Like the others, I have a few scattered thoughts about the first episode of Treme. Unfortunately, Mr. Wet stole my title but that’s okay: he was my host Sunday evening for food, chit chat and Treme. I’ve decided NOT to call it a gumbo party but his sister Pam made seafood gumbo and it was spectacular as always.
All righty, on with the comments:
- I thought Simon and krewe got the big picture of the sub-cultures they’re focusing on quite well even if some of the details were off but nothing was grotesquely wrong a la Dennis Quaid’s accent in The Big Easy. Yeah, I know big pictures and sub-cultures don’t usually go together but they do in New Orleans. We’re big on subs or something like that…
- Having said that, New Orleans was MUCH DIRTIER 3 months after the storm. There were nasty, smelly, reeking fridges on the curbs of *every* neighborhood accompanied by swarms of flies. That’s why I started calling our city Debrisville because it was trashed, folks. I’m going to watch the episode again and try to see if the characters cross the street every time the encounter a refrigerator. I know I did.
- Another quibble: the city was frakking dark 3 months after the storm. An enormous number of street lights were out, which made walking and driving after dark an adventure. Speaking of driving: the traffic lights were still sketchy. I remember when Dr. A and first returned on October 8th, driving in the city was a major adventure. I called it the Mad Max phase. Power outages were still frequent and it was so hard to buy a refrigerator that we had to make do with a small dorm fridge and ice chests until Thanksgiving.
- One of the things I liked was the Mary Howell inspired lawyer character played by Melissa Leo. She looked bone tired but determined, which captured how most of us felt. I found the sub-plot of her search for a man who went missing in the criminal justice system very interesting and spot on. There was no system at all for months on end because it had, quite literally, washed away.
- There’s been some complaint hither and yon about the semi-comic relief characters of Antoine and Davis. I thought some lighter touches were necessary but it looks as if Antoine will veer from the comic to the tragic in short order: the life of most musicians here has *always* been hand to mouth. The Davis character is indeed annoying but quite like the *real* DJ Davis and life is full of irritating people you’d like to punch out but don’t.
- I really like the casting of Clarke Peters as the Chief, which leads me to a confession. I’m not as big on the Mardi Gras Indian culture as many of my NOLA blogging colleagues. Other than the pretty suits, it leaves me cold but the casting of a strong actor with such a dignified presence intrigues me. That’s made this Super Sunday agnostic quite interested to see where they take Albert Lambreaux and what becomes of him. One again, however, I have a quibble: when Albert goes into his house, he should have gagged, wretched or even blown chunks on the spot. Houses left untended 3 months post-K were vile smelling and beyond yucky.
- I’ve talked to several people who thought the pace of the pilot was on the slow side. It’s part of the David Simon method: his shows are novelistic and unfold week by week. The first episode merely sets the stage for what is yet to come, which is why I’m disinclined to be too harsh on the pacing. I do, however, have some qualms about the number of characters thrown at us in the first episode. It was a bit confusing so perhaps I’ll have a score card on my lap next week. Of course, I *was* consuming adult beverages during the viewing party so…
- The use of music was excellent. I thought kicking off the series with a second line was a swell idea. I assume it was intended to reassure viewers that this wasn’t going to be a relentlessly dark series. The best of Simon’s work has customarily veered from the tragic to the comic and back again, which pretty much sums up life in NOLA: home of the Jazz funeral and the comically inept Nagin administration. Or is that tragi-comically inept?
- Speaking of music: I *loved* hearing Louis Prima and hope that the use of his music will fuel *another* Prima revival as there was during the the 1990’s when Brian Setzer had a hit with Prima’s tune Jump, Jive and Wail. For the uninitiated, Prima was not only a native New Orleanian but grew up in the French Quarter when it was teeming with Sicilian immigrants and their food, music and culture. Sicily, too, has a brass band loving culture, which was crucial in the early development of Jazz in New Orleans.
On balance, I enjoyed the premiere of Treme and am cautiously optimistic that it will be reasonably true to the spirit of the city and the time in which it’s set. BUT it’s impossible for any drama to be completely realistic: most of life is pretty goddamn boring, after all. The best “realistic” plays, novels and films present a heightened or stylized version of reality that removes the dull bits. That’s what I saw in the first episode of Treme and hope to witness as it unfolds.