for Leo. She was awesome in Frozen River, and I think she could probably rule hard in this.
AS: Not to pull The Wire comparison card, but I do have to say I am slightly optimistic about the female character development in Treme, specifically Leo's and Kim Dickens' characters. I was very disappointed with The Wire's lack of leading ladies, and hopefully this will be different.
AG: Totally. But yeah, given that even today, so many of New Orleans' problems are tied to institutional breakdown, I'm curious to see where Simon will go. And I'm actually a little excited that the show isn't exactly The Wire: Port of Call, New Orleans.
JA: "So many of New Orleans' problems are tied to institutional breakdown." Word.
I don't think there's any way to gloss over this, particularly in post-Katrina New Orleans. I just figured Simon and Co. focused tightly on the individuals early on, so that there could be a macro focus on the city in the episodes to come.
And while Simon knew Baltimore backward and forward, I wonder how he and the other writers will navigate the show despite a general lack of institutional knowledge about the city.
But again so much about the pilot was -- and should -- have been about the individuals. The woman trying to rebuild her restaurant, the musicians trying to restart their careers, the families simply trying to reunite. There's a lot of stuff in there.
We talk a lot about how the people of New Orleans are what make the city special. So rarely do we actually get the opportunity to know these people, and Treme -- in a way -- will give us a chance.
Also, I was glad to see the pilot include the closing of the Tower Records store in there. My wife, who grew up about 45 minutes east of New Orleans along the Mississippi Gulf Coast, has talked about this a lot over the past couple of years. Tower choosing to close up shop and leave town was seen as a sort of betrayal to the people and the city; like they were giving up without a fight.
As you might imagine, that didn't sit too well with the natives.
TF: My least favorite character, and I think this may be controversial, is John Goodman's activist intellectual: too much of a caricature of the pedantic, outspoken professor. His family suffers similarly, with the precocious daughter and scrappy lawyer mother both hefting their fair share of tired tropes. We can hope that these outlines will get fleshed out in ensuing episodes, but right now their plotline seems forced, more designed to enable other stories than to stand alone.
Steve Zahn's washed-up musician, Davis McAlary, comes dangerously close to the same territory, but he's so endearing -- a certain shirtless charm -- that it's hard to take offense. The writers didn't do him any favors by inserting him in the Elvis Costello cameo, which seemed to substitute a gimmick for storytelling, wasting time in the opening for a one-off guest shot. My caveat on that criticism is that it looks like Costello reappears in a future episode, so all will be forgiven if it turns out Costello is actually a character himself.
JA: You know, I actually felt the same way. John Goodman annoyed me, for some reason. I think Goodman's character might merely be a vessel for the political commentary of the show's writers. I hope that doesn't happen.
I'm not sure how I felt about the general shiftlessness from the main characters, outside of Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), a Mardi Gras leader who insists on coming back to New Orleans despite his family's wishes. Perhaps that's a function of so many people feeling rootless after the flood. But Davis and trombonist Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) -- the characters who mostly carried the first episode -- really don't seem to have much to do.
Is that a musician thing?
Also, I fail to believe jazz legend Kermit Ruffins, who plays himself, didn't know who Elvis Costello is. Like, really?
AS: In defense of Goodman, I love his first scene with the Claiborne Avenue Bridge in the background. His character is inspired by the late Ashley Morris, a local blogger and "the man most likely to call [Mayor] Ray Nagin a fuckmook to his face." That scene brings to mind his f-bomb-laden tirade.
JA: To me, the most enduring image of the first episode is Lambreaux in the streets, in full "chief" regalia, dancing in the street, insisting that he be heard, begging for people to come back (to his tribe), defiant as ever. Maybe that's corny. But, to me, that's so much of what post-Katrina New Orleans is about.
Especially during a weekend when some members of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference, held in New Orleans, seem convinced that there's nothing to see here, thanks, keep it moving.
AG: The episode succeeds in creating a sense of the city and, more important, giving us hugely personal introductions to the major players of the New Orleans jazz scene. (Perhaps maybe too personal. I'm with Amina in that I didn't need to see Steve Zahn's tush tonight.)
I thought the set up was great. I love that it started with Batiste (The Bunk! And an actual New Orleans native!) navigating the "second line" -- the less than official but absolutely clutch portion of a parade where brass bands play without permits to people who dance like crazy. Only, in this parade, there's no main line. There's no orderly, sanctioned celebration; official New Orleans is gone. Instead, there's just a bunch of people who are trying to capture something that reminds them of home.
AS:"They’re doing it! The first second line since the storm," sets up the psychological profile of this episode. There is so much loss and powerlessness, but the music and traditions prevail, lifting spirits. Also I am beyond ecstatic that America gets to see there is more to New Orleans than Bourbon Street.
TF: I thought that scene was deeply satisfying and joyful in a very simple way, and also a classic case of David Simon manipulating his viewers with slick first impression. Batiste is good with that trombone, really good -- we're all wondering, I think, which actors are playing their own instruments -- and you can't help but cheer him on. But he's also a cynic who screws over cabbies and provides the episode's grace note, telling his bandmates to play for that money before the funeral march.
Joel's right, though, that the dominant image in the episode is Peters' Mardis Gras Indian marching through the streets at night. Peters' character, and I know I promised myself I wouldn't do this, seems to share the same traits as his Lester Freemon in The Wire -- a relentless loner, pursuing an obsession with a seemingly lost cause to the mystification of those around him. What a strange and arresting sight, at least for someone who has never visited New Orleans (I think a Prospect-funded field trip is in order, guys). That's what has me looking forward to this series going forward: Not so much what I've seen in any of the characters, yet, but the promise of a more disruptive and alien picture of the city, both patently absurd and deadly serious.
Like Amina -- who correctly predicted that a Mystikal track would grace the soundtrack -- I'd like to hear more Weezy. While you get the premonition that jazz is about to become more popular, you can't forget Cash Money records.
JA: Also, in addition to more Weezy, I want to hear more bounce music. A little DJ Jubilee, Jimi, some earlier Mystikal stuff.
AS: Right? Who knew "Shake It Fast" would be culturally relevant again? Mystikal is recently released from prison so let's hope we hear from him soon.
JA: Without a doubt, even if I don't die in New Orleans, I want to be sent home with a jazz funeral.