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'Treme': Did he really jump? Do you really care?

June 14, 2010 |  5:00 am

Treme30

Falling in love with a television series is a singular experience. It’s a creation that infects your brain, your heart, your emotions. You think about it from week to week when it’s not on, you contemplate the next episode as you replay in your head the last one and all those that came before it. You unravel characters and motivations, try to get into the minds of the writers, marvel at the acting. Something is at stake: your time. You don’t want it to be wasted. You want to know that you’re going to learn something about the story, the characters, life. You want the pleasure of a good narrative. Otherwise, what's the point?

This isn’t a blog about AMC's series Breaking Bad, and I won’t talk too much about it other than to say that this weekend in between various other engagements I started on episode No. 1 of the first season (yes, I’m finally catching up) and couldn’t stop. I moved through all seven installments in the first season at various times on Saturday and woke up on Sunday morning with the series on my brain, made coffee, and sat down and watched three more. Over the course of that time I got teary-eyed and awed at least once per episode, flat-out bawled on another occasion, and found myself literally leaning close to the screen to get as near to the action as possible.

I knew that the new episode of "Treme" was on later in the weekend, but truth be told, it didn’t enter my head too much other than because I’m tracking the show and writing about it, I knew I’d be watching it. But not once did I get that obsessed feeling of soon visiting a made-up world. Never once did I look at the clock to count down the hours until it came on.

This wasn’t something I expected when I first started watching "Treme." I’ve enjoyed the show, but I'm getting increasingly frustrated by it. I’ve invested time and have gotten emotionally involved with a few aspects of it, mostly at something that Khandi Alexander's character, LaDonna, is going through. I’ve been blown away by certain sequences and scenes. I’ve loved lines of dialogue. But the obsession thing hasn’t happened the way that happened with "Breaking Bad" or "The Sopranos" or "The Wire" or "Mad Men."

And actually, nothing really happened in Sunday night's episode No. 9. Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) stared at a blank computer screen most of the time, at least when he wasn’t lecturing either us or his college class. At the end of the episode he vanished off the side of a boat after smoking a Marlboro, and we’re led to believe that he may have jumped overboard – the biggest cliffhanger of the series.

Part of me thinks: good riddance. The guy’s mostly a humorless blowhard, and every time he starts talking about New Orleans history or Kate Chopin or the 1927 flood, I hear co-creator David Simon’s voice (or maybe George Pelecanos's, since he did the teleplay for this episode) coming through loud and clear. If Creighton indeed did jump off the boat and drown, it’d be one fewer character telling us how outraged we should be about the state of post-Katrina New Orleans. Sonny (Michael Huisman) the druggy pianist? He and Annie (Lucia Micarelli) the violinist are breaking up, apparently, which is wonderful both for her and for us, because maybe that means they’ll be killing Sonny off at the end of this season. Better yet, maybe he and Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) can have a duel over Annie's affections and kill each other off at the same time.

What else happened in this episode? McAlary planned a party, lectured us about another amazing New Orleans musician, handed out fliers. People attended his party, drank, smoked pot, and then he got a late-night booty-call from Janette (Kim Dickins). Janette too planned a gathering, but it got rained out, and when she got home she realized that the rain had caused her ceiling to collapse. Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) sewed, and talked to a cop, and got his little work-buddy to unload some heavy stuff from the back of a pickup truck. Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) played the trombone while his baby daughter slept in a chair at the club. LaDonna went to a cemetery and got upset at the state of her family’s plot. Her roof is finally getting fixed.

Did someone say plot? New Orleans is a setting, not a plot. Music – supposedly a “character” in the show – isn’t plot, it’s ... music. We’ve got a lot of little storylines going on and a few big ones unfolding, but I can’t for the life of me tell you what this show is about the way that I could tell you what "Breaking Bad" is about.Yes, it's about rebuilding New Orleans and the realities of that endeavor; it's about music; it's about people. But what's the story exactly?

Wow. I actually didn’t realize how angry "Treme" is starting to make me. I want to like it, but it's becoming clear that I'm not caring too much about any of these characters, and I can’t imagine how Simon and company will be able to craft any sort of season-ending cliffhanger that will revive the excitement that I felt upon watching the first few episodes.

I started "Breaking Bad" because people repeatedly looked shocked and disappointed when I told them I’d yet to see it. I had no choice. Within the first 10 minutes of the first episode, it was love. (Who knew that Bryan Cranston in tighty-whiteys could do that to a man?) Now I understand.

Yes, I've had a few similar conversations with people who are completely taken with "Treme," but nine-tenths of the way through its first season, I've still not gotten to the point where I'm really looking forward to what happens next. And that's a bummer.

-- Randall Roberts

Photo: John Goodman as Creighton Bernette. Credit: Paul Schiraldi / HBO.


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