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TV Review: Treme – “Shame, Shame, Shame”

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Davis: “This isn’t good at all. Your city is wet. Really wet. It must be twice as bad on the ground.”

“Shame, Shame, Shame.” It is the title of two New Orleans songs, and the title of last night’s episode of Treme. It’s the evident theme as well. There’s plenty of shame to spread around. Shame on Davis for not really knowing his place in his neighborhood. Shame on Creighton for not knowing his place in his literary neighborhood. Shame on Sonny for copping again.

For DJ Davis McAlary, a character many viewers love to hate (but I am loving Steve Zahn's performance), most of the shame over how Katrina was handled is reserved for President Bush. For the writer of the episode, Lolis Eric Elie, shame is more appropriately worn by the Army Corps of Engineers who for years built and maintained levees which could not contain Katrina's flood waters.

Elie, a former Times-Picayne writer, is the co-creator/producer of Faubourg Treme: The Untold Story About Black New Orleans, a documentary with great influence upon the HBO series, and the impetus to Elie getting a writing job with David Simon and Eric Overmyer. As if that wasn't enough accomplishment, Elie is also a food writer and an editor for Cornbread Nation, an anthology of Southern food writing. This particular hat Elie wears is manifest in the episode's excellent restaurant scenes.

To recap and recarp: Sonny supplies more and more reasons why Annie should run like hell. Creighton begins to show evidence for why he is known for his verbal powers of persuasion (because f-you doesn’t persuade anyone of anything — try it on the road next time you're driving), Davis wastes more and more of our and his community’s time (Davis on his run for City Council — "if nominated I will pretend to run. If elected I will not pretend to serve"), and Toni continues her saintly ways, spending lots of time searching for a missing trombone. No phone calls for Toni – everything is done in person. And that's a good thing because she brings us to two wonderful television actors, David Morse and Tim Reid. I mean, how is anyone supposed to concentrate on the many layers and levels of Treme if they keep bringing us our favorite '80s actors to distract us from the work at hand?

Actor Tim Reid followed up his success on WKRP in Cincinnati with Frank's Place, a sitcom set in New Orleans. In "Shame, Shame, Shame," Reid plays a court judge that Toni and LaDonna appeal to, seeking more help from the New Orleans Sheriff Department for the missing DayMo.

For the missing trombone, Toni calls on David Morse in what I hope is a recurring role, not just part of the Treme parade of celebrities. Morse has worked in film (The Green Mile), Broadway (The Sea Farer), and television. He was Dr. Morrison in 137 episodes of St. Elsewhere, the series that out-Housed House and over-ERed E.R. He’s pictured here with Howie Mandel on table (with hair) and Sagan Lewis.

When Janette cooks for four celebrity chefs, we get scenes of cooking comparable to musicians playing: there’s more to treasure in New Orleans than just the music. In this scene, overindulgent with the four cameos of super chefs Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, David Chang and, just for laughs, Wylie Dufresne, there is the wonderful, almost toss-off moment when Janette grills the waitress as to what exactly Colicchio's reaction to her creation is: "How did he say it? Exactly what did he say?… He said 'She can cook' or 'She can really cook?'" It's a consummate moment in her cooking career, and we are happy to share it with her. Later she attempts to tell Davis about the chefs' visit, but he is too wrapped up in his campaign to pay any attention. The episode further illustrates the contrast between Janette as an artist and Davis as a poseur.

There were many chefs, yes, and the restaurant scene could be argued as overkill, but we get to spend more time with Janette’s right hand man in the kitchen, Jacques Vaz so there's no complaining here. Played by accomplished stage actor, playwright and documentarian, Ntare Mwine, Jacques is building more and more of a presence in Treme, a welcome presence. New Hampshire-born from Ugandan parents, Mwine (right) is a master of accents as indicated from his early work in New York Undercover and his one-man play Biro.

The fifth episode begins as the series has been typically paced, meandering along like a slow-moving parade through an old neighborhood, until "the wheels are off the cart" as the NOPD Lt. explains to Toni. Chaos breaks out at the Second Line, bullets ring out, and the romanticism of Davis’ rant that “New Orleans without poor people aint New Orleans” is shot down. With poverty comes the crime – the drugs, the bodies, the guns – but "you want to talk about a trombone," the Lieutenant says to Toni. Exuberance at the return of the parade is blown away by gunshots. We are left with a stark image of the young girl lying in the park after the second liners scattered, leaving her wounded on the ground. “A stark reminder of a New Orleans that many hoped had been washed away” says the television announcer. Shame, shame, shame.

I have to leave now, I'm six years late on my novel, but before I go, some points up for discussion:

Not being a huge fan of Crey Bernette's seemingly unwarranted ego, I enjoyed his moment of self-doubt in the face of NPR god Roy Blount Jr.: "Butter comes out of Roy’s pen sentence after sentence."

Great scenes between Antoine "Read my lips, it was Honore Dutrey" Batiste and his Japanese benefactor (Tatsuo Ichikawa) “regrettably I have to correct you.” Antoine is mistaken initially for Albert Batiste who is "from a whole different place" in music, the verbal sparring between the two was not only immensely entertaining, but also served to break through Treme's occasional provincialism: Antoine was clearly being schooled on jazz from someone who lives a half a world away.

Nice plot construction for Davis to get picked up by the neighbors he despises after being rejected by the neighbors he aspires to be.

Finally, after the Houston bouncer actively protects Annie during the gun shots while Sonny stumbles around cluelessly, Sonny sends him packing, more indication that this is not going to end happily. In an episode marked by doors (or lack thereof as in Sonny's apartment). Doors, doors, doors. Bathroom doors closing and opening. Car doors opening and closing. Opportunity opening and closing. Shame, shame, shame.

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About Kate Shea Kennon

  • Julia

    Great review! Lots of insight in there that I didn’t catch. Thanks for taking the time!!!

  • http://deathknellforseriouscriticism.blogspot.com/ Kate

    Thanks Julia! Correction needed: That’s Alvin Batiste the Japanese businessman first mistakes Antoine for, not Albert. Alvin was a clarinetist (in contrast to Antoine’s trombone playing) and a great teacher, Branford Marsalis among his students. Treme is an education in every episode.