“Like you always said: Straight ahead and strive for tone,” says trombone player Antoine Batiste in Episode 6 of “Treme,” and though he’s talking about music to a veteran horn player who lost his instruments in the flood, he could very well be addressing the writing on the HBO series.
“Treme” tells it like it is -- or was -- at every opportunity. Mostly this is a good thing, unless it ends up with bang-you-over-the-head dialogue, which it sometimes does. People tend to say exactly what’s on their minds in the show, which is necessary in a post-Katrina setting in which needs are high and emotions rattled.
When Janette is faced with the reality that she won’t be able to make payroll at her restaurant, there’s no getting around it. No paychecks are coming, so she calls a staff meeting and says so.
Davis McAlary announced his run for City Council, and rest assured that, if nothing else, he’s going to be straightforward -- endearingly so -- with his message.
Creighton Bernette is becoming well-known in New Orleans, and nationally, by harnessing YouTube and his blog to vent his anger at the response to the hurricane and the flood -- and is drawing the attention of his publisher, who likes his honesty and tone.
In fact, one of the only characters on the show who’s not doing the straight-ahead thing is Batiste, whose many girlfriends and sex friends have no idea of how indirect and evasive he is. His children, too, are no doubt frustrated, though longingly, lovingly so. We meet another one of his offspring this episode, which brings the total number of kids the trombone player has to four, by three different women.
Batiste is a great character (unless you’re his girlfriend or child). He’s the archetypal musician: passionate about his music at the expense of nearly every other thing in his life (except sex). In the last episode we followed him as he shopped for a new trombone after having received one from a wealthy Japanese jazz fan. The assumption was that Batiste would probably end up swapping the gift for something a little less shiny, a little more seasoned. Maybe he’d sell it to make rent or buy one of his kids something (or not).
But no. Instead, he gives it to a veteran horn player and tells him that the fan brought him the “bone” because he loved jazz when, in reality, the fan purchased it specifically for Batiste because he loved Batiste's playing. But that little white lie goes a long way toward advancing Batiste's character as a flawed human whose intentions are pure -- well, except when it comes to women.
He's a good guy, basically, and we see that here.
You know who's not a good guy, though? That low-life cokehead Dutch piano player Sonny, who reveals his true loser colors in Episode 6 when he gets into an argument with his girlfriend, the lovely violinist Annie. What does he do? Frickin' hits her. Annie. He hits Annie, the most likable character on the series. Why? Because she got another good session gig, and he's not invited along. While he's busy vacuuming up the cocaine, she's getting work, and rather than congratulate her, he's jealous.
Nice one, jerk. You better not hit her again, or we're coming after you. Really. (Just being straight-ahead here.)
-- Randall Roberts
Photo: Wendell Pierce as Antoine Batiste. Credit: Paul Schiraldi / HBO