Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Treme Season 1 Episode 1, "Do You Know What It Means" review

Synopsis from

Written By David Simon and Eric Overmyer
Directed by Agnieszka Holland

New Orleans, LA
Three Months After

A small crowd gathers around a battered edifice amidst the wreckage of a post- Katrina street in the Upper Ninth Ward to witness the first second line since the storm. A few white bohemians, police offers, National Guardsmen, Habitat for Humanity workers and church volunteers are scattered throughout the mostly black group of musicians and locals (many of whom have driven back from Houston or Baton Rouge for the parade.)

Inside the Social Aid and Pleasure Club, leaders of the Rebirth band negotiate their fee with the dancers from the half dozen clubs who have pooled their resources for this event. “Less than two hundred a man? That shit ain’t right.” Hungry to play, the musicians eventually agree to the fee. The music starts and the musicians and crowd blend into a celebratory parade.

Late to the party, Antoine Batiste argues with his cab driver, accusing him of taking a more costly route. Handing over a twenty and promising he’ll find him with the balance later, Batiste takes off, trombone in hand, to join the second line.

Hearing the approaching parade, DJ Davis McAlary wakes, fighting for the first shower with Janette Desautel, who, facing another morning-after blast of cold water, wonders why she didn’t go home the night before. She takes off to tend her restaurant and McAlary joins the parade. Arriving at Desautel’s, Janette discusses options for the night’s menu with her sous chef Jacques, given their limited provisions and a distracted staff.

Albert Lambreaux’s daughter gives him a ride back to New Orleans from Houston. Returning to his ruined home, Lambreaux and Davina survey the destruction. He demands that his daughter take him to “Poke’s.”

As the second liners approach Gigi’s Lounge, their final destination, the bar’s owner LaDonna Batiste-Williams watches from the doorway, surprised to see her ex-husband Antoine amidst the players.

On the levee, Creighton Bernette is interviewed by a British TV crew while his teen-aged daughter Sofia watches. Bernette shoots down the interviewer’s suggestion that what happened to New Orleans during Katrina was a natural disaster. “What hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast was a natural disaster,” he says. “The flooding of New Orleans was a man-made catastrophe, a Federal fuckup of epic proportions and decades in the making.” When the reporter presses him about what whether New Orleans is worth rebuilding he grabs the man’s microphone and hurls it in the river and tries to throw the camera in as well.

McAlary returns home and antagonizes his neighbors, a gay male couple, by aiming his stereo speakers at the garden of their Creole cottage. His neighbors retaliate against his loud Nawlins rap music with their own blast of public radio classic fare.

Back home, Sofia Bernette fills her mother Antoinette “Toni” Bernette in on the number of F-bombs in her father’s levee interview. Creighton starts to defend himself but has to take a call: “NPR…it’ll be fine,” he assures his wife. “The ‘N’ stands for ‘nuance.” Sofia complains about having to go back to her Catholic boarding school in Baton Rouge and her mother assures her she should be able to return by Carnival. From the other room, Creighton’s voice grows louder: “The old city is not below sea level. It never has been,” he explains, unraveling as he realizes the interviewer’s grasp of the situation is not as nuanced as he hoped.

After the crowd has cleared out of Gigi’s, LaDonna feeds Antoine a plate of rice and beans and they discuss her dentist husband who commutes down to see her weekends from their home in Baton Rouge and her brother Daymo, missing since the storm. She chastises her ex for not visiting their sons, Alcide and Randall, more often.

Desautel and Jacques race to keep pace with their patrons. The place is crowded with locals looking for good food and companionship. “I could stay open ‘til midnight every night if I had the staff,” Desautel tells Creighton and Toni Bernette.

Davina calls her brother Delmond Lambreaux, who’s playing a gig in New York City, telling him it’s his turn to come down to try to talk sense into their father, who is now living in Poke’s bar, and cleaning it out.

Demetrius Bray shows up at LaDonna’s bar late, having missed the second line because his car broke down on his way back from Memphis. He asks after her brother Daymo, and tells her he was locked up with him in the storm.

Showing up to take over the late shift at WWOZ Radio, the evening DJ gives him the station’s play list for the upcoming pledge drive, over McAlary’s objections: “One in every three songs from a pledge drive compilation?”

As dawn breaks, Lambreaux, who has worked through the night to clear the debris from Poke’s unpacks a change of clothes and makes his way up the desolate block to his friend Robinette, in search of a bath. “Seem Poke need t’pay his water bill,” he explains. Robinette invites him in.

Antoine wakes to find his cash from the second line gig has already been taken by his live-in girlfriend Desiree for groceries.

McAlary, strolling through the French Quarter, sees that Tower Records is liquidating and storms the store demanding the consigned copies of his brand’s CD, but the security guard throws him out.

A cleaned-up Lambreaux asks Robinette to haul away the debris from Poke’s so he can use the bar for Mardi Gras Indian practice. “I’m asking as a chief, here,” he says. But Robinette refuses, pointing out Lambreaux isn’t his chief- and none of Albert’s gang is even around.

At Lil’ Dizzy’s restaurant, Toni Bernette meets LaDonna, who arrives to fill Toni in on the new lead on Daymo. Toni promises to look into it. LaDonna leaves, and Toni enlists the help of a sheriff’s department captain, LaFouchette, who is also having lunch there.

Antoine promises yet another cab driver he’ll be back with his money and heads into musician Kermit Ruffins’ house to get in on his gig at Vaughan’s that night- and begs for an advance so he can retrieve his trombone from the waiting taxi.

At Vaughan’s, McAlary spots Elvis Costello in the audience and tries to get Kermit to talk to him after the gig, but Kermit doesn’t care. “You’re just standing there telling me that all you wanna do is get high, play some trumpet, and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?” demands McAlary. “That’ll work,” laughs Kermit.

Lambreaux, in the full regalia of a Big Chief of Mardi Gras Indian tribe, comes to chant in front of Robinette’s house. Robinette and his wife emerge from their home to watch. Moved by Lambreaux’s determination, Robinette agrees to haul away the debris.

Toni Bernette waits outside the temporary parish jail for LaFouchette who brings her an up-to-date list of prisoners the parish had in its custody at the time of the storm- no Daymo. She takes the list and head to the Times-Picayune to search their archives for photos of prisoners who were on the overpass when the storm hit.

Antoine returns home with his payment from Kermit’s gig- Desiree says it’ll cover gas and electric. This time he keeps enough to get him to the next gig.

McAlary gets an old friend to let him into Tower Records after hours so he can retrieve his CDs- plus an out-of-print collection of Dave Bartholomew that is “karmatically” his- since his was stolen. He heads to Desautel’s and opens a ’98 Conterno- a $350 bottle of wine- offering the stolen Dave Bartholomew CD as payment. Furious, Desautel has Jacques throw her “kind-of” boyfriend out.

Toni brings two grainy prints she found at the paper to LaDonna, pictures that look like Daymo. Toni heads next to the sheriff’s, willing to wait until he can answer her questions about the missing boy. She gets no answers from the sheriff.

Delmond shows up to try to talk his father out of staying in New Orleans. But Lambreaux orders him to either help clean out the bar or pay the water bill.
Antoine stiffs a cabbie once again as he arrives just in time for a gig with a band playing a funeral procession. “Forty to the graveyard, and forty to cakewalk back, right? Play for that money boys. Play for it,” he says as the band begins its slow step to the cemetery.

I anxiously awaited for this show to debut because not only was David Simon responsible for the greatest television show ever, THE WIRE, but I am a huge fan of the superb GENERATION KILL and THE CORNER. The teaser sequence set up the mood and feel of this series brilliantly. Even though the series is steeped in tragedy- it seems a bit more optimistic than THE WIRE. That could be because of the fact that THE WIRE thematically was modeled after a Greek tragedy- but this show has so much soul and life, even in the wake of the devastation of Katrina.

It was great to see Wendell Pierce introduced as Antoine, who is already becoming one of my favorite characters. The recurring gag with not having enough for the cab driver was hilarious, and you get an idea of what a smooth talker Antoine is. Although, his smoothness cannot help his situation of living hand to mouth- with children from two different women. But, there are few who can spout David Simon scripted dialogue and make it seem downright poetic.

Khandi Alexander, who plays Antoine's ex wife, LaDonna, is shaping up to be one of the strongest characters on the series. For too long her amazing acting talents have been squandered on the CSI franchise she was working on (there's like a million of them). This is Khandi's finest role since her role as Fran Boyd on THE CORNER. You see the strength of this woman as she struggles to keep her bar afloat- but you see the strength wither as she realizes that her brother may be dead. And I enjoyed the one scene where she talks with Antoine, and you get the idea that there is still something there.

The McAlary/Janette relationship reminds me very much of the disastrous McNulty/Pearlman hookups on THE WIRE where it seemed like casual sex on a train to nowhere. Now, what Janette gets out of the sex with McAlary, is unknown- but she doesn't seem to be pining for him since she had no problem kicking him out of her restaurant.

McAlary, is the type of character who some could rally against like I remember certain WIRE fans hated Ziggy originally before his story arc was allowed to play out. But, personally, I love McAlary. Steve Zahn somehow makes this asshole character very likeable. His scenes with Elvis Costello and trying to convince Elvis that he taught Kermit Ruffins everything he knows was absolutely hysterical. And McAlary had that great passionate moment when he tries to convince Kermit (who is completely unaware on who Elvis Costello is) to talk to Elvis because he can be a bigger star. But, Kermit is content with where he is. It reminds me a bit of THE WIRE where no one can think past Baltimore and outside that world.

By the way, thank you David Simon for the Kermit Ruffins love- I have been playing a few Kermit albums all this week. Amazing music. Not to mention the Dave Bartholomew I've been playing at work non-stop. Thanks to this show, I'm going to be playing New Orleans music all week.

I got a bit teared up when I saw David Mills in the opening credits listed as co-executive producer. That guy was one of a kind and is still being missed. RIP Dave.

I always thought Clarke Peters is the type of actor who could have thrived in silent movies. He's an actor who just seemed to be of another era because he does much by saying so little. His role of Lester Freamon on THE WIRE was one of my faves, and his portrayal of Albert is already captivating. He's so dedicated to returning home and fixing his environment- it's very inspirational. Whereas, his kids see nothing to salvage, Albert sees something that is worth saving. This differing of opinions has to deal with the generation gaps between Albert and his kids.

It sort of reminds me of a scene with Proposition Joe and Cheese in the final season of THE WIRE where Joe told his nephew how community meant so much, and how his generation "lost".

Speaking of Albert's kids, it was nice seeing Edwina Findley cast as Davina. The last time I saw her was catching a stray in season 3 of THE WIRE when her character, Tosha, got killed in a stashhouse shoot-out.

But, that scene with Albert cleaning that bar- some of the most compelling tv, just because Clarke does so much with no dialogue. You see the determination in his face, and that determination continues when he dresses up in full Chief regalia, when he implored Robinette to help him. It was such a moment of pride and admiration.

I'm looking forward to seeing where the Albert storyline is going to go.

Also, Robinette's voice is just awesome. We're just talking Keith David type of awesome.

It's interesting how this show seems very character driven so far. I have no clue how Simon modeled the feel of this show, but it still feels more hopeful than THE WIRE.

The music itself is a huge character in this show and every musical moment pulsates with vibrancy and life. You see what is worth saving. The question of, "Who cares?", seems to be the thing David Simon poses and answers throughout the entire opening episode. I have never watched a show that made me just feel so good when I hear a music and the sense of euphoria that can wash over me.

McAlary playing "Shake that Ass" in his window to his gay neighbors were just twenty-four shades of awesome.

It's good to see how this show begins with the Rebirth Band and ends with the funeral procession. There's a certain symmetry to how the episode unfolded- and I cannot wait until next week.

From the superb writing and skilled direction- this is a television show that audiences beg for but rarely ever get. I read that a second season has already been greenlit- which is great news as a fan of David Simon and already of this show. I read something where David wants to get Dominic West to direct an episode next season (Dominic did a great job with THE WIRE episode he directed).

Here's the opening theme song, "Treme Song" by John Boutté. I'm used to "Way Down in the Hole" after all these years, but this opening is very catchy.

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