THIS MACHINE FLOATS – “TREME”

by Ross Sharp

Television you can dance to.

A story does not require a “plot” in order that it be considered a good story.

Lives do not have “plots”. Lives are stories, an accumulation of moments, an incohesive narrative of vague strands that we vainly struggle, against all unforeseen circumstance, to keep neat, tidy, controlled.

And then … something happens

Tim Goodman at SFGate

“Simon has never pandered before and doesn’t here. You need to pay attention to find out who is who, their connections and the history.

Simon says it best: “Thematically, what ‘Treme’ is interested in is this: New Orleans is a city that still creates. Even in its damaged state, even amid a shocking continuum of national indifference, it remains a city that continues to build things. What it builds – its very product, in fact – is moments. Extraordinary moments in which art and ordinary life intersect.”

If five seasons of institutional failure on “The Wire” was a bleak indictment of Baltimore (and the country), it takes only one episode of “Treme” to sense the hope.”

Hope. Resilience. Community.

Random acts of bravery, charity and opportunism, kindness and unkindness that spring from somewhere to surprise us, acts unplanned and unpredictable, these are the things that define us, our essence, not ideology, not belief.

Heather Havrilesky at Salon

“Simon’s almost experimental willingness to throw everything but the kitchen sink into his dramatic gumbo, when taken together with the romantically ramshackle setting, the unmatchable cast, the infectious music, conspire to make this epic tale feel intimate and humble.”

Simon and his writers introduce a multitude of characters, all of whom seem, initially, of a “type”, and yet, just as in “The Wire”, with each scene, each episode, aspects of character are added, layered in such ways that we begin to believe we are in the presence of real people living real lives that go far beyond the screen. Of course, this is due, in no small part to a flawless cast of players. From John Goodman as Creighton Bernette, (whose character was based on two New Orleans residents and whose “Fuck you, you fucking fuckers” rant to YouTube is an almost word-for-word replication from the blog of the late Ashley Morris), to Lucia Micarelli as violinist Annie who had never done a jot of acting in her life prior to “Treme” and acquits herself beautifully.

There’s Khandi Alexander as Ladonna Batiste-Williams who, in one of the later episodes, is just electrifying in a scene where she joins a typical New Orleans funeral procession, her body swaying, jerking, gradually finding a rhythm that conveys such a depth of emotion, it’s almost too painful to watch (give that woman an Emmy, for God’s sake) …

Then there’s Wendell Pierce, effortlessly shaking off our memories of him as Bunk in “The Wire” to portray his hand-to-mouth, jobbing trombone player and pantsman Antoine Batiste …

But singling out these four individuals does a disservice to what is, essentially, a show built for an ensemble – there are no “star turns” in “Treme”, no one character is more or less important than any other to the portrait of a city and its citizens that is being constructed here …

Matthew Gilbert of The Boston Globe

““Treme” is an openly emotional piece of work, filled with sorrow, passion, pity, didacticism, and love for New Orleans. Instead of comparing it to one of the most revelatory crime series of all time, hold “Treme” up beside almost every other show on TV and listen closely. You’ll hear a sound that moves you.”

“A sound that moves you”. Literally.

When I first learned that David Simon (with co-creator and New Orleans native Eric Overmeyer) were going to tackle the tale of New Orleans after Katrina, I was expecting a full-throttle howl of visceral rage and anger, a searing indictment of the colossal clusterfuck that was the Bush administrations’ epic mishandling of the relief and recovery effort. After all, Simon had previously been labeled the “angriest man in television”, and that anger – the mindless futility of the “war on drugs”, the death of labour, the dysfunction of the political and educational “industries” – was the engine that so successfully drove so much of “The Wire” …

“5 Days on my Rooftop” rappermcj

But “Treme” is not that at all …

From the book by David Rutledge, “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans”

“The crime and poverty were always there. My garage was invaded three times so I quit locking it. You could not live in the city and avoid the dreary performance of democracy; yet the town was held together by a spiritual essence few cities in this country possess. We were like many families in having those we loved most within a short drive. That infrastructure of the heart is severely fractured now.”

… The “infrastructure of the heart”, the “spiritual essence” of a city, that is it exactly. And that is what “Treme” is all about.

Yes, the anger is there, the sense of a people abandoned by their government, the despair, but Simon’s characters (for the most part) do not wallow in these things. They simply do not have the time …

The Rebirth Brass Band, April 24, 2008

It’s a refreshing change to follow a programme that, without resorting to schmaltz and predictable sentimentality, unashamedly celebrates the human spirit, its strengths and frailties, its victories and failures, for I am a little bit over all these contrived dramas of dysfunction. You know the ones – mum’s got cancer, dad’s an alcoholic, the son’s autistic, the daughter’s turning five buck tricks in a strip club, and everyone stands around all day and night either screaming at one another, or beating each other senseless …

… So I’m not expecting to get up close and familiar with “Precious” any time soon, even though I’m sure the performances were all perfectly fine …

… For if I had a hankering to habitually immerse myself in a toxic environment and watch a bunch of scumbag arseholes fuck each other around on a daily basis, I think I’d just go back to working for the music industry again …

Dianne Reeves, “Do You Know What it Means to Miss New Orleans”

… No, I don’t know what it means, as I’ve never been there, but I’d sure like to find out.

Perhaps one day in March sometime.

Anytime.

Now would be good.

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