TAP Talks Treme: Right Place, Wrong Time

Joel Anderson: I think the third episode was the best so far. Which isn't a surprise. And I'm liking Antoine (Wendell Pierce) a lot more than I thought I would, mostly because it's bound to be fun -- or at least interesting -- wherever he turns up. Still not sure that I was ready to get that familiar with his hindquarters, though.

Aminatou Sow: "I brought beignets. ... Who you fuckin'?"

Phyllis Montana LeBlanc [who plays Antoine's girlfriend] for the win! And Pierce deserves an award for his facial expressions in that opening scene.

Strong, beautiful episode. And so quotable!

"You do not motherfuck the National Guard." The comic relief provided when Toni (Melissa Leo) bails Davis (Steve Zahn) out of jail is in direct contrast with the gravitas of Antoine's police-brutality episode and subsequent imprisonment. Well done, David Simon! I, too, now despise NOPD.

JA: Right on. I think, finally, Treme is coming together for some of those viewers who were disappointed by the first two episodes.

We're beginning to see how the characters' lives intersect; some are becoming likable (Antoine), others detestable (Davis, Sonny), and at least one is becoming unreadable (Albert); and we're starting to learn more about how and why -- in the writers' opinions, at least -- some of the institutions failed the people of New Orleans.

By the end of the episode, every time I saw an NOPD car, I just knew some shit was going down.

Also, I should note that it was the late great David Mills who got the lead writing credit for this episode.

Alexandra Gutierrez: Everything finally seemed to come together: Sonny and Annie accompanying Antoine, Antoine deservedly getting help from Toni, Toni rescuing Davis' undeserving ass, and Davis ruffling Creighton's feathers.

Tim Fernholz: The class resentment between LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) and her in-laws is fascinating.

Why is Creighton (John Goodman) giving Davis so much static about the piano lessons for his daughter? Was Davis being creepy in some way that I didn't notice?

AS: This was so weird, and I am still trying to understand it. Maybe I watch too much Law&Order: SVU and Oprah, but I had this feeling Creighton was telling Davis not to creep on his daughter. But that is too weird and out of left field.

TF: Yeah, that's the impression I got as well, but it didn't seem like Davis had done anything to engender that sort of warning.

Love John Goodman's excitement about YouTube.

JA: I thought it was weird, too, the way Creighton was giving Davis the side-eye. I was almost waiting for Davis to put his hand on the girl's thigh or something. But in general, I just think Creighton finds him to be full of shit.

AG: It seemed to me that Creighton's reaction was part overprotective and part disdain. From the first episode, it was clear that Creighton really enjoys being a role model for Sofia, and he looked really reluctant to pass off the role of the cool adult to Davis.

TF: You'd think Creighton, New Orleans enthusiast, would be happier that his daughter is learning the local standards.

JA: Yeah. But Creighton has some ambivalence about the "arts," doesn't he? At least when I think back to his rant a show ago about what programs Tulane was keeping and dropping.

I just wonder if he finds musicians to be, hmmm, lowlifes or something.

Also, it wouldn't take long for anyone who met Davis to figure out really quickly that he's kind of a poseur.

AS: Thank you, 2005, for YouTube. I mean he's absolutely full of shit. He can play Professor Longhair's "Tipitina," but I can't wait for his and Creighton's relationship to blossom. They will have plenty to talk and argue about.

AG: As if it weren't obvious already, this whole episode really drove home how inauthentic Davis is. The confrontation with his neighbors was absolutely brilliant. Every single music legend Davis listed his neighbors seemed to know more about. Davis thinks blasting his stereo at all hours ups legitimacy when all it does is make him obnoxious.

That said, for absurd as he is, I kind of love him. He works really well as a foil to all the other characters who actually seem to be struggling, and good comic relief at that.

And by the way, I loved that Creighton was reading Rising Tide during that scene. Please let him break out Isaac's Storm next.

JA: I couldn't tell if that song Davis wrote was a joke or not. It's better for him if it was.

AS: I think he was dead serious with that song. It's a way for him to reconcile with the new gentrifiers in his neighborhood.

TF: There's an undercurrent of questioning the value of New Orleans, too. When Davis is talking to his lawyer and says, "I want my old city back," it just seemed like he was whining. Some of these characters are so stuck in what the city used to mean to them that they can't even begin to rebuild their lives.

Similarly, when the chief's (Albert, played by Clarke Peters) son tells the other musicians that "music is music; it doesn't matter where you live," it seemed like such a breath of fresh air but was immediately buried under empty sentimentality.

AS: Everyone is faced with some hard truths this week: Davis embraces gentrification and writes music inspired by it. Antoine learns there is very little prestige and almost no money for jazz musicians who stay behind. Albert is betrayed in the most intimate manner when his way of mourning is intruded upon and transformed into a tourist attraction.

Joel, re: Sonny (Michiel Huisman) -- I don't know how I feel about this man. When he holds up that bottle of Beaujolais and asks his girlfriend, "Surprised you, didn't I?" I was even more astounded than she was by this sweet gesture. The experts over at Back of Town have astutely noticed the Shake the Devil Off connection.

TF: The connection with Shake the Devil Off is fascinating; I hadn't noticed that before, either. His birthday gift was nice, but his jealousy and moody drinking suggests trouble coming down the pipe.

AG: The musical hierarchy became really apparent in this episode.

On one level, you have the pros like Kermit Ruffins who cameoed in the first episode and Dr. John who appeared in this one. Then come the guys who play gigs like Antoine, who got teased plenty for bragging about jamming with the big shots even though his best chance at making money is playing at a strip club where he isn't even the main attraction. Then you have the street musicians who make spare change and are regularly hassled by the cops.

That's actually why I found the Annie and Sonny story so interesting. Annie's a phenomenal musician (Lucia Micarelli, who plays her, is a Julliard-trained violinist), and when real-life pianist Tom McDermott picked her off the street to play a private gig with him, she jumped up a couple of rungs on the ladder. Sonny initially responds to McDermott's attention to Annie by commenting that they're all the same, they're all musicians. But his obvious resentment of her success shows that this statement is just not true.

AS: Last week, Alexandra said this show needed sympathetic authority figures. Between NOPD and the National Guard's heavy-handed, misguided behavior and the Orleans Parish sheriff who lies to Toni, I don't think that's going to happen anytime soon. Wish I could help Toni sue the parish!

Another scene I enjoyed was Ladonna apologizing to Toni in the bar and informing her she asked for Bernard's help. Bernard, of course, has not called Toni and probably never will because, as Ladonna explains, "they into this Seventh Ward Creole shit like they a different race. ... They the people pullin' strings, gettin' shit done. People like us? My mother, my brother? We just folks from around the way."

And did ya'll also think Albert was going to kill that kid sneaking around in his bar? That boy's lucky his alibi checked out. Bad news is Albert is definitely going to hook up with his aunt Lula.

JA: I think my favorite line of the show was from Albert: "Motherfuckers think people won't fight. And most won't. But some will."

He didn't even have to say that he falls into that latter group. We already knew that.

And it kinda revisits some of the concerns -- or conspiracy theories, depending on where you're sitting -- people in the 9th had about the intentions of the government and developers.

AG: What did everyone think of the Wild Man Jesse subplot?

The discovery of his body by Albert and Lorenzo is definitely one of the more gruesome things we've seen so far, but even more unsettling was the memorial service that the Mardi Gras chiefs held for him. It's a really moving tribute, until a Katrina tour bus interrupts. Albert makes clear to the driver that he and all the photo-snapping passengers have no right to be there and that they won't know what New Orleans is really like from taking an air-conditioned tour of the city ...

... just like we won't know what it's really like from watching Treme on our respective couches. It was this weird moment of meta-commentary where you realize that no matter how good or "true" the show is, it'll never succeed in showing us what post-Katrina New Orleans is really like, and Simon knows it. It also kind of made me feel like a jerk for not just watching this show but trying to dissect it.

JA: Regarding the Wild Man Jessie subplot, I had been waiting on a scene like that. I figured it was only a matter of time.

So far, viewers of the show have mostly been spared some of the disaster-zone feel of the city in the months after Katrina. This was the first episode that we started to dig into some of those really ugly sides to post-storm life.

I can only imagine how the scope of the damage must have looked to people who returned to New Orleans. It must have felt something like hopelessness. Jessie's son really captured some of this when he mentioned, almost offhandedly, that "birds ain't even coming back to this neighborhood."

AS: This show is very hostile to outsiders, but eventually they're all going to have to let someone in …

JA: That's right.

I'm really ambivalent about disaster tourism. And there's no way for me to know what my thoughts would be if I were a New Orleans resident dealing with that sort of intrusion into my neighborhood.

But there's also a part of me that believes people need to know for themselves what the devastation looks like down there. The scope of it is nearly unbelievable. And for those who can't see it themselves, we need people who can tell them what's going on.

We all know a lot about the music, food, and culture of New Orleans. You don't even have to visit to have some clue about it. No doubt, Treme will probably do a fantastic job of showcasing all of those things for its viewers.

But getting into those decaying neighborhoods, seeing all the billions of dollars worth of damage wrought by the flood -- that's ugly to deal with in real life and on the small screen. And I'm not sure that anyone really benefits if we don't know the full extent of it.

TF: This point seems really important to me. While the disaster tourists and inept volunteers aren't displaying much cultural awareness and tact, the fact that they aren't simply ignoring the event speaks to a certain good impulse at the heart of a lot of boorish behavior.

Treme may be an exercise in learning how to understand the aftermath of this disaster and empathize with its victims without resorting to caricature or becoming caricatures.

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