Television began as a live medium. It was designed to be ephemeral. This notion survived the invention of video tape and even the advent of the VCR. The last thing the networks wanted was to lose viewers because they missed an episode, so with the exception of soap operas, most television shows had plots that were contained to individual episodes. Network television required people to be in front of their TVs at a specific hour of a specific day of the week. Giving them shows that required that they never miss an episode was too much to ask, so with most shows, it mattered not whether or not you watched from its beginning or picked it up in the middle of its run. Only after cable television, Tivo, DVDs, and the internet have the kinds of season long, multiple story arcs like those favored by David Simon (The Wire) become popular. Shows like these required long attention spans, undivided attention and rewarded repeated viewing.
I’ve said since season one, Treme is not The Wire, but then New Orleans is not Baltimore. No one does site specific television like David Simon. The fact that he is not a native New Orleanian is only a testament to his talent and research and that of his assembled team.
No, Treme is not The Wire and musicians and chefs are not police and drug dealers. Film critic Roger Ebert has often lamented that movies don’t show enough of people at work. Well, just like David Simon’s series are site specific, they’re also job specific. While police offices and lawyers have often been fodder for drama, I have never learned more about the culture of professional musicians or chefs than I have while watching Treme.
Ladonna’s story arch once again anchors the season. Her sexual assault was the most compelling storyline of season two; just as her search for her missing brother was in season one. Her monologue at the end of season two was damn near perfect. I expect Khandi Alexander to win an Emmy.
That being said, the biggest scene stealer of season two was Wendell Peirce, but then Antoine Batiste is all about stealing this season. Stealing the spotlight from Bonerama during “Mr. Go” gave him the confidence to front his own band, but his over confidence lead him to steal Kermit Ruffin’s audience. His attempt to steal the spotlight from Wanda Rouzman during “Misty Blue” was the begging of the end of Antoine Batiste and the Soul Apostles.
This season was also about why we do what we do, for love or for money. Toni tries to give up pro-bon work for paying cases, but her sense of justice won’t allow her to. The point is driven home in the season finale with juxtaposition of the Nelson Hidalgo/ Arnie and DJ Davis/Aunt Mimi conversations. Arnie is probably still reeling from the fact that Nelson plans to buy and demolish homes that he has just put new roofs on. Arnie can’t understand how Nelson gets paid so much while not doing any actual work. When Arnie asks Nelson what he actually makes, all can say is that he makes “deals.” There’s a similar disconnect between Davis and Aunt Mimi. Davis, as an artist, can’t understand why Mimi would sell Lil’ Caliope’s contract to Cash Money before Brassy Knoll could even release a CD. Mimi, as a business woman, couldn’t pass up a chance to cash out of her investment in the label with a profit.
Shades of The Wire
The ghost of The Wire, and Jimmy McNulty in particular, were all over the Treme season two finale.
The cop car 69 between Colson and the FBI agent.
Sonny, sounding just like McNulty, asking “The fuck did I do?”
“Like raking leaves on a windy day.” The words of The Wire’s Deacon coming out of Antoine Batiste mouth.
Annie calling out “Gumbo Ya Ya” to Davis while watching the Guardians of the Flame at Jazz Fest in the season finale was a reference to what Davis said to her in the season opener. It reminded me of the “Nicely done,” echoed back and forth between McNulty and Stringer Bell.
The scene where Woodrow (Jim True-Frost) gives Big Chief Albert (Clarke Peters) the fake royalty check was a re-union of Pryzbylewski and Lester Freamon. I missed the significance of this, but my #Treme peeps on Twitter picked up on it.
Not thin the finale, but is it just me, or did the Big Chief sound a lot like Lester Freamon when he said, “Four hundred ninety five dollars… and no cents.” in episode 12?
Moments out of time:
Antoine Batiste upstaging Bonerama on Mr. Go in episode 11.
Lucien Barbarin singing “Mack the Knife” during Nelson’s meeting with Robinette in episode 13.
The slow realization on my part that Alan Richman and Oliver Thomas were playing themselves.
Dinneral’s funeral in episode 15. That was a rough cold open.
Antoine Batiste in episode 15, “I got a nine piece band with fifty four fuckin’ pieces!”
Janette not knowing when she befriends Delmond in NYC, that he is the son of Big Chief Albert, the man she met at the Road Home office. It’s these kind of small world coincidences that make the New Orleans of Treme feel like a real city, like The Wire’s Baltimore or Robert Altman’s LA in Short Cuts.
After waiting the better part of two seasons, finally in episode 18, a scene in The Palm Court.
The look on Kermit Ruffins’ face as he set to stealing back his audience in episode 19, “Antoine Batiste, you sho’ make me smile!”
“New Orleans infect music. It reconstitutionalates it.” Doctor John, in episode 20, but really, everything thing he said this season.
Desiree, in the season finale, echoing Antoine’s “Japan Japan?” from episode 16 when they both learn that Henry Butler is taking Trombone Shorty and not Antoine on his overseas tour.
The smile on Big Chief Lambreaux’s face at Jazz Fest. Is that the first time we’ve seen the man’s teeth this season?
Season three won’t arrive a minute too soon.