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Buncha random thoughts while I catch my breath

April 12, 2010

Jeezus, I’m kinda at a loss at the moment.  No deep thoughts but a lot of random first impressions.

I sort of get how a media critic who isn’t from here could think that Episode 1 was a little scattered.  A lot of characters to introduce, a lot of plot threads to kick off, and if you haven’t lived through the back-story you might have trouble seeing how all of them will come together.  But as a New Orleanian, I thought it was fantastic.  I am less confused about where things are going and who is doing what than I was after the first episode of The Wire.

I’ve heard it said that the music is the star of this show, that the whole episode is totally infused with music.  I can’t remember, but I think I even read someplace that it seemed almost forced, like the audience needs to be put on a crash diet of the music to get up to speed.  I disagree.  This may be hard for y’all who ain’t from here to believe, but yes, we do have that much of our own music in our lives here, all the time.  That’s the difference between here and a place like New York which is a hub of the music “industry”, or Austin which has a great music “scene”.  In New Orleans, it’s not an “industry”, it’s not a “scene”.  It’s part of the very fabric of our existence, like the weather and the food and the architecture.  The music drips from the trees in the spring, it bubbles up out of the gutters and radiates off the sidewalks in the summer.  The music is everywhere, all the time.  It’s not relegated to some “entertainment district” or to a few annual festivals.  It is part of our lives, every day, all day.  Simon and crew get that.  I hope at some point the audience gets it, too, that they understand that this is not a musical, this is not educational television, this is an accurate depiction of how we live.

Clarke Peters as a Mardi Gras Indian chief was stunning.  He had a lot of those qualities of Tootie Montana that you see in Tootie’s Last Suit…the work ethic, the stubbornness, the iron grip he keeps on the traditions, not just wanting them to be honored, but demanding that they be done right.  And the disconnect from how his love of the traditions creates a gulf between himself and his kids’ desires to spread their wings and go elsewhere.  If you get a chance between now and next week, try to get a copy of Tootie’s Last Suit and watch it, it’s beautiful and heartbreaking.  (If you’re in Austin, come over to my house, maybe we’ll have a Tootie viewing party later in the week.)

The kid who was in OPP during the storm and has been completely missing for three months…again, that’s not a contrived television plot.  That is sadly all too real.  Scores of New Orleanians were trapped for months in a third world gulag with no due process and no contact with the outside world.  Guantanamo existed right here in the U.S.A. at St. Gabriel and other places.  See David Egger’s fantastic book Zeitoun for the true story of one such man.

A few things made the kids and I squeal:

* The tall drunk guy in the green shirt that keeps getting in Davis McLary’s way when he’s at Vaughan’s cycling back and forth between Elvis’s table and the stage…that’s the real Davis Rogan.

* Antoine Batiste’s current girlfriend is played by the real Phyllis Montana LeBlanc from When The Levees Broke.  Damn that’s cool.

* When the NOPD cop doesn’t let the lawyer have a seat at Lil Dizzy’s cafe (a real restaurant on the edge of the Treme on Esplanade), I saw my future ex-wife in the background twice, this one actual waitress there that I have had a crush on for years.  She’s a big girl with a big smile and she always calls me baby and rubs my hair and says I’m a hottie.

* The Hubig’s pie scene was fucking fantastic.  If I hadn’t just finished off a whole bag of them that Alli brought me last week, I’d be dying with envy.

Probably a few more things I’ll remember when I watch it a second time.

The things that I think they didn’t get exactly right, and I don’t know how they would anyway:

* Too much green.  The way I remember the city at that time, it was brown brown brown.  So many trees and plants and grass were killed by the storm, it was two summers before the foliage really started to feel normal again.

* Believe it not, not enough debris and garbage in the streets.  The debris piles lined the streets like snowdrifts in a northeastern blizzard after the snowplows come by.

* The inside of the flooded houses, again, were too clean.  Both Albert Lambreaux’s house and his bar, it seems like he just walked up, turned the key, opened the door and walked in.  Reality, a lot of times, went like this:  you try the key, the lock won’t turn because it sat in that water and it’s corroded.  So you work on it with some WD-40.  If you’re unlucky you eventually need to destroy the doorknob to get it open.  Once it’s unlocked, you push the door, and after a few inches it runs into shit…your couch, your bookcase, warped floorboards, swollen muddy carpet.  We always had to muscle the door open just enough for a couple of people to be able to climb through and clear the debris away from the inside of the door so that it could be opened, and even once it was clear, there was no real path through the house.  The water picked everything up and dropped it all over the place.  Climbing through a fresh house was like caving.  For some video of the Arabi Wrecking Krewe and some Rising Tide bloggers doing a house in Hollygrove a year after the storm, go see this excellent video by Scout Prime of First Draft.  (Plus, I was cringing that he didn’t have a mask on with all that mold on the walls. I know people did it, but…..wewwwww, gives me the willies.)

* Davis Rogan’s house is not that tidy.

These are nits.  God forbid Simon bring in some CGI to really muck up the place; I like that they tried to organically reproduce late 2005 conditions the best they knew how.

I don’t know how I’m gonna wait a week for the next episode.

I give it an A+.

  1. April 12, 2010 1:03 am

    Lil Dizzy’s cafe

    I thought that was it! Mr. A recognized it instantly but I wasn’t sure.

    I think I dated Steve Zahn’s character my freshman year of college.

    When Davis asks Kermit Ruffins if he just wants to hang out in NOLA, basically, enjoying the shit out of life for the rest of his, and he says, “That’ll work …” replace NOLA with “Madison, Wisconsin” and I’m selling all my shit and packing up the ferrets and my laptop and we’re going, because that got me, right there. Is part of this show going to be about learning to love what you have where you are? Which is not a thing Americans know how to do anymore, really?


  2. April 12, 2010 2:00 am

    Clarke Peters broke my heart about 6 times tonight, just with his face.

    I love Kim Dickens, Melissa Leo and Khandi Alexander – three of the most natural character actresses ever, all in the same damn show.

  3. Robin Kemp permalink
    April 12, 2010 2:13 am

    Watching it now in Denver, and I also give it a 10, an A+, a hoo na nay. REAL New Orleans, done with respect.

  4. wev permalink
    April 12, 2010 2:43 am

    I am thrilled. I immediately watched it again. My only problem is that I can’t possibly know how it registered with someone who has no knowledge of New Orleans at all. Tomorrow I will try to find out.

    What made me extremely happy is that I like the characters (even Davis who is basically everything I abhor in boy-men) and want to learn what happens to them. I thought some of them were superlatively wonderful–Clark Peters, for instance. The exchange with his son about paying the water bill was one of the best scenes and he played it almost entirely with his face. I loved the the three women characters played by Leo, Alexander and Dickens, particularly the interaction between Leo and Alexander.

    The brother in OPP and taken out on the bridge without documentation, the kid who is in school in Baton Rouge, the hand-to-mouth existence of a musician, the attention to their clothes by the men in the community, the stunning revelation of the carefully preserved chief’s suit even existing in that environment at that time, these details and countless others I probably didn’t notice because they are ordinary to me, taken together make this story something I trust and want to see more of because I can watch the story without being jarred by stupid mistakes.

    Melissa Leo and John Goodman are great together. I enjoyed the non-speaking characters: Davis’s next door neighbors whom he torments with the volume and choice of music just for his own amusement (hateful little bastard) and the tagalong guy with red hair.

    Overall, it feels completely right. I don’t care that it isn’t historically accurate; I get that it’s fiction, but what couldn’t be fixed and would ruin it is if they did not get how it is supposed to feel. But they did; they got it right.

    I’m thrilled.

  5. scout permalink
    April 12, 2010 6:51 am

    I thought it was very good.
    I agree with your nits but thought as you that all in all they did a good job recreating conditions. I’m glad they have the prison storyline–For anyone interested BBC did an excellent documentary on that called “Prisoners of Katrina” which can be seen at Google videos.
    I’d give it an A+ as well

  6. April 12, 2010 9:52 am

    When D and I know all we have to do is make a couple of deep family and financial sacrifices and live in Madison or New Orleans once again, it makes us wonder who we are. So, right now, the show is only making me resent what I have where I am, which is a horrible, self-centered, bilious way to be, given how lucky I am to have what I do have.

  7. April 12, 2010 10:05 am

    I loved it, and thought it represented in a meta way, if bordering on stereotyping, doing so lovingly, and unfolding slowly, New Orleans style. I think the mentioning of two students living in NOLA and going to school might have been confusing to those who don’t understand there were no schools operating in New Orleans in Nov. 2005. With the white Uptown kid, it was obvious she was “commuting” to BTR (although not clear how), but it made considerably less sense with the black “Treme” kid.

    I wish tv shows about New Orleans would wait until the second episode to use “Mom’en’em” and thought I heard “Mama’en’em”, which sounds wrong to me. Are both okay?

    LeBlanc! I couldn’t recall where I’d seen her before, but now remember reading she was going to be in it. You’re right. That’s genius casting.

    Usually when I watch something like this on television, I am multi-tasking, tweeting, looking stuff up online (who’s who on IMDB, etc.), but I couldn’t take my eyes off the television last night. I wish I’d written down the line in which Zahn’s character used the word “karmactically” (I think in reference to a car?) because I loved it. Will watch again ASAP.

  8. April 12, 2010 10:21 am

    “boy-men” — that’s it, exactly. So much of the subtext of the whole piece, of NOLA, of jazz, is appropriation. And like a boy, Davis is (so far) about the “Oh shiny. Mine.” Like that stupid shirt about two-year-olds: if I see it, it’s mine. If you want it, it’s mine. If I like it, it’s mine. And like a kid, like most Americans, he’s guileless, he loves what he’s rolling around in and he’s honoring it too, the way he knows how. But I’d be hardpressed to call him an outsider, either. He’s earned his keep, his foothold, with his devotion and his enthusiasm. But damn, he’s a grabby little SOB.

    I’m glad I don’t know the real Davis- not because I think I might not like him but quite the opposite. If I knew and loved him like Ray and the other folks here do, it might interfere with this Davis, this character’s “job” – which is, at least so far, to be a living breathing irritant. Irritants make things happen.

  9. Librarian permalink
    April 12, 2010 10:26 am

    I think he was referring to the Bartholomew box set he was taking, and he said something about how it karmatically belonged to him because the one he bought had been stolen out of his car.

    Anyway, I nth the love and echo whoever said it that they didn’t find it as hard to watch as they thought it would be. I couldn’t make it through any of the trailers without choking up, but I didn’t feel that way watching last night. Well, maybe one little bit when Peters opened the door to his ravaged house – that droopy ceiling fan was a bit of a trigger.

    Kim Dickens’s restaurant is Patois – correct?

  10. Peris permalink
    April 12, 2010 10:32 am

    Ray, any thoughts on the Goodman character at this time?

  11. April 12, 2010 10:33 am

    Sophmom: The thing about mama’n’em is that it’s how people talk, it’s a staple of the vernacular, like “y’all”. If you want ’em to tawk rite, they have to say it. That one kid who came into the bar later in the show said something about “my uncle’n’em”. Perfectly standard usage.

    Librarian: Yeah, Patois is what I read somewhere. And yeah, the fan was dead on. But the curtains were not…you notice how his curtains hung normally from the windows? They should’ve been mucked up and water-damaged from the flood line on down.

    Anybody who didn’t get the privilege of cleaning out one of these houses is encouraged to check out Robert Polidori’s book After The Flood:

    It’s a picture book, all photographs of the insides of houses around the end of September 2005. It’s both horrible and beautiful at the same time.

  12. April 12, 2010 10:38 am

    Is part of this show going to be about learning to love what you have where you are? Which is not a thing Americans know how to do anymore, really?

    They don’t know how to do it because most Americans are freed from the weight of subsistence living, though quite a few of us are learning more and more about it. Because so many of us can move, or buy ourselves out of where we are, we think staying in one place is a bad thing but obviously, there are advantages. If you have a richly enough realized existence, what do you need from out there, anyway? When I first moved to Brooklyn, I was amazed at how many people, even people who easily could have, NEVER went outside their neighborhoods, much less the borough. If I was a musician in New Orleans, I prolly wouldn’t care much about Elvis Costello either.

    One of my favorite lines was when Antoine is walking through Kermit’s house and Kermit’s wife asks him where he’s living and he tells her how far away it is. She says, “That ain’t right.” and he answers, more to himself than to her, “Yeah, that’s wrong. And it’s wrong. It’s wrong.”

  13. April 12, 2010 10:42 am

    I was really worried about it after I saw the previews and thought it was gonna turn out as a corny depiction of “real” New Orleans.

    I’m glad I was wrong and it goes to show why you can’t, as the old saw goes, judge a book by the cover–.

    I thought the centrality of music to the recovery was an authentic portrayal of post-Katrina life in Nola. I recall Halloween weekend 2005 when I attended the Rebirth show at Tipitina’s. I’ll never forget the incredible joy everyone displayed–the band, audience, and employees– that night. It was a communion of New Orleanans that night — white, black, white collar and blue. All of us renewed and given hope that we’d be back and that we had not lost it all as feared.

    I’m looking forward to seeing the character development as the show progresses.
    My guess is that it will marinate into a rich tableau.

  14. April 12, 2010 11:10 am

    I slept through the first 15 minutes of the show, and I blame the boring piece-of-crap show that led into Treme, a near-useless and unoriginal war drama called The Pacific. That show has had many weeks to develop the characters into something interesting that I might care about, but it has failed miserably. After watching the first few episodes of <The Pacific, I couldn’t help but think how well, how much better I knew the characters in any previous David Simon enterprise after a very short while. I was pretty sure Treme would be the same way. It just had to be, ya know?

    And damn, I was not disappointed. I already love the people in this show. They hit a main vein with this one. It’s good, really good.

    And no, that glass of red wine had nothing to do with me falling asleep for the first fifteen minutes of Treme. Nothing at all. Nothing the on-demand cable re-run can’t fix.

  15. April 12, 2010 11:16 am

    Ray, thanks, and I understand that, but I think I’ve been mispronouncing all this time, saying “Mom’n’em” (without the second syllable of “Mama”). I just now read the blogger listserv thread. There were some things there that echoed some of my concerns. KA (I think it was) referred to Zahn’s character’s “douchitude” and I totally agree. I didn’t like him. I saw a lot of what he represented as stereotyping. I thought the same thing about Pierce’s character’s stiffing cabbies. I also thought the all day drinking fed stereotypes, but if y’all are okay with it, who am I to disagree. 😉

    I’m very impressed with y’all knowing all the characters’ names already. It’ll take me a bit to catch up.

    The scene introducing Goodman’s character literally knocked the wind out of me, and I’m just now getting why. At first I thought it was the Ashley thing, but it wasn’t. It was about the passion, the outrage, and it was oddly about nostalgia for those powerful feelings. By then people in my “real” (Atlanta) life were starting to not like being around me because It was all I could talk about, and I did so with such emotion. That was the time when I was finding y’all online, finding other folks who also couldn’t talk/think/write about anything else but It. Of course, the rest is history, but it made me miss the beginning in a real nonsensical, kinda convoluted way.

  16. April 12, 2010 11:59 am

    My understanding is the Kim Dickens character is a composite. A little Susan Spicer, a little bit of Donald Link (watch the “No Reservations” nola episode) and maybe a little bit of Besh.

  17. April 12, 2010 12:04 pm

    Unfortunately, the all day drinking was certainly accurate for the time. Thought it woulda been Abita and not Bud — at least it was in my Mid City hood with my neighbors when we were cleaning out.

    The music and the comedic touches helped keep the re-tramaticalization (*ahem*) factor down a bit for me. Though some stuff, like the droopy fan or the Nat’l Guard driving by piles of crap defintely hit home.

  18. April 12, 2010 12:06 pm

    I was the soundguy that night at Tip’s. I remember thinking that it was going to be OK, because Tip’s was still open, and there was music to listen to, and no matter how f*ck’d up everything else was, New Orleans hadn’t lost it’s essential character.

  19. April 12, 2010 12:54 pm

    Scott, the hard-endged female chef character didn’t originate with Susan Spicer. It comes out in a 10 year old (and sadly overlooked) NOLA novel called Mystic Pig.

  20. April 12, 2010 1:50 pm


    Nice to hear from someone else who was there that night!

    I was at a costume party that night on Prytania and Napoleon and I said to my wife: “Let’s cut-out and go to Tip’s to hear Rebirth.” So it was a spontaneous thing. I was in a Zorro costume.

    I recall that it was not a typical Uptown crowd. Lot’s of folks from the East, 7th and 6th Wards. A homecoming for lots of folks. Closest thing to an organic spiritual moment I’ve ever experienced.

  21. April 12, 2010 7:46 pm

    Best comment thus far from the Treme thread:

    soru posted:

    I would watch an entire show just about John Goodman yelling at people.

  22. April 15, 2010 8:38 am

    Having been a “born and raised” citizen of New Orleans all my life , until moving to Mandeville after flooding for the 3 rd time in 1995, I thought the program FINALLY did us some justice.

    None of that “Right Chere” bs from “big seasy” rip offs that make us look like abunch of phoneys.

    John Goodman resonated with me as did so many others like Benny, Lionel, Kermitt, Kenny and the Character portraying the Big Chief coming home no matter what.

    I hope in succeeding eposodes they show the STILL MILSSING levee cap on Orleans Canal by the Pumping Station! And the inept, and criminal behaviors of the Corpse of non Engineers who contine to play games with people’s lives and futures.

    The show was great, and we need MORE like it!

    Gentilly Sheik

  23. April 24, 2010 12:07 am

    I finally got time to watch this first episode; I didn’t want to watch ’til I had time.

    I’m not fron New Orleans. I’ve been there a couple times, and read a million books set there, and I have friends there. So I’m somewhere in the middle. I know what a Hubigs is, I understand the characters. So I can follow all this, and understand the references.

    But I can’t evaluate it in terms of authenticity or resonance or rightness. Not really.

    But fuck, it sure as hell seemed right. The people sound right to my California ear, and the been-through-hell look in people’s eyes is exactly how I’ve pictured my friends walking around neighborhoods like this.

    And as TV? It’s great. It feels like a novel, done in the form of a TV show. This first episode is just scene-setting, introductions of key characters. With this kind of dialog, I want to watch every scene three times.

    For some unknown reason I’ve never gotten around to watching The Wire, but I know this is going to get me there pretty shortly. Writing like this doesn’t happen much on TV.

    I expected Treme to be great, but it exceeds my expectations.


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