Three episodes in now. Is anyone else watching this? I’m happy to say each episode is slightly better than its predecessor. Or (and this is the point of this probably premature post) I’m getting more adjusted (to the fact that this is not The Wire). Just some quick observations:

Heavy on performances. And I wonder if this is a crutch for the writers. I suppose one can’t do a show about New Orleans and not have music and lots of it. And I’m not saying there should be less music. But there seems to be a (almost) smug self-consciousness about the performances (whether they are by street performers or by professionals making cameos, such as Dr. John). In tonight’s episode, Bunk…I mean Antoine says that New Orleans is good to its music, but not to its musicians. So there may be some overcompensation going on here–and it’s not as if it’s not entertaining, but I wonder if the show’s creators/writers are in a bind. You want to show the musicians, but you can only show that you are showing the musicians, which is not the same (does that make sense?). The final scene in tonight’s episode (#3) is of Albert (Clarke Peters), a member of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, performing–honoring–a former member whom Albert and another had found dead in his house. As they are playing, a tour bus rolls up and you can see flash bulbs going off inside. The group stops playing and tells the bus driver to drive away, which he does. Treme is the object of hurtful watchers. Nancy Franklin kinda touches on this problem in her review in The New Yorker–we are watchers of Treme. She says “The series virtually prohibits you from loving it, while asking you to value it,” and I now think I understand what she means. But Franklin doesn’t spend any time talking about the fact that Simon et al. are doing a series for HBO–that is, the creators are asking us to value New Orleans, but they’re also asking us to watch Treme. Also: the final shot of tonight’s episode was fantastic. Hope there’s more to come.

Do I like these characters? I can’t tell yet. By the second episode, I became annoyed with the street musicians–a pianist and his very talented fiddle player girlfriend. Tonight, that changed. Why? Because some shit went down between them and they became, well, real. Do I have much patience for Davis? At first, I thought I had about as much patience for him as I did (do) for Howie Mandel. But he’s growing on me. Like mold on a house in the Lower 9th. Favorite character so far: LaDonna. And, lastly, an interesting bit of casting: one of Spike Lee’s most compelling subjects from his documentary, Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, plays Antoine’s girlfriend. I like her better in When the Levees Broke.

Not much story yet. The only thread I can pick up is the disappearance of LaDonna’s brother. This may lead (is leading) into interesting places, such as politics and race. LaDonna is married to a guy whose family is “into that seventh ward Creole shit.” But his family is also–it seems–part of the problem: they pull the strings that make things happen, and the non-Creole blacks are the ones that things happen to.

Last: I’m uncomfortable with the cameos. Maybe because there have been so many of them? Or maybe because they call more attention to the general discomfort about watching Treme that Franklin is talking about. This is what I feel when I see Elvis Costello in Treme: “What’s he doing here? Is he on display for me, or is he just there, and, if so why is he there? Is he a tour bus? Am I a tour bus? If I am, then he can’t be. Or are we both tour buses?”

Cue snare drum.

4 thoughts on “Treme

  1. I am watching this, but I find it more and more annoying as each week passes. There is something about the lives and loves of musicians which just doesn’t translate on the big or little screen (unless, of course, they are hooked on drugs). They are, by nature, an odd lot (and I teach theatre!). The show’s narrative threads are already growing stale. Steve Zahn’s character is excruciating, and John Goodman’s is almost as annoying. I do like the fiddle player but her boyfriend is also annoying. Don’t like the bone player. Don’t understand the Indian chief. More Alan Rudolph than Robert Altman, this series feels like homework. The socio-political critique makes sense, but, more and more, the show is way too turgid for my tastes.

  2. Finally got around to seeing last week’s episode (not last night’s) and enjoyed it more than any of the others . . . maybe because Steve Zahn’s character gets beat to shit. Still a bit too agitprop for its own good.

  3. Are you still watching, John? I have and though I still think 40% of the narrative to be annoying (most anything involving a white male character), the series does reward the patient and loyal viewer. It’s all in the details, and what beautiful details they are. I can’t say I’m hooked (and I’m not packing any bags), but there are a number of characters I most certainly have grown to care about, and the way this place, this very foreign geo-cultural anomaly hovering loosely at the borders of the US of A, is brought to life (however idealized and maybe even Disneyfied in its own ramshackle sense of cultural and historical superioity) is compelling. I truly don’t understand such soulful fealty to one’s “home.” I have jumped around far too much in my life to ever buy into the mythic resonance embodied by a particular spot on the map, but this series does help me understand that melancholic yet essential connection to a piece of earth. And the music . . . and those musicians who have fully committed themselves to their art and this city does draw me in week by week. There is a richness and generousness at the center of this television series which must be applauded. I loved the return of the Tokyo jazz lover on last week’s episode. And John Goodman this week? I think that plot point was over-telegraphed, and it does return me to the annoying side of this narrative . . . but still . . . it sets up a hell of a finale.

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