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'Treme': A junkie Dutchman, a lovely violinist, and a few red flags

Treme20

It's time to cop to select free-floating concerns about "Treme" as we conclude hour No. 4 of the 10-episode HBO series' first season, thoughts that started popping up within the first 15 minutes of episode one. After all, the show has already been renewed for a second season. What do we have to lose?

Herewith, a few tiny annoyances that suggest a show still trying to find its groove.

First:

If the goal of good dialogue is to erase any evidence of the real-life writer inking the words, "Treme," in these first four episodes, occasionally struggles. Yes, John Goodman's character Creighton Bernette is based on a real-life blogger, the late Ashley Morris, and David Simon has said that some of Bernette's dialogue is taken verbatim from posts Morris wrote in the months following Hurricane Katrina.

But Bernette wears the righteous indignation thing like it's an eye patch, and I don't know whether it's in the writing or in Goodman's execution, but it's a little much. Despite lauded crime writer-turned-script king-turned-producer George Pelecanos (who wrote extensively for "The Wire") crafting the teleplay and co-writing this episode (with Simon), some of Bernette's lines in the show's initial hours are bang-you-over-the-head obvious, the kind that Goodman struggles to lift off of the page and into (fictional) reality.

Too often, you can hear the writer's voice in his characters, whether it's something simple like Chief Lambreaux expressing bafflement that perfectly solid housing complexes would be shuttered while people were looking for shelter, or street-corner pianist Sonny complaining about having to play "When the Saints Go Marching In." Anytime Steve Zahn's Davis McAlary talks about music, the writers strive to squeeze enough information into the dialogue to prove that the series knows the history. They're trying too hard.  

Second:

In 2005 there was a lot of music being played in New Orleans, and not all of it was New Orleans music. In fact, it'd be fair to speculate that a lot of people lost a lot of CDs and LPs in the flood, and that their collections of classic New Orleans music wasn't high on the list of things to replace.

Which is a roundabout way of saying: Sometimes the show goes overboard. Yes, when trombonist Antoine Batiste is up onstage, or when Chief Lambreaux is popping the tambourine with his Indians, New Orleans sounds are necessary. But when Batiste is in LaDonna's bar and trying (again) to get into her pants, the jukebox should be playing some Tyrone Davis or R. Kelly. Coldplay's "Speed of Sound" was as ubiquitous in New Orleans in '05 as it was in New York or Los Angeles, as was, alas, Maroon 5's "She Will Be Loved." And as someone who was living in close proximity to the dirty south at the time, the Ying Yang Twins' "Wait (The Whisper Song)" was fricking everywhere.

Those complaints out in the open, here are a few random observations:

I don't care at all about Dutch piano player/street musician Sonny. But maybe that's just because I'm jealous.

It is interesting in this episode and last to witness the first sprouting of nostalgia for the early days of YouTube. In late 2005, the site was only 10 months old. It's first mention in "Treme" is in episode three, when Creighton's daughter uploads a video to the site and her parents watch it with a combination of wonder and concern. Then, to realize that this moment was a portent, and that the Tulane professor and budding blogger Bernette was going to sit in front of his computer in a robe in the next episode and rant to the camera, was to remember the empowering feeling of early YouTube.

This is the first episode in which Antoine Batiste doesn't get any action with a woman. Maybe it's the stitched up lip. Overall, a rough hour for the bone player.

One funny holdover joke during this episode is the reference to Sonny as being from "Hamsterdam." The character, who seems to be unfolding as the requisite junkie musician, is a young Dutch expat who, when palling around with his friends on his way to Houston to sit in with horn player Glen David Andrews, jokes about being from "Hamsterdam." The reference is a carry-over from an early episode of "The Wire" called "Hamsterdam" that George Pelacanos also wrote.

And, finally: Steve Earle, who made a cameo (with his son, Justin Townes Earle) as a musician playing with the lovely Annie, needs a haircut. That tuft of long bangs that sits just above his forehead is a total fashion No, and someone needs to tell him. Embrace  your inner bald man, Mr. Earle. Your songwriting eclipses your hair when it comes to your achievements in life. Let it go.

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: Michiel Huisman as Sonny and Lucia Micarelli as Annie in "Treme." Credit: Paul Schirald / HBO

 
Comments () | Archives (10)

Um ... Coldplay on the jukebox of a Treme bar?

Antoine and LaDonna are parents. They don't listen to Yin Yang Twins, R. Kelly, or Tyrone Davis (or ... Maroon 5?).

No. Just ... no.

I personally applaud Steve Earle for not shaving off the few patches of hair he has left. Be true to your balding self, fashion faux pas be damned.

I do agree that this show comes off as being self-conscious sometimes, but that's the risk when you have a show that's trying to be more than just an escapist fantasy. Better that it makes some mistakes along the way than lack any meaningful ambition.

@Oh uh uh

I'm not saying that Coldplay or Ying Yang Twins should be playing in LaDonna's bar. I'm saying that everywhere there's music, be it in a restaurant, a bar, on the street, we hear only NoLa music, and that strikes me as wrong.

But I will submit that New Orleans jukeboxes in dive bars would have R. Kelly and Tyrone Davis on them.

I was laughing at the Hamsterdam comment too! I miss the Wire. So far the storyline i am following is the bartender (w dentist husband) and her relationship with the musician. I hope she finds her brother all her scenes are riveting. Her face says it all.

Great stuff, but you forgot to give mention of Prezbo's cameo. Great to see Pryzbylewski got out of teaching and has moved on to musical representation...

Randall,
I hate to come off as some "Wire" enthusiast know-it-all. But I'm going to anyway. One thing that watching The Wire about 15 times has taught me is that when following a David Simon series, you need to watch each episode 2 or 3 times before making any kind of judgment. There's just too many small details and nuances to look out for that you can't catch the first time around. For example, in Sunday's episode one of the chef's in Jeanette's restaurant changes the station to Q93 before the head chef turns it back. Q93 is a big hip hop/R&B station in New Orleans. Undoubtedly, Simon was using that scene as a metaphor to show that there may be other popular music in New Orleans, but it's musical roots still reign supreme.
I do agree with you about the writers' voices being heard through the characters. In an ideal world, that never happens. But sometimes that's necessary in order for the writers to provoke thought. Although Treme is ficitional, it's based on real life, so authenticity is of utmost importance. This isn't a show about some island that has magical powers and weird stuff happening that you hardly understand. Simon doesn't have the ability to just make stuff up like that, it has to be true to what really happened. So sometimes the writers interject themselves more substantially in order to maintain that authenticity. But I really don't mind that, because I've always agreed with the way Simon views the world.

I disagree about the dialogue. Have you never seen a David Mamet play? People don't talk like that! Shakespeare? No one ever spoke like that, except in his plays. Granted, many writers try too hard to broadcast their style from their characters' mouths, but if you sit and listen to what other people actually say .. most of it is extremely boring. It's when they spontaneously say something NOT normal that their words become interesting.

A great example of this is David Milch's 'Deadwood'. At first, I was annoyed by the alternate-reality dialogue, then realized that this was a wonderful stylistic choice, as though the characters themselves were aware they were performing for an audience and were attempting to transcend their social standing to appear thespian.

Treme's dialogue is completely consistent with the dialogue from The Wire. It gives you information that is 'on the nose' ON PURPOSE because, ultimately, that is the stuff that sticks in your head and teaches you. And, yes, they are trying to teach you something. While it's Oliver-Stone-smacking-you-in-the-face-like-you're-an-idiot dialogue, it is trying to get you on the side of the poor and working class in this country. It is not meant to keep you sitting on the fence.

I'm not saying that there should never be naturalistic dialogue. I'm saying that these writers know exactly what they are doing and are doing it intentionally. That some people don't dig it, shows that it is an acquired taste (like Mamet, Shakespeare, Cohen brothers, etc.)

Also, nit-picking ... 'Hamsterdam' is not from an 'early' episode of The Wire. It is from the entire 2nd half of the 3rd season of The Wire. In fact, it is one of the most brilliant concepts ever broached in that amazing show: the good/bad of a legalized drug zone in our country, the culture of which is completely hypocritical when it comes to drugs, especially when minorities are involved.

Dear Mr. Roberts,

As a fact that you are indeed a critic of television I get the fact that you must critique "Treme." But some of your critique's are well in my opinion, simply unfounded.

To assume that you hear to much of one David Simon's voice in the characters is well ludicrous. Just because David co-wrote the Wire with Ed Burns and to take that to assume he wants to save all black people or has some fixation on the music coming from Treme or NO is silly. While it is safe to assume he does have a fixation with the city, unless you are close with the man and I'm guessing you're not your critique is unfounded.

While I somewhat agree with your second point about the music, it is lest we forget, a show about New Orleans.

Also, I don't like Sonny either. I am clearly jealous as well.

Last but not least, please leave Steve Earle's hair alone unless you feel like posting a picture of yourself to be judged.

As a resident of NOLA, I have to say that what makes Hollywood sense doesn't make Southern sense. Maybe if "southern Bells", were dancing a Waltz to Cold Play's "When I ruled the world", in a neighborhood bar that might make sense to you. I guess I'll sound like a jerk. I don't  mean to. I do love Cold Play.
I was here from October and throughtout the time represnted in the series. I'll submit that Cold Play was probably on a few jukeboxes. You however presume that those jukeboxes were working. To be absolutly unbiased, there was a paralell universe it seemed in those days. Because in very isolated parts of the city there was celebration, maybe 2 blocks up, weeping and nashing; no, I don't think I'm being dramatic. There was little to do, littler to do with. Just know that however you consider Treme to be, it is an entertaining testament in comparison to reality.  
Sometimes people may look for things that they heard exists in this place, if they can't find it they go to Wal-mart buy it and leave it here. i.e., Hundreds of tourists come for Mardi Gras in search of the hot girls that flash for beads. Often disappointed they become the hot girls that flash for beads. 
The day I go to Los Angelos I won't look for every Celeb to be at home during the tour. I won't assume that everyone with an expensive camera is making a movie. Maybe I will presume that everyone that's signing autographs is famous; but really who isn't famous in L.A.? Hah. 
Every City has a voice, sometimes the voice that you hear and associate with a City doesn't mesh with reality. When you hear the real voice and see the absurd contrast between the two realities, it's like loving the girl who misrepresented her appearance and still doubting if the real her (unquestionably beautiful, in this case), is indeed real. The answer is sometimes "yes indeed".

Just want to comment that the song playing in LaDonna's bar was not New Orleans music. It was Memphis R&B, as LaDonna and Antoine mentioned.


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