April 25, 2011. Posted by Joshua Jackson.In Treme, Annie (Lucia Micarelli), Sonny (Michiel Huisman), John Boutte and Paul Sanchez perform at the Spotted Cat. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Season one of Treme opened with the placard "Three Months After"; the season two premiere tells us we're now "Fourteen Months After," in November 2006. If anything, this opening episode establishes that not much has changed in post-Katrina New Orleans — and what has changed isn't necessarily for the better.
With the slow return of residents comes the faster return of violent crime; the police department has its hands full with it. The return of residents also means that Chief Lambreaux gets kicked out of the bar he's been squatting in; it doesn't mean that Creighton is coming back to the Bernette family. (The young Sofia seems to be assuming her late father's place as YouTube-enabled narrator, Greek chorus and voice of the city's pent-up anger, while Toni Bernette's fight with the city on behalf of musicians is only getting worse.) Ladonna is still trying to operate the bar despite her partner's protestations; her ex, Antoine Batiste, is dealing with an abandoned property his girlfriend's family owned but has no documentation for. And the emergence of investors like Nelson (Jon Seda) portends the arrival of people looking to capitalize on tragedy — even if Nelson himself doesn't turn out to be one of them.
Of course, music still lives in the city, and this time around we have some new faces and new sounds. To break down the music of the season two premiere, WBGO's Josh Jackson joins me again over email to discuss the songs and live performances. (We'll be doing this every week, like we did last season.)
© 2011 WBGO
June 21, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) turns out in full Indian regalia. Eddie Vanison is on the left. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Season one of Treme concludes, if it were possible, with both a bang and a whimper. There's dancing, brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians on parade, cameos from New Orleans living legends, sunshine, springtime, renewal. There's also one funeral, another in the works, a chilling flashback, a series of departures and a set of reminders that the tragedy of New Orleans didn't end until long after Hurricane Katrina.
That juxtaposition of joy and pain has been central to the show; it's appropriate that the season finale ends with both a funeral and its second line parade. The characters in this drama deal with a lot of compromises and profound losses, but the culture of New Orleans has pleasure built into it. Perhaps that too is one of the show's messages: it'll take a lot more than a hurricane to strip the city of its fun.
© 2010 WBGO
June 14, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Professor Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), "enjoying" a moment with his class. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Davis: "There are so many beautiful moments here."
Janette: "They're just moments. They're not a life."
Within the song-and-dance pageantry, there's an extended discussion about the nature of art going on in Treme. In one corner, there's the default belief that art is a leisure activity which stands in the way of life: where making music, or preparing haute cuisine, or writing novels is seen as an unsustainable, even irresponsible way to go about paying your bills and feeding your kids. In the other, there's the New Orleans sentiment that art happens every day, all the time; that art is life.
It's one of the show's central conflicts: musicians and other cultural artists are constantly hustling to justify their collective existence. But in episode nine, it's especially strong: Antoine and Creighton both have children to raise; Albert has to keep a day job to support his hobby; Janette has too many expenses to pay; Davis has a very evident blindness to the consequences of his hedonism; Annie and Sonny have a fractious relationship apart from performing. The arrival of Janette's parents, the payment negotiation scene with Jon Cleary, the manual labor of Albert's young charge, and the hard-working Texas carpenter only sets this into further relief. And by the end, the struggle to create art seems to have pushed at least one character to a breaking point.
© 2010 WBGO
June 7, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.
Episode 8 of Treme takes place on Fat Tuesday and the two days preceding it. Enough said.
© 2010 WBGO
May 24, 2010. Posted by Joshua Jackson.Wendell Pierce slide-synchs along with actual New Orleans musicians at the airport. (Image Credit: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Times are not good here. The city is crumbling into ashes. It has been buried under a lava flood of taxes and frauds and maladministrations so that it has become only a study for archaeologists. Its condition is so bad that when I write about it, as I intend to do soon, nobody will believe I am telling the truth. But it is better to live here in sackcloth and ashes, than to own the whole state of Ohio.
--Lafcadio Hearn, 1879
Hearn's quotation, voiced by John Goodman's Creighton Bernette, rings eerily true in the post-Katrina New Orleans of Treme. Episode seven of the first season gives us two dead bodies, police brutality, closed businesses and the double dealing of an election season. And yet, the unique artistic spirit that defines New Orleans persists, on the backs of those determined to honor its traditions in spite of the natural and man-made disasters.
To talk about some of those artistic expressions (HBO's full playlist here), I'm joined once again by Josh Jackson of WBGO.
© 2010 WBGO