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Naked City 2

September 17, 2012

As I marathoned through Season 2 last week, I found that as I took notes there were certain things that got circled as I went, my own strange note taking method. As I went through the notes, putting the circled items in list form I noticed something interesting. A record, a memorial, a documentation in a dramatic format of New Orleans during that time period.

It has been said over and over again that this is a drama not a documentary. Yeah, that Magic Hubig’s from the first season still pops up in conversations now and then, amazingly. (Given the recent fire that shut down Hubig’s bakery, many of us would be delighted to have one magic or not.) I have to say though, that watching Season 2 in an uninterrupted block over three days was to see it differently. Having it spooned out one week at a time is exciting, but seeing the entirety of the writing and research that went into putting eleven episodes into a thematic context was riveting.

Here on our couch, we shook our heads over the lack of Emmy nods for amazing performances. We delighted in the music as always. “Oh I forgot about that!” was pronounced as certain plot turns were unfolded. We still hollered and whooped over Janette’s Sazerac, Aunt Mimi and the Bounce record, the incredible can’t-miss-a-frame Mardi Gras episode, Sonny on the oyster boat, Desiree’s face when the little box at Christmas isn’t a ring and her telling Antoine he needs a “job job”, and Antoine’s band complaining via voicemail. We sobbed all over again watching Dinerral Shavers’ funeral and marveled at his sister’s courage in doing that scene.

The dramatic threads are great fun. Is Hidalgo redeemed this season? Will Albert figure out Del’s financial subterfuge regarding the recording? I’m telling you though, even if you don’t give a rat’s ass whether Toni and Terry start speaking again, or Desiree finally drags Antoine to the altar, or Sonny stays clean there’s a lot that’s important in these episodes. It’s the real stuff.

I wrote a piece in July 2011 called Naked City. In it I tried to explain why I thought this show was important, as yes, an historical document. I still feel that way now, maybe more so. In that piece I had said:

Fifty years from now, some kid will stumble onto this show as it travels through the paths of the internet, or whatever will pass for the internet by then, and they’ll be as touched by it as we were the first time we ever saw Grapes of Wrath. Steinbeck’s story and Fonda’s Tom Joad put a face on the downtrodden Dust Bowl travelers, showing us their camps and their struggles and their dreams. Maybe Treme will do that for that kid and he’ll be amazed by the fortitude of those absurd, superfluous people who lived in New Orleans when the Federal Flood came.

In Season 2 there is a subtext for those of us who live here. Yes, young man of the future, there really was a Helen Hill, and yes her husband did save their child. Yes, there really was a Dinerral Shavers. Yes we really did lose them that year.

Did you notice Colson’s nemesis, Captain Guidry? That actor’s name was Michael Showers and we lost him this year. That fella with the long hair at Harley’s impromptu memorial at the park, yeah, that guy. The guy with the gravelly voice. That was Coco Robicheaux. We lost him this year too. He was a terrific musician and a fixture on Frenchmen Street. The older man with the big bass drum playing with Treme Brass Band? That was “Uncle” Lionel Batiste. He’s gone now too. A New Orleans institution in and of himself. He was a musician, mentor, bon vivant. He is probably ensconced in vacation photos of people from all over the world and they probably have a smile on their face when they point to that photo taken with him.

Real people. Aren’t you lucky that you can see them?

Yes, young viewer from the future, we really did have a Mayor that let us down, Oliver Thomas portrayed his own downfall with courage, and yeah, many of us were very sad when he was indicted because we had hoped he was better than that. Uh huh, there really was a “Recovery Czar” and yes he was really that arrogant, and in the end, inept. Yes, we really were beyond angry when then-President George W. Bush said “Not One Fucking Word” about our city in his State of the Union address. First we were stunned, then we were angry.

Yes, there is a Danziger Bridge and yes, there were cops indicted and convicted of shooting people there during the storm’s aftermath. That gigantic March you saw with throngs of people in the streets carrying signs saying ENOUGH really did happen. I was there. The sorrow and the anger were palpable. Glen David Andrews did speak. Dinerral’s family was there and his sister had us in tears. That bespectacled guy you see on the TV in the background of the shot, mesmerized the crowd and shouts of “Yeah, YOU RIGHT” echoed off the sides of City Hall. That man’s name is Bart Everson, and yeah, he’s real. Oh yeah, and our City Hall really is that ugly.

LaDonna’s rant in the DA’s office, where she says:

“What the fuck is wrong with you people? You lose my brother in the damn jail for months and then you let this vicious little motherfucker go the first chance you get. We trying to live in this city. We trying to come back here, put what little shit we got back together and live, and all y’all manage to bring to that is nothing! Rebuild the house. Hell no! Fill out these forms and wait. Get your child back in school. Which one? You got three different school systems-two of them teaching shit and the third one can only hope for so many. Open the hospital back up. Hell no! Let’s take out more neighborhoods instead. Solve a crime or two? Oh hell the fuck no!”

DA: I don’t blame you for being upset.

LaDonna responds with: “Upset? Bitch, I’m past upset! I’m all the way to lost my fuckin’ mind.”

Yes, future kid. All those things were true. An entire swath of Mid-City was wiped out so a new hospital could be put in. It’s still not there and the houses are gone and the people trying to re-make the city with a different demographic have done that without adding anything at all and Charity Hospital still sits empty. The Orleans Parish Prison is a nightmare. Still. The school system is still a mess. I saw an article the other day comparing what’s being done here in education as a “petri dish.” Experiment in education with kids’ lives and futures at stake. That’s not a figment of some writer’s imagination. Some houses are still not rebuilt or are being rebuilt one room at a time as money permits in various neighborhoods all over the city. We just passed the 7th year anniversary of Katrina. Many of us in the dark due to a visitation by Hurricane Isaac. Yes, there was a bit of PTSD for all of us to deal with.

The Danziger cops were convicted, some of City Hall’s movers and shakers have been indicted, and the Department of Justice, the Feds that both Toni and Terry are talking to at Season 2′s end did come in. They issued a scathing report that is still at issue. In fact a friend of mine was stopped and he has a bit of a big mouth. He said to the female officer who was being unreasonable to people, “Ya know the DOJ was right!” Her response was, “The more they piss us off the more we’re gonna piss you off.” So yes, the NOPD’s relationship with the citizens continues to be a bit fractious even now in 2012.

Sonny’s glimpse of oil sheen in the Gulf was just a hint of the catastrophe that was to come that continues to decimate our people, our coast and our livings in some cases. Antoine’s kids on the corner would probably be hassled off that corner these days and some of the clubs you see depicted might be fighting the permit wars that have popped up around New Orleans.

Yes, future viewer, Treme got a whole lot right and for that a lot of us are grateful.

4 Comments
  1. September 17, 2012 8:26 pm

    each paragraph.
    nailed it. completely

    I’m speechless with how succinctly you were able to capture so much with so few words.
    Great point about capturing history, about capturing the treasures of our nation that is our city. Certainly this will a treasure, a time capsule, and only gain in significance for generations to come.

    As far as what lays ahead for S3, I wait in anticipation. Remember what we all thought/felt about Sonny through S1? How much changed by the time you finished S2, how do you feel about him now? The same with Antoine. He’s changed so much, being shaped by events that nurtured some qualities and revealed deeper flaws, yet he’s still the “same guy” we’ve been enamored with since episode 1.

    I’m finding Treme speaking volumes even more so than The Wire did. The indictments and depictions of the city are by-and-large grander allegorical perspectives of the nation as a whole. New Orleans is just a convenient backdrop to the statements Simon & Co. are delivering as record-of-fact. Sure, each scene documents true experiences but its all pieced together to a Ken Burns-esque chronicling of being human. Like Grapes of Wrath depicted the effects of the Dust Bowl, it also spoke to a much larger struggle of labor and the impending consumption by corporations.

    One other facet is….I’m glad they were delayed until the fall. Let this story waft and smolder a while. The audience is growing. I don’t know how many times I’ve been out and about and hearing strangers / out-of-towners commenting on the series drawing them to experience the city. They come not with a wanton and obnoxious attitude of experiencing some drunken, Bourbon Street Disneyland, but a reverence for the American community experience. Simon has captured the spiritual awakening of a Jazz Fest and poured it out into a canvas of love.

    but seriously, how Khandi Alexander didn’t breeze through an Emmy after her final monologue alone is beyond me.

  2. September 18, 2012 1:02 am

    Coco Robicheaux is gone…I am very sad to hear this. I played the hell out of his YouTubes recently…rest in peace.

  3. September 18, 2012 7:16 am

    Dave Walker made much the same observation about watching Season Three in its entirety, as it was released to reviewers that way rather than a few episodes at a time, in his pre-season column. I don’t know what we’ll do when the Times-Picayune decides they can buy a generic TV critic on the open mark for pennies on the world.

    I prefer to compare the massive uncontrolled experiment with involuntary child subjects we call a “school system” to the Tuskegee Experiment.

    As for bulldozing for the hospital that may never be built and the entire bio-medical complex pipe dream, I defer to David Simon’s excellent remarks at last Rising Tide: If John Hopkins couldn’t pull it off at the height of the Clinton economic boom, who the hell really thinks it can be done here? Then there was the entire Criminal Justice Complex to sit cheek-by-jowel with the hospitals across Tulane, a monument to a state that leads China and Russia in per capita imprisonment. Forces most Americans would rather not think about were at work as if the city were some interesting Central Asian country with a lot of oil, ready to modernize our city at any cost to the benefit of speculators, real get-up-and-go Americans not too terribly concerned about the wogs except as commodities. Sadly, our own mayor (between looking for quarters in the guitar cases of buskers to balance the budget) seems to share these views.

    Subtle and insidious forces at work everyday in America were revealed nakedly on the barren landscape of postdiluvian New Orleans, something Simon has used to great effect. They have learned nothing from the nation’s last experiment in Urban Renewal in the 1960s and the developers and their friends in government are like exemplary generals, still fighting the last war.. What they didn’t account for is that the people on the ground here are not the NVA. We are the Viet Cong, true believers fighting on our own ground and ready to do whatever it takes to thwart their intentions

  4. September 18, 2012 5:00 pm

    The difference between Baltimore of The Wire and New Orleans of Treme is that Baltimore was just a slow, steady drip and bleed while New Orleans continues since the Failure to receive one karate chop after another followed by vicious steel-toed boot kicks to the midsection and ribs.

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