Treme – “Accentuate the Positive”
“How long you been playin’, man?”
“Two months. It’s hard.”
“It gets easier.”
“It’s supposed to.”
Well. 10 years later and I guess it’s okay to make fun of New York again.
There’s no question from the first season that Treme is a love-letter to the city of New Orleans, at least to everything except its government. Music, food, culture are all mythologized and characters wax poetically about their city more often than Dan Rydell does during those twangy little moments on Sports Night. It’s like that whole “I didn’t know we could do that” schtick except everyone from New Orleans knows they can do it but are drowned by the wreckage of The Storm. The pride and swagger of this city believing itself to be the best place on Earth, in spite of it being smashed into rubble by nature and man’s follies, clashes with our idea that New York, in spite of its own older tragedy, is the jewel in the American crown.
We open up this season of Treme with two characters in New York having their experience colored by renewed and lingering roots in New Orleans combining with some doubts to the validity of New York as “greatest city.” Complicate that with things in New Orleans going swimmingly for some (and minorly less-swimmingly for others) and we essentially have the show presenting a case for why NOLA rules and NYC drools.
Let’s catch up with everyone, including our new resident douchebag character. Could he be more of a jackass than Davis or Sonny?
Orleans v York
“Accentuate the Positive” takes out of Louisiana to focus on the characters that have “graduated” out of the city. Though Delmond has been there for a while (his New Orleans redemption being one of the more subtle stories of last season), he and Janette live in New York for the same reason: to chase “the dream” and stack up against the best. Now that the Indians have helped Delmond reconnect with his roots and Janette has seen what working in New York is like, the Apple leaves a bad taste in their mouths. Their relationship to the city is the most condemning of the case against New York. Delmond deals with people from outside his hometown feigning perspicacious musings on the state of New Orleans, saying things Delmond himself would’ve said prior to the Storm about the traditions of the city being like a “minstrel show” or a “wax museum” but I think the idea that those don’t convey the meaning of the rest of the conversation. Maybe that’s further evidence that these people have no idea what they’re talking about. What they mean is that the representations of New Orleans culture are out of touch and stuck in in the past, refusing to move forward. Instead of seeing them as traditions, they see them as relics to something that doesn’t exist anymore or just refuses to progress with the times. These stooges regurgitate a editorial media, announcing the tragedy of Katrina has gashed the spirit right out of the Crescent City and that nothing will be the same again. Even though there’s a disparity between Delmond’s pre-Storm assessment of the city (he felt hampered by the tradition) and the New York crowd’s post-Storm condolences, the language is the same or similar. Even though it’s never been right out in front as a plotline for the show, Delmond’s growth over the last season is palpable in the rooftop scene as he expresses his changing perception with a “no one picks on my little brother but me” mentality. Certainly, it could be because he just doesn’t like to hear his words come out of other people’s mouths but it seems like this is part of a transition for Del. He might actually miss home.
Janette is in a similar situation where she has been disillusioned by New York City. Her comparisons aren’t nearly as obvious as Del’s conflict (she doesn’t mention New Orleans at all) but certainly her struggle on the line for a New York City chef demonstrates her disconnect with this town as opposed to her own. She lives the dream of many: living in Brooklyn, working in a major restaurant in Manhattan for a well-respected chef, not exactly owning her own restaurant but people have to start somewhere in a market like New York. Things are certainly different than they were in New Orleans, however, and her sentiment is most felt through juxtaposition rather than in her scenes themselves.
While having the internationally recognized industry drink of “beer and a shot,” she sits in a bar after work (presumably late at night since it’s after work) and meditates in a bar so quiet people from The Shining would get creeped out. Her mind is elsewhere. The scene is sandwiched between Juvenile backed by a giant band singing for a crowd of fans with Davis and Annie looking on and a raucous street band. Loud, uproarious, full. The argument against New York doesn’t get louder than it does here. The rest of the episode, particularly the positive parts not surrounding the death of Creighton or the trials Albert trying to find a home, positions its case as an extension of what Davis was trying to tell Janette in the season one finale with her last day: there’s a lot to see and do in New York City but there’s a life to live in New Orleans. There’s a soul there that the Center of the Universe does not possess.
Kid with the Trumpet
This week, that soul is represented by a kid learning to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” on the trumpet. More specifically, he is the next generation trying to rise from the wreckage to carry on tradition. He wanders the streets of New Orleans, playing those first few recognizable notes and weaves in and out of the characters’ lives. He’s recognized by the elders for what he means (Albert sees him from the cemetery and gives him a nod). He faces people playing and struggles to persevere when faced with their experience (burdened by history). But, most importantly, he wanders onto a crime scene and Tritter (his name is Terry in this show but — come on, he’s Tritter) shoos him away, citing a curfew. Throughout last season and this episode, we’ve seen several instances of the culture of New Orleans clashing with the law, from Albert’s stand in the projects to talk of the Indians not listening to police to NOLA’s ability in crowd-control. Toni rattles off a possible progression of events she formulates a case against where the police squash the culture of New Orleans because they don’t understand it. With things turning sour for the police force (crime is rampant and everyone knows it), this looks like the major conflict for this season, the police vs the culture. But, with this show, who’s to say what a seasonal arc even looks like?
Nelson is the New Jackass
As far as antagonists go, the beleaguered police aren’t alone. Jay’s cousin Nelson comes to town from Texas and he is in on some big plans for New Orleans, the type that diabolical but hidden in language as positives for the city. No specifics yet but he seems to have a greasy charm the sits well with some of the locals (Ladonna seems to think he’s okay) but doesn’t necessarily match well with the characters that populate the our version of the city. In a show full of salt-of-the-earth kind of people, Nelson is too groomed, too insincere, and too consumerist for this town. It makes for a very “one of these things is not like the other, one of these things just doesn’t belong” kind of situation. Obviously, that makes him the bad guy.
It’s kind of okay that he’s such a jackass (though he hasn’t engaged in any real jackassery yet) because our two previous resident jackasses, Davis and Sonny, have softened tremendously since Season 1. Davis really stopped being a jackass early (and even his days of d-baggery were endearing) to give way for Sonny’s complete mistreatment of Annie. Now that Davis and Annie are together (hooray!) and Sonny is on his own, he seems to have lightened up a lot to his situation, clearly waiting in the wings for if/when Davis and Annie break-up but not actively trying to sabotage anything. Sonny is being right stand up about it. So Nelson kind of fills a vacuum.
All in all, a decent start to this season for a show that really didn’t have much of a cliffhanger going into it. But, to be fair, no one is tuning into this show for its soap opera aspects. While we cheer for these people to succeed (or for the bad seeds to hit rock bottom), the real protagonist is the city itself. These characters are all contributing factors to the success of the city rising from the rubble and, with their emergence, New Orleans finally wins. I imagine until Super Bowl XLIV because that’s how we know the city finally wins. When is Drew Brees going to guest star?
- Antoine is still my favorite character on the show. His worship of trombone through poverty and setbacks is inspiring sometimes, especially since he never blames his track as an instrument player for his troubles. Playing is life. “What else am I going to do?”
- As a guy that hates to see couples consummated on television (see: Huddy), I’m really glad to see Davis and Annie together. My distaste for consummated couples doesn’t stem from a hate for love or a heightened interest in that sexual tension. It’s not like I’m a Bones fan or anything. Generally, that tension is a major part of a show (see: Chuck, The Office, Castle, etc) and sometimes leaves a hole when the couple gets together so the show suffers for a lack of obstacles. But Davis and Annie weren’t a major thread for the program and if anyone on the show deserves happiness it’s Annie. Davis is a sweet enough guy to do it. Not sure where they’re going with it but it’s cute nonetheless.
- Nice to see that, with the DaMo story out of the way, Ladonna’s problems are still the same: her husband wants her with the rest of the family instead of staying in New Orleans every week and, ostensibly, getting herself into trouble with Antoine, etc. With how hard this show sells New Orleans, my gut reaction is how could he ask her to leave. Then, you have to feel sorry for the poor rube, because it’s not like he’s asking for something extraordinary from his wife. Good conflict.
- I was hoping the shooting at the bar would be a “save the cat” moment for Sonny. Fortunately, they were able to soften him up with Davis at the gig. I guess we’ll see that shooting come up for something else later.
- I like that Sofia is taking her dad’s role for being the internet’s voice for New Orleans. Her character has a lot of potential this season since she’s not only tormented by the death of her father but also the normal hormonal torment with which the body torments the teenage girl. There’s a real Amber Braverman but on HBO future for her if they want to take it down that road.
- I fancy myself a fan of music. My iTunes is full of bands no one has even heard of and I feel proud of have such a broad spectrum of genres I spin and enjoy. But this show makes me feel absolutely slow on music, like what I listen to is soulless garbage and only New Orleans sound has any validity. What’s great about Treme is that they often bring on actual musical legends to contribute to this love-letter to New Orleans and I don’t recognize any of them. It’s like a whole new world of music I know nothing about and I’m equally grateful but also a little shamed by what I don’t know.
- April 25, 2011