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


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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Comments () | Archives (61)

A lot of you commenters seem to be taking this too personally. He's talking about a television show, not about the reality it depicts. I mean, really guys--for those of you from the Gulf, feeling (understandably) protective these days, ask yourselves this: does this show, back-dated nearly 5 years at this point, actually help the Gulf recovery, from either Katrina or the oil spill? No, of course not. It's a television show. Unless there are huge floes of donor money coming into the Gulf thanks to the righteous indignation spurred by this show that I don't know about, that is.

I'm glad some people are watching and liking this show, since Simon's clearly a talent worth supporting, but I wish I could say I was too.

I'm with Randall on this one, full-stop. At first I remembered how "slow" The Wire seemed at first, how much patience was required to keep up with all the players and actions and hints of story arcs. But as this season dragged on, I felt less confident in Simon's vision for this show. I like music as much as the next person, but to posit it as a "character" in this loose lattice of a show is absurd. Great stuff, Randall - glad someone's calling it like it is. Simon, you can do better.

I agree Treme's plot is slow. But i love the music so much and my favorite character is the Chief and ladonna. I am just waiting to see those Indians again

I'm sorry to hear you didn't get into the series. I'd be curious how this measured up to your review of "the Wire", though.........because it is the same formula.

If you're looking for formulaic Primetime myopic storylines, I doubt Treme would be for you. If you think Treme is about specific individual (characters), you're largely missing the point of the series.

I will say, however, that I don't know what a reader was supposed to take away from this 'review'. A cynical and sardonic rant because you didn't get connected to the show (because you never invested in the art of each episode)? It really wasn't worth the read.

I personally love this show and understand the passion that drives most of these characters. These characters arent those that were created from the minds of the writers, creators or producers of the series but they are based on actual people who are mirroring the pain and challenges.

I hope John Goodman's role has not vanished. I think the series is cast very well and can't wait until next week to see the finale.

By the way, this series is necessary for people outside of this the Gulf Coast has an idea of how strong the people of New Orleans and beyond can truly be. I have been wanting to visit NOLA for a while and will finally have the ability to do so this summer.

i fast forward through alot of the music---it's a little too much sometimes---i do like most of the characters but john goodman is too fat to be on tv so i really hope he won't be coming back---and who shot themselves in the car at the very end of the episode?

I get your criticisms. The problem is your not high. You need to smoke up before watching this show, and then it all makes sense. :)

(FWIW, I'm serious)

Look, reading these comments, I want to chime in. I haven't read every blog the author has submitted on "Treme" but I've read enough to know that Roberts loves the ideas behind the show: the music, food, soul, compelling tragic circumstances, and culture motivating the show. Roberts has demonstrably wanted to love the show itself. I believe he has even written as much.

Music is a language and an art, flourishing or floundering on a currency of feelings. tv is a language and an art as well, though writing this it seems like an embarrassing if not slightly absurd admission. But for purposes of these comments let's assume the purpose of HBO's "Treme" is to create art, first and foremost, like its pulse of choice, music. Not by any means a far fetched assumption.

When a reviewer listens to music and feels flat and uncaring as a result, should the reviewer lie about that internal reaction, self consciously conceal it, or be honest? Treme largely hasn't worked up any currency of feelings worth mattering (perhaps because of creating such high hopes in the first instance) to this author. I would much rather Roberts be truthful about that than to conceal it or even worse lie about it. The truthful feelings "Treme" generates matters most.

You are too much in love with BREAKING BAD to be able to see anything else. It feels like you are dating TREME on the side, so you can find things to criticize. One blockbuster TV love affair at a time - its clear you're not cut out for bigamy.

And PS - get your head out of BREAKING BAD and take a look at the news every now and then. Now it's not JUST post-K New Orleans, which is STILL TERRIBLE, and think about that freakin' oil leak that is killing off the Louisiana wetlands and has ravaged the gulf. This time next year, Lake Ponchatrain could be full of oil and you won't have to write anything about New Orleans at all except "ain't dere no more!"

Yes of course Creighton Bernette died in the river. The show is created by the creators of The Wire where no punches were ever pulled and no character too essential to the show. While Treme is certainly not The Wire, what they do share in common is that each unfolds like a novel where any given chapter may not unveil the plot. Enjoy each and eventually they all will bring you to the point where novels become compelling and grip you. Treme's music, history and authenticism make the show unique and better than anything else on television. The characters develop slowly maybe because there are so many of them. Arnie for example could probably be a weekly show all by himself. Of course if you don't enjoy novels or history or music it might make the show less enjoyable. Anyway, I have learned so much each week and like Lester in The Wire says "all the pieces matter".

Its really nice you have a job where you can sit and watch TV and give your small minded opinion. Being a health care professional(34yrs) I saw and experienced things eyes should not have seen. We are very strong in our New Orleans culture and heritage and one thing I remember when I was looking at what used to be my house next to the 2nd break at the London Ave Canal a young gentleman from Los Angeles was one of the volunteer workers and I thanked him for helping us--his reply was please help us when the next earthquake comes.
Mr.Randel Roberts why even waste your time with wanting to watch the next episode of TREME. Do all of us a favor down here--Don't watch it. Keep your opnion to your self and as hospitable as we are YOU are not welcome to the Real New Orleans we know and LOVE--IT'S SOMETING YOU DON'T UNDERSTAND----

what a bad article

I love both shows which are built on radically different structures. Treme has given me the incredible gift of a point of entry into a beautiful, vibrant, rich culture that has deeply influenced America. I'm in awe of the courage that Treme's creative team has shown in their willingness to abandon all the easy and glib solutions, the conventional narrative tools, in favor of something really new, a way of telling the story of a diverse community that emerges organically from the stories themselves as they dance with each other in unpredictable patterns. Simon, Overmyer et al, along with the Br Ba team are moving cable TV further into uncharted territory of amazing power and sophistication. Their work along with a very few others in the field is one
of the few things in this beleaguered century that brings me hope.

Creighton absolutely jumped. It's strange a TV critic wouldn't pick up on this (especially one that watched The Wire). It's like claiming Frank getting out of his truck and walking toward The Greek was a cliffhanger...

I'm mostly staying out of this -- I've stated my opinion in the piece itself -- except to say that anyone confusing my opinion on the show Treme and my opinion on the music of New Orleans or the city itself missed the point of what I was trying to say. Of course I care what happens to New Orleans. Of course I love the music of the city. Of course. I just don't feel like Simon and company have nailed the city and the stories within with the same passion and energy with which they nailed Baltimore. As Simon has said on many occasions, Treme is *fiction*. And, for the most part, I just don't like the fictional stories about real life New Orleans that he's presenting. As a cultural anthropologist, he's doing great work. As a story-teller, he's not.

In response to Markus H.'s comment about how Treme may not be for anyone but New Oreleanians: I can easily see how someone who has never been to New Orleans may not care much for or understand the show. I myself am not from New Orleans, but having visited the city many times since last year, I have a love and appreciation for the place and its people that I probably wouldn't if I only knew it as a place that exists in my imagination. New Orleans is probably the most culturally rich place in our country, which has a real lack of culture. More people should go take it all in and and appreciate it. I think that NOLA makes for great television fodder, and I think that Treme does a wonderful job of capturing it and all of its nuances, but I guess someone who hasn't been there wouldn't understand. Which is a shame.

If one has never lived in New Orleans, I can imagine Treme is tough to get into. But if one has been lucky enough to live there for a while, watching Treme is like getting to visit for an hour per week without the hassle of airport security or the expense of a plane ticket.

I love the show and know real people just like Davis, Toni, the Tulane professor, Antoine, and the chef. So for me, I could care less about the plot week to week. It's worth tuning in just to hear Kermit hit that high C and remember how much fun it was to live in such a magical place.

And I couldn't believe my eyes when John Goodman's character appeared in Liuzza's BTT. Bloody Mary's for all and then on to the track!

why are you reviewing television series?

if you have to love it to find something compelling to say about it, then just stick to Breaking Bad or Mad Men. I dug the Sopranos and The Wire, too - but I have the luxury of knowing the entire series now and seeing how they all fit together as one cohesive piece of work.

not to mention Mad Men is a similarly-paced show -- I sit for weeks waiting for something more than hints at the characters' motivations and machinations, and only occasionally do I get a payoff in the form of something actually happening... I think you should give Treme, its characters, and the unconventional plot more of a chance. after all, the Times gave you a chance to write this blog, and haven't demanded a minimum amount of actual criticism to post it.

You don't get it.

I can see where everyone is coming from and it might seem like Randall is picking on New Orleans, but I don't think so. He's frustrated with the show and its pace. I never watched The Wire so I cannot say if this show matches its pacing. What I can say is it sometimes seems like a) there are too many characters and b) not enough plot.

I find myself reluctant to even say the latter after watching LOST for six seasons. I've always been one who believes there are times when pushing heavy towards a character's motivation brings out good if not great plot lines. But truthfully some of the characters I think don't know what they want. What is the point behind the Davis character or even Sonny? What are their motivations other than having a good time or getting high? If Sonny had jumped off the boat, I would be jumping for joy.

I get this show is about finding a way to move forward after such a traumatic event such as Hurricane Katrina and the levees breaking. I understand the characters are trying to live normally while being surrounded by chaos on so many levels. I just wish they would pick up the pace a bit and move past characters that don't add anything to the show. If there is anything that for me stands out week to week is the music. Now that I wouldn't change at all.

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