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Dreamers and Drunks? No, a Community.

September 27, 2012

I am the first to confess that I’m no fun to watch a movie or television show with. No. Really. At least not in our living room, I’m not. We at this house are film junkies. A movie rolls and a few scenes in, a pause button is hit, and one of us says, “That was a TOTAL Fincher rip off.” Play. Another movie another day, pause, one of us says, “Pfft, this guy thinks he’s freakin’ Coppola!” while the other retorts, “Wait, maybe it was an homage to Francis’ Godfather 2 scene! You can’t fault him for that!” Sad huh. We rattle off director’s names in the same way we mention our favorite authors. Screenwriters are also highly regarded and many are known by name here on the burgundy couch. Some directors, screenwriters and yes, actors pop up regularly on our “to view” list.

This comes from having worked in varying capacities during what is now known as the “Golden Age of Music Videos.” (Who knew?) Having taken all my living room furniture out of my house to be used by props because the budget left no room for the rental or purchase of such basics; or having called up radio stations just ahead of the local high school’s first bell to mention in an ever so off the cuff way that a particular band was going to be shooting a video in a certain place later that day and we were having a TERRIBLE time finding extras, only to spend the rest of the day writing fraudulent dental appointment excuse notes when they swarmed the outdoor set, gives me a different perspective on the making of the images flickering across my screen. It was hard work a lot of the time but also great fun. We were working on incredibly small budgets, sometimes using guerilla shooting for B roll and hoping the Teamsters wouldn’t shut us down for having some PA driving a rented Hertz truck or god forbid a cop sees us in the park and hauls us and our equipment off for not having a permit. Given all that, amazingly some of the most anxiety filled moments were after the squabbles in the edit bay were over and the piece was finally viewed and then aired.

I was lucky enough to see this first episode of the new season in two different environments. The first was with the cast and crew of Treme, the second with some ardent regular viewers in a local bar.

While the Treme production crew probably doesn’t have to write bogus excuse notes for anyone, I don’t doubt but that there was a certain level of anxiety and relief as the first frames of the episode rolled. There’s a sense of excited expectation that comes with the lowering of lights and moving images on a screen that’s palpable. It was that way with both groups of viewers.

When the first notes of “I’ll Fly Away” were heard, both groups spontaneously started singing along, getting quiet as the cop said stop the parade, getting louder again after the line about singing in the street was delivered. Both the pros and the regulars sang as though they were in that street with those people, and it faded out in the theatre and the bar in the same way it faded out, one voice at a time, in that scene.

The opening credits hadn’t even rolled yet.

I am pretty sure that throughout the episode, some of the cast and crew were critiquing some things internally. An actor might wish he’d delivered a line differently. An editor might have wished this scene had been cut shorter, that one longer. A director might notice that the light that blew up just before a scene was shot for which they had no instant replacement would have made it look just the way he wanted it, but hey, they were running out of time and they got the shot and it worked. None of that, however, was visible on their faces. What I saw was simply an audience. Watching the show. Enjoying it. Enjoying it with each other, having become a community during the making of the show. That’s just what happens on film sets.

Meanwhile, at the bar, there was also some critiquing going on, but it was of a different sort. At the bar, unlike the theatre showing with the pro’s, whispered comments about having been at the second Second Line were heard. “I remember those lawyers in those hats.” As the new reporter character (played by Chris Coy) entered the storyline I heard a quiet comment from over at the bar, “He’ll sell the story to the Nation. That’s who broke the story in real life.” He couldn’t have said it too loudly or he’d have been shushed. I looked at the faces sitting on those chairs in the dark bar, every single one rapt. An audience. Watching the show. Enjoying it. Enjoying it with each other, having become a community seemingly under siege after the Flood in the city depicted on screen. That’s just what happens in places where the people shared a traumatic time.

As one group watched, hoping they got it right, the other group watched, also hoping they got it right.

Laughs came at the same times in the episode in both locations. Feet were tapping and heads bobbing during music scenes in both locations. There were “Uh huh!’s” and “Yeah, you right’s” at the bar that I didn’t hear with the pro’s. Everyone loved Rob Brown’s impression of Clarke Peters (I confess I did glance across the aisle and see Mr. Peters smiling widely at that) and I definitely heard, “Well you knew THAT was coming!” when Khandi Alexander’s LaDonna delivered her “I’m kin” speech. I heard a couple of quiet discussions at the bar about David Morse’s Colson character, all were glad to have him fleshed out a little bit, and everyone wants Fez Man’s (played by local actor, Nick Slie) bike, including me.

There may have been some dreamers and drunks in both audiences for all I know. I have been known to hold my own in both categories on occasion. What I saw in both places, though, was Community–pride in that community, and a ferocious determination to hang in there. One of those communities could breathe a sigh of relief as the end credits rolled, their job for this season complete. The other waited for the preview for next week and considered coming earlier to guarantee a seat.

Both communities applauded, loud and long.

That says a lot to me. It tells me that Treme is well done and appreciated. The regular local hangout went from sparsely populated to full in half an hour prior to air time. Next week it will get fuller faster. Some will be there because they have a crush on Lucia Micarelli. Some will be there because they want to find out what happens with Sofia and her boyfriend (I heard a man, probably a dad himself, saying protectively, “That guy is way too old for her!” and it made me laugh.) Some will be there to debate the accuracy of this or that Second Line within the timeline. Some will be there just to boo Nagin’s noggin in the newly cut opening credit sequence. Some will be there to bad mouth it. In the end, though, they will be there, as a community enjoying it, watching it, debating it possibly.

Whatever their reason for coming they are indeed watching it, and that’s what the pro’s do this for. The idea is to tell us a story. It might be a story that touches us and makes us think outside our own experience. A story that opens a window and lets us peer inside someone else’s life, someone else’s city. Treme is telling a story of our city and a story that includes a timeline we all remember very well. The props are as familiar as a trumpet seen daily. The extras are often folks we run into on the street. Because of that some people will love it and some people won’t. And that’s just fine.

I’m pretty sure several years ago there was at least one guy in Jersey on parole after a long stretch in Rahway saying, “No way Tony Soprano wouldn’t have been whacked by Johnnie Sack after the mess his cousin made!” I’m also pretty sure he tuned in again the following week, and that’s what makes good television.

  1. September 27, 2012 4:42 pm

    Magical piece, Sam, thank you. BOT is also community, one I have missed during this hiatus and am glad to see reappear. What I am feeling most of all as Treme returns is how much I have come to love it and how much I miss being able to go out and about in our beloved city. For a few Sundays now, Treme will take me all over our town and I will see what is happening to these characters who seem very real to me because this show is so well made. I am thrilled LaDonna is back, Janette is coming home, Annie is fabulously good and Toni, despite everything, is a fierce honey badger on the trail of bad guys. I’ll watch alone but will come here as soon as the credits roll and join the fun at BOT. Thank you, Maitri, and everyone here for this community.

  2. September 27, 2012 4:54 pm

    Enjoying it with each other, having become a community seemingly under siege after the Flood in the city depicted on screen. That’s just what happens in places where the people shared a traumatic time.

    You nailed it, Sam! New Orleans is all about community, one that I know I belong to wherever life may physically take me. I may not know or trust everyone in this community, but I trust that they understand a way of life in which we work to live, share and live some more.

    That’s why I think of this place as the Back Of Town Social Aid and Pleasure Club and not a blog! (Just clean up after yourselves.)

  3. September 27, 2012 4:54 pm

    Yeah you right. I have to see each episode several times because there are so many things going on. During the first season, I got so excited seeing one of my neighbors in a small speaking role that I kept saying, “Isn’t that Tony?” and my husband was saying,” I don’t know, you won’t shut up.”

    This episode I really liked Davis’s Musical Greats tour. I’ve done a version of that with visiting friends a few times. “Well, this is a laundromat now, but. . . ”

    I also liked the bit with LaDonna and the in-laws. She was right about the “40 in a paper bag.” She needs to punch that bitch out. (We all suffered with the doubled and tripled up households after Katrina, but I was lucky. My friends don’t have much money, and they aren’t snotty. They graciously put up with us, no matter how annoying we were).

    Yes, it is about community. And it’s a sense of community that you just don’t get in other places. That’s why everyone wants to come home. And for those who are still far away, watching Treme is almost like being home.

    Thanks for posting this, and I look forward to next week.

  4. doctorj2u permalink
    September 27, 2012 7:07 pm

    I so love your comments Sam. At this point and time, I had no real concept of what was going on with the law and the 2nd lines. I just wanted my culture back. It wasn’t until later that I understood. Strange, because I fought for my hometown from the time I got electricity back. This was a changing point I totally missed. I guess it has to do with being an Uptown person. I would have fought to the death if I only understood.

  5. September 28, 2012 7:08 am

    The emergence of high production value series television on cable has created communities of fans of this or that show. (I don’t watch vamporn, but I did visit some fan sites for Game of Thrones when I got hooked into the first season. These shows draw in a core of deeply involved viewers. What I noticed about the GoT sites I looked at were two things. There was debate over fidelity to the series of books the show is based on, not unlike the debates over the fidelity of Treme. The other was a certain adolescent fascination. I’ll admit to it. Anyone who grew up with a Frazetta poster on their wall was, um, smitten when the naked woman is standing there with the dragon babies at the end of the first season. What you don’t get looking at “fan sites” for shows like this is the commonality Sam hit on between the cast and crew and the viewers, the thoughtful reflections, critical thinking. Perhaps its not fair to compare a fantasy show to one based so closely on real events, but for the local viewers who have been drawn into the Treme vision of New Orleans there is a seriousness, the silence in an otherwise noisy bar when the lights go down, and a camaraderie of tears and joy. This could be attributed to the closeness of the story to the audience but there is a certain reverence, a recognition that David Simon and Eric Overmeyer may be outsiders but they are those outsiders who come and crash on your couch every Jazz Fest. They get it and have the talent to take our personally felt pain and joy and turn it into something so beautiful that people willingly submit themselves to reliving painful events. This is what makes the Treme viewer community possible. It is not just the shared experience but the rightness of what is presented on the screen, to see it captured forever not just in the painful CNN rolls of 2005 but the back stories they all experienced one way or another. Yes, there are people who are oozing fanboy pheromones every time Lucia steps on screen–guilty–but what separates Treme’s committed viewers from other shows fans (and there are plenty of people in New Orleans who do not watch) is a community built upon but which transcend the show, a pleasure in the rightness of it awfully close to what must have been rolling through the minds of the cast and crew last weekend at the Joy Theater.


  1. “Treme” and David Simon’s Dismissal of Melodrama « tv and pop

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