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Valid ‘Til You’re Not

May 12, 2010

In my younger days, I went off to the Canal Place mall to drop some stuff off at the craft co-op there.  I brought my ticket from the parking garage to the front counter of the shop and handed it over, tossing off an “I need to be validated” to the girl there.

“You’re so good,” she said as she reached for the ticket stamp.  “Don’t ever change, hear me?”

Wow.  I didn’t know how much I needed those words until I heard them.  It was embarrassing at first when I realized what I’d said versus what I’d meant, but the outcome was a beautiful, unexpected thing.

This latest episode is full of those moments.  LaDonna finding the roofer who stiffed her and making sure with her own eyes that he gets served, and throwing in a word of caution to his illegally-hired crew for good measure.  The big chief finding his city councilman and putting him on the spot as to why the projects haven’t been reopened and when will it be happening.  Creighton getting acknowledgment from no less a literary light than Roy Blount Jr that his YouTubed words of rage are of the moment and sorely needed.  Janette elegantly, daringly “lowballing” the big-time chefs led to her establishment by John Besh and getting kudos – she can really cook.  Antoine, in the process of getting a new ‘bone, forgetting himself and his troubles in sparring with his benefactor over the finer points of jazz history.  Davis getting a bunch of local music’s finest into the studio for next to nothing to cut an EP of jumping protest songs to kick off his satirical campaign for mayor.  These things are real, life-affirming, indicative of the mastery of one’s environment.

You’re so good.  Don’t ever change.

They all do their best to carry those good feelings over – Creighton goes full-bore into Krewe du Vieux planning, Janette has to share her good news with Davis, LaDonna takes that confidence she lapped up from serving Riley the roofer into the hearing over who ultimately has responsibility for finding Daymo….when you’re in the mood to conquer the world, it’s a heady feeling, especially in post-flood New Orleans, when things have been down for so long people are near mistaking them for up.  It makes the true highs that much more seductive…and, unfortunately, it makes things even more devastating when you hit some serious turbulence and come crashing down.

LaDonna is faced with a legal system insisting on legal procedure and precedent in the face of what she knows: she knows that’s Daymo on the overpass in that picture, she knows that that inmate who switched wristbands with him knew him when all the transferred inmates were being treated like wild animals in that fenced-in field, she knows OPP had him at the time of the storm – she sees him in her dreams.  Why can’t the judge value mercy over records washed away by the flood?

Albert can’t get anything better than an “I’ll call you, Chief,” from the man who’s supposed to be serving constituents like himself and the people Albert is trying to help bring back home.  It’s so easy for a pol these days to bask in the glow from a community helping pull itself out of tragedy, but damn hard for one to play a real, instrumental part in bringing them up.

Janette’s culinary triumph gets lost in Davis’ self-absorbed enthusiasm, which itself gets crushed in the wake of the shootings at the second line and his insensitivity towards a bar patron over his use of the n-word.  The reality of a six-years-long writer’s block comes crashing in on Creighton when his publisher plans to come to town to get its advance back, as does the reality of Antoine discovering that the police that nearly beat him out of a living also pawned his instrument, a gesture hardly indicative of serving the public – indeed, it is symptomatic of a police force still in shock and unable to deal with the challenges of crime returning to the city and of the dysfunctionality of then-D.A. Eddie Jordan’s office in the face of it all.

Years ago, even I still had to pay for parking, albeit at a reduced rate.

We cannot all get by solely on the breaks we get from life.  Those windows of joy that are glorious to experience? All too brief.

Well, shit.  What fresh hell is next, then?

Only time, and the next episode, will tell.

  1. virgotex permalink*
    May 12, 2010 3:11 pm

    They all do their best to carry those good feelings over

    That was heartbreaking. Especially (on rewatching) Albert. Not that he should have roughed up the politician but seeing him beat like that. His strengths, his “code” – doesn’t work here. It’s so hard for him to be useless.


  2. wigatrisk permalink
    May 12, 2010 7:14 pm

    Well said. It was rewarding to see Desiree heading off to secure her teaching position since to that point she has come across as strong but perhaps directionless. Now that some attention is on her you can’t help but think some of the same arc is going to happen here. I hope not; I’d like to know more about the public schools and have appreciated the insights of Ray and Sophmom and others on the subject.

  3. Anita permalink
    May 13, 2010 6:54 pm

    It has been interesting to read the reviews from around the internet and see how many people “get it,” how many think it is a kool kontest, how many watched The Wire and can’t clear their minds enough to see Treme on its own terms.

    Lately, I have become aware of another dynamic that might be at work here and have combed the reviews and counted mentions of actors, stepped back and asked some simple questions. There is more than haste and inattention going on in some of these reviews. Two recent ones, not the best or worst examples, will help illustrate my point.

    Dantzler Smith in Awards Picks May 13 {} says, “here I am, five episodes into a ten episode first season of Treme, and I’m still waiting for something to happen.”

    His review gives a nod to the familiar Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens, Steve Zahn, John Goodman,” ending his list with “most surprising is the memorable Phyliss Montana LeBlanc.” I noticed that Melissa Leo somehow did not make his perfunctory list at all.

    He says, “New Orleans is the main character in Treme. So even though the characters themselves aren’t individually interesting, the fact that each of these distinct people and groups call New Orleans home makes New Orleans itself interesting” he continues and adds, “I keep waiting for a moment akin to Kima Greggs getting shot in the first season of The Wire, a moment when you know there is no turning back because at that point you’re fully invested in the show.”

    Well, I haven’t watched The Wire so I might not be on firm ground here but I care a lot about these characters and that shooting at the second line definitely qualifies as something happening.

    From Roland Pemberton, (}, we read “The main character of the show is the music, recorded live on location, mostly supplied by the Treme neighbourhood’s jazz music community and a remarkable tribal group called the Mardi Gras Indians.”

    “The busking couple, Annie and Sonny, are glaring additions to the show, there to represent the young music culture in the city but merely stand out for their tokenism as young, good-looking characters for the audience to identify with.”

    The only other female character mentioned was the “pole technician” seen eliciting Antoine’s “personality defining . . particularly horny horn solo.”

    Pemberton writes as if the excellence of “The Wire” and his own enjoyment of it obviates any serious consideration of Treme.

    What is most maddening to me is that neither of these men seem to have registered the activity and drama that made up the lives of the women of Treme as important. No, more than that, they did not even see the women. The actors playing LaDonna, Toni Bernette and Janette Desautel are gifted and amazing. The roles they have been given are extremely interesting and serve major strands in the story line.

    I have lived and worked my way through a very long and varied life now and here is my conclusion. These reviewers (and many other men) simply do not see women as people. People who initiate action and manage their own lives, businesses and fortunes and care for their own and other families through generations, tend, supply and support social and cultural institutions. They seem literally not to see women at all unless they are presented as some visual equivalent of “pole technicians.”

    That is probably not news to women, but it is sad. It is also sad for those men. I think they are missing something more than half of life.

  4. liprap permalink
    May 14, 2010 7:23 am

    Anita, I haven’t read any reviews of Treme other than the ones that have been pointed out. I haven’t seen anything more than the first three episodes of The Wire, and, based on those three, Simon drops the viewer right into an aggressively male-dominated world, which is one of the big truths of any police force and of most illegal drug-dealing enterprises. It’s not like there are no women there, it’s simply that that world doesn’t have much use for the traditionally “feminine” points of view.

    I agree with you – what these critics have chosen to harp on is sad. It’s a double-edged sword in some ways that The Wire made such an impression on these critics that they have difficulty seeing Treme on more of its own terms. It’s a different semi-fictional world being created with the latter series, and including actors such as Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters is a testament to how good and how versatile their acting skills are, not to how much they’ll be creating a “Bunk in New Orleans” or a “Lester in the Big Easy”.

    I would spend even more time fretting over when these critics are going to finally “get it”, myself, but I’m too busy enjoying the performances of Alexander, Leo, and Dickens to get too crazy over it. Those women would get anybody with a brain to forget the antics of a “pole technician” any day.

  5. tim permalink
    May 14, 2010 10:46 am

    I mainly agree with Pemberton’s estimation; though I think it’s a bit early to say the narrative is weak. You folks here are so misty-eyed over this show it’s downright comical – and naturally, it brings out the grouch in people.

  6. brueso permalink
    May 14, 2010 12:16 pm

    side comment about Kima being shot- that didn’t happen til about episode 8. We’re in episode 5 so far.

    I went to the “Night at the Wire” presentation at the Museum of TV and Radio after season 3. Simon started out by introducing the 1st episode of season 3 – which obviously everyone there had already seen- but he chose that cause he said ‘Sometimes I’ll hear people say “Nothing happened in that episode!” And i think if you watch this again, you’re going to be surprised how many threads were launched here.” And he was absolutely right.

    As he put it “When you read “Moby Dick”, in the first chapters, there’s no Ahab, there’s no whale. You’re in some bordinghouse with a guy with a lot of tatooes and harpoons.” And that of course is true.

    His story telling style simply isn’t going to work for everyone, and maybe some of the people lured into this one being in New Orleans (hey! Maybe there’ll be alot of parades!) might have made them think things were going to be different this time. Everything is being unfolded pretty much exactly as I expected as far as pacing and ‘reveals’ goe.

  7. May 14, 2010 1:44 pm

    @brueso and @ anita We can understand what’s going on because we lived it and know what happened during that time, as well as knowing the kind of characters who live here.

    I also find the comments from reviewers discouraging because they seem to be looking for the unique selling points of New Orleans (Mardi Gras; gumbo; jazz; add any trite, overused-to-the-point-of-wilted stereotypical reference here) to typify the show, as many have tried to do after visiting or living here, and as other places may also be easily typified by their unique selling point(s). When Smith describes New Orleans as the main character here, he and like reviewers really don’t realize that the main character is not a diamond in the rough, waiting to be polished and designed in any way that’s commonly recognizable; they don’t get New Orleans. All of the characters in the show are more real that most if not all other shows about New Orleans are; and that the people, all of them and all their assets and eccentricities, are the facets of our gem. They’re not just drawn to live here, they are New Orleans, and they are interesting within themselves as well as interesting because they live here. If not, New Orleans would be easier to just explain away in its unique selling points and then the reviewers would just have a colorful backdrop to any other TV show that could be filmed anywhere other than here.

    The sad part is by writing about the show, these reviewers give an air of authority and awareness about New Orleans and its people that others who’ve never been here and who also don’t understand will absorb and then promptly write off as boring except for the overdone stereotypes mentioned before.

    And I do agree about the minimalization of the female characters, as if they’re just accessories to the story, rather than having real stories of their own that they endured and have to tell.

    What I find interesting, tho’, is the NOPD officer in the district talking about “a cry for help” from the cop who beat up Batiste. It seems to introduce a (dare I say) feminine element about the men in the story: they have feelings and emotional needs as well as being action figures, which was definitely true about the whole ordeal here.

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