Joel Anderson: True story: Everyone from Louisiana puts hot sauce on everything.
Aminatou Sow: Welcome back to Glee: Bayou Edition. I love how they just casually dropped "mulâtresse."
Alexandra Gutierrez: Given that Coco Robicheaux tossed that line off while sacrificing a chicken on live radio, I'm not even sure that was the most notable part of his cameo.
Tim Fernholz: The authenticity battle commences in earnest: Who has more symbolic credibility, Iraq veterans or Katrina veterans?
That little note about FEMA funding leading prisons to hold on to prisoners to attract subsidies is classic David Simon: Well-meaning incentives that warp institutions, leading to bad outcomes. It's why his politics are so hard to classify: While his topic here leans toward the concerns of the left, the observation about the prisoners is classic conservative public-choice economics.
The SBA loans mentioned by the restaurant owner ring true, too; when I interviewed Russell Honore (the Army general who was instrumental in the initial stages of New Orleans' post-flood response), he complained about how hard it was to get development loans from the federal government to small businesses in poor neighborhoods (versus already established developments or tourist concerns on Bourbon Street).
Creighton's "This is how it works: It's a zero-sum world. Somebody wins, somebody loses," could be the motto for the David Simon franchise.
JA: Funny you should mention that particular quote. Because I'm still thinking about Creighton going over the post-Katrina school shuffle with his daughter.
I've really got my doubts about the long-term viability of charter schools. But in New Orleans, at least, there's some evidence that they've been instrumental in the improvement in test scores down there. Assuming, of course, that you buy test scores as the sole metric of school performance. And I don't.
Pardon me for looking beyond the second episode, but something occurred to me: Where is this show going?
I've heard more than a couple of people say this show is boring. And I guess if they were expecting The Wire, I could understand that. Because the ending is probably going to be anticlimactic; either people are going to stay in New Orleans, or they're going to leave.
The entertainment is going to be in the journey -- the restaurant owner getting her insurance money, Creighton deciding whether to stay at Tulane or write his novel, Albert rounding up his tribe, will Antoine get back with LaDonna, and on and on.
Either you're going to have to learn to care about the characters, or you're probably not going to like the show.
Reminds me of something Albert said earlier in this episode: "Everyone loves New Orleans music. But New Orleans people ... " and then trails off.
AS: Classic David Simon: He hates institutions and loves people. We're going to have to learn to love these characters like he does.
Joel, I have no idea where this show is going, and I don't think I mind too much. At least not right now. It's been quietly surprising. Like that scene with Albert getting violent -- I did not see that coming.
JA: I was thinking ... he actually might have killed that guy. I'm guessing this was our first hint of how Albert became the "big chief."
The guy is incredibly resourceful. Maybe a little brutal. And it occurred to me that if he killed that copper thief in that abandoned home, he probably could have gotten away with it. I'm going to need to see what happens in the next episode to know what to make of it. I'm guessing that Delmond probably regrets sticking around right now, though.
Also, Creighton isn't big on cultural studies -- or "identity politics majors" as Melissa Harris-Lacewell jokingly called them -- eh? That's gotta ruffle some feathers around the Tulane yard.
He's going to be a little more interesting than I previously thought.
AS: "Look at what they're keeping! Musical theatre." This is again straight out of Ashley Morris' blog.
AG: As far as where the show is going, I think we're all wondering about that. While The Wire was a little slow to start, we at least had a sense of how characters fit. With Treme, it's been a bit difficult to figure out how people are related to one another. On one level, this seems appropriate -- cohesion isn't really possible when the structures and traditions that allowed people to interact aren't really in place at all anymore.
One of the things that's making it difficult for me to really get into the show is that while we know the points of conflict, we don't really know any "villains" -- anyone from FEMA or NOPD. We're getting a little bit of that with the discussion of the Calliope Projects and LaDonna's search for her incarcerated brother, but we're still not intimate with any of the characters who are impeding progress in New Orleans.
JA: BTW, I'll never smell barbecue the same way again.
AS: THANK YOU JOEL! I'm the only one that laughed at that BBQ joke. Speaking of, I don't know what to make of Antoine's story line. I mean I love the comic relief he provides, but I hope there's more than women and money problems in his life. Also, thank goodness someone rescued Khandi Alexander out of CSI: Miami.
JA: I love how they slipped that line in there about how LaDonna's mother had "never been anyplace else ... not even Baton Rouge."
That's part of the real tragedy of Katrina. Pardon me if I'm wrong here, but I believe before the storm, New Orleans had the highest percentage of native residents of any major U.S. city. Something like more than three-quarters of the city.
It's important for viewers to remember that picking up and leaving isn't that easy. Where would they go? Everyone and everything a lot of them know is in New Orleans. Or at least, Louisiana.
AS: I think what Treme does best is capture the fear that things will never get back to the way they were -- that there won't be Mardi Gras, that people's friends won't come back, that there won't be another second line, that the restaurant won't stay open …
We've gotten a specific idea of all the characters' fears, but now I want to see what their expectations of the future are. In real life, we have people who are excited by the prospect of green architecture (Brad Pitt's homes, etc.), some who want the land to revert to wetlands, and others who want the whole city to return to 2005. I wonder how Creighton, Antoine, Albert, LaDonna et al. will handle this, and if this is the central conflict that will connect them all.
TF: Really not enjoying this Elvis Costello cameo. Does he even have any real association with New Orleans or New Orleans music?
AG: I'm just waiting for him to show up at Bullets. I don't get the point of his cameo at all so far. It is like he is playing Pokemon, except with New Orleans musicians.
AS: He recorded an album in New Orleans with local piano legend Allen Toussaint after the hurricane in efforts to show the city's music scene wasn't dead.
AG: The outsider characters all feel so awkward. The Wisconsin volunteers were out-of-control clueless. I can't call them caricatures of well-intentioned white people, though, because I've witnessed -- and embarrassingly engaged in -- the behavior they're teased for.
Albert's line about how "Eeeverybody loves New Orleans in Houston"? It stung, but there's truth to that. I grew up in Houston and had a lot of friends and family who went straight to New Orleans after the hurricane to help out. I heard so much talk about the rebuilding effort in 2005 and finally ended up going down for my spring break as part of a Habitat for Humanity trip.
The first day, we went to work on the Musician's Village project in the Ninth Ward, where our job was literally to shovel piles of sand from one place to a spot a few yards away. After hours of getting sweaty, feeling good about ourselves, and being mostly ineffectual, we proceeded to Bourbon Street and got stupid drunk on Southern Comfort. It was clear that this was do-gooder tourism and not really an effective way to help repair the city. The point wasn't for us to build houses but to feel the charitable warm fuzzies so we'd give money to actual rebuilding projects in the future (we were told this multiple times).
AS: I felt a pang when it became apparent nothing bad had happened to those Wisconsin church kids in the Seventh Ward. Very harsh but very true.
I think the reason Elvis Costello doesn't bother me and those kids do is that even though they're both outsiders, their missions are diametrically opposed. Elvis Costello actually cares about the musicians in New Orleans and the city's musical legacy. Those kids, on the other hand, are there to gawk at the devastation and make themselves feel better. The response to Katrina from people in my 99 percent white church in Austin and the conversations around race that ensued were a big part of the reason I left the church and eventually Christianity all together. Disaster tourism also leaves me feeling very uncomfortable. I realize I am projecting a lot on those Wisconsinites, but perhaps that's exactly what those characters are there for.
AG: Class was a way bigger issue in this episode than it was in the first.
AS: I don't remember a stronger class narrative since Roseanne. It's fascinating to navigate the different worlds here and observe the contrasting ways the storm has affected each of them. Toni and Creighton's house is hardly hit, but they obviously care deeply about the fate of the city and the misfortunes of those around them. Toni goes above and beyond to find LaDonna's imprisoned brother and clashes with NOPD repeatedly. Antoine, LaDonna's ex-husband, can barely pay for his cab rides. Albert had to take justice in his own hands to recover his stolen tools. Janette is struggling to keep her restaurant open. It was not in the least bit surprising to learn that Davis is a trust-fund baby. Janette and Davis both have family safety nets to fall back on when they need more money. Toni and Creighton are well off. The others are not so fortunate, but they are all in this together.
Katrina put a spotlight on the disparities that already existed in New Orleans. It will be interesting to see how money and power structures affect the rebuilding process for each character.
JA: As far as the class narrative, I think Treme may explore -- hopefully -- some of these divisions within race through LaDonna's relationships with her current husband and ex-husband Antoine.
Because even though black people are lumped together into a single monolith in lazy media accounts and well-worn tropes, class also plays a very big role in their -- our -- lives. Like anyone else.
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 noted earlier seems only to have "women and money problems in his life" and doesn't seem to be looking to leave.
By the way, I've gotta mention that it's fantastic Treme brought in Phyllis Montana LeBlanc. She was such a colorful voice in Spike Lee's When the Levees Broke documentary and only adds to the realism of this whole enterprise.
TF: Joel, when you concluded that as viewers, "you're going to have to learn to care about the characters, or you're probably not going to like the show," I think that was exactly right, since it is unclear what else is on offer here. The problem, for me, is that few of the characters are that fascinating so far. Talking about our favorite Wisconsinites, Amina observes that "I realize I am projecting a lot on those Wisconsinites, but perhaps that's exactly what those characters are there for." Many of the show's characters seem to be on screen to fulfill that role, which makes it harder to buy into whatever discussions of class, or what else, are happening.
That said, I thought the stories of Janette and Albert were both compelling this week. Shall we take bets on whether Albert is a murderer or not? I think yes.
JA: In retrospect, I agree with you. My thought is, if Albert had just beaten the guy up, he probably would have rushed away from the scene and washed the blood off his hands later. But he didn't appear to be in any hurry to get away.
Albert doesn't appear to be the least bit cuddly.
AS: What a contrast to Janette's breakfast meltdown earlier in the episode. They're all handling stress the best way they know how.
Tim, I agree Janette's story is compelling. I want them to shed more light on her relationship with the elusive Jacque. That man is too quiet. What is his story?
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