Before too much more time passes, I have to say something about “Treme,” which wrapped its second season this week. Y’all know my conflicts/prejudices. I feel bad about not writing something sooner. Back before the show even launched, I was asked* about contributing to Back of Town, which quickly became the definitive “Treme” blog, but it became obvious I was out of my league there, and anyway, I didn’t have time.
*My memory may be faulty here; it might have been another work-of-David Simon blog. One of those.
Also, while it’s true I have an opinion on pretty much everything and can overanalyze with the best of them, I’m claiming my TV more for entertainment these days. I’m reserving the right to sit back and enjoy more. The world isn’t short of people who can slice, dice, unpack, unravel and unwind TV with the best of them, and for this one, I mostly choose not to participate. To fully appreciate, “Treme” requires a knowledge of New Orleans that is both broad and deep, and mine is neither. To illustrate, a sample conversation with the late Ashley Morris:
Me: I love New Orleans. We went there on vacation a few years ago.
Me: Yes, we stayed in a guesthouse on Ursulines Street. Run by a couple of gay men.
AM: Well, that narrows it down.
So let Ray Shea and the rest of them at BoT do the heavy lifting. Me, I just watch.
As frequently happens when quality television is involved, second seasons are when the ripening occurs, and that’s been the case with “Treme.” The show started with enormous expectations — anything that followed “The Wire” had to — and swiftly disappointed many by not being “The Wire.” But it was definitely in the mold of other Simon work, which is to say, it was about cities and how they work (and don’t work). You’d think, given where people live in these United States, we might want to see more of this. But the world is also full of people who, when they sit down for a night of telly, want the sweet balm of escapism. There are quite a few more who believe urban America is a hellhole, and seek confirmation in following bullet trails through viscera, because that’s what happens to you when you go there — you get shot.
There’s also been some critical backlash, like this piece, which basically says: Yawn. BO-ring. I disagree, obviously. You don’t need multiple shootings and drug busts to give a show forward momentum. “Treme” runs at a more leisurely pace than “The Wire,” but has no shortage of pleasures, the most obvious of which is the music.
The music this season has been wonderful, and there’s more of it than in season one. Every city has its own soundtrack, but New Orleans’ might be the richest on the continent, and the show goes out of its way to depict it, from high to low, to show how its threads weave together and keep making New Orleans’ musical tapestry so unique. I’ve always thought the most interesting places on the map are those where worlds and cultures collide, and they’ve been colliding in New Orleans, at the end of the big river, for centuries, and nowhere is this more evident than in the music coming out of every window and door. Truth be told, if “Treme” was little more than an excuse to link performances together, I’d probably still watch. (And if Albert and Delmond Lambreaux ever release their mashup of modern jazz and Mardi Gras Indian chants, I’ll probably buy it.)
Some of the efforts to include the city’s other big cultural scene, food, feel more strained. Anthony Bourdain got lots of writing credits this season, and while his pen is talented, I hope he doesn’t quit his day job. The scenes of Janette the chef’s evolution as a culinary artist were my least favorite of the season. (Although I probably will never cook fish again without thinking I should listen to it more.) Also, I’m in full agreement with the writer at Dark Brown Waffles who found Lucia Micarelli’s Annie Tee character a big bundle of who-cares. She spent several episodes struggling to birth an unmemorable song. Which goes to show you that in a musical town, some are bandleaders and composers and some are just players. Annie’s a very fine player. End of that story.
You can quibble over the details, but to me, “Treme” is at its best when it shows what’s wrong — and what’s glorious — about urban America, where the country built its strength and lost its way and now can’t come to grips with. We’re a mobile society; we like to strike it rich and find the next thing. New Orleans — and Baltimore, and Detroit, and many others — are reminders that we can’t just move on, that we owe cities something. The road to figuring that out is what “Treme” is all about.
New York magazine’s critic was kinder than the Atlantic’s. You might want to read.
In bloggage today:
I flipped on Nancy Grace last night for about half an hour while I worked. I’ve never watched more than 30 seconds of the blonde harpy, and I wanted to see if the top of her skull would blow off last night. I lasted longer this time, but not much; this clip should give you an idea why. What the–? Is this typical? If so, Fox isn’t the only cable-news outfit with an embarrassment to apologize for. That Susan Moss person! I’m still traumatized.
My appreciation of Monaco’s new princess continues. I tried to link to a single photo from this slideshow, but failed. If you have time to page through, it’s the very last one that made me laugh out loud, no. 27. Princess Stephanie, in her tobacco-colored tan and wrist tattoo — she’s the French version of Aunt Mimi in “Treme.”
And now, the hour grows late, and I gotta go. Happy Wednesday, all.