Monday, April 12, 2010

"treh-MAY" - Episode #1: "Do You Know What It Means"

(All photos can be found @ or Wikipedia.)

Treme, the new HBO series that premiered on Sunday night, begins with a "rebirth"--that is, with the glorious sounds of the Rebirth Brass Band. After negotiating the final cut for each of the seven (out of the 8-piece band) who showed up to play that day, they strutted out with their horns and drums in hand and showed us, watching at home, that there are still great stories to be told.

The music of the Rebirth Brass Band is funky, alive and it hits you (and your soul) the minute you hear them. They are the embodiment of the diverse town--honest and unabashed. Not only is it one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, but Treme was once a town where mostly free people of color lived. And to this very day, it holds a great cultural and historical significance for its people--especially its brass bands.

Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) arrives late in a taxi (which he can barely afford) to the parade, but his beautiful trombone playing falls right in sync with the band and before you know it, he takes the eighth member's spot and is now at the head of the line. But your eyes can't help but notice the debris (mainly old refrigerators) lying around outside. For a second, you remember that in 2005, there was a major death--the death of an entire city. With the high energy of the horns, the people dancing on top of rust-covered cars, the strutting with umbrellas in hand and shouting out lyrics of a Bobby Womack song ("I used to love her/ But it's all over now") only one word comes to mind: RESILIENCE!

You find that resilient spirit in the people of "Treme":

Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) runs a local restaurant--regardless if it's packed or (as we initially see it) filled with empty rows of chairs stacked high on tables. She's short on staff and on patience; frustrated over her non-working refrigerator, Janette still refuses to buy and serve "frozen crawfish" to her customers. And whenever someone asks her about the condition of her house [post-Katrina], Janette quickly shouts, "Don't ask me about my house." And she goes on with her work.

Janette's in a "relationship" with the free-spirited, weed smoking Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn). Davis is passionate about music first and foremost. We see instruments all around his home--a piano, guitars and drums. In fact, when Davis hears the sounds of the Rebirth Brass Band nearby, he rises from his bed, naked, puts on his glasses, points at his window and says to Janette, "They're doing it." We discover, thanks to Janette, that Davis is actually a disc jockey at a local radio station. As Janette leaves to open the restaurant, Davis also rushes out to catch up with the band and the people.

When Davis finally arrives at the radio station, he's told that he has to plug a "compilation CD" of traditional New Orleans music. To say that it hits the fan for Davis would be putting it mildly. The music of New Orleans is as diverse as it's people--you can't condense that spirit down into a 10-12 song CD. ("Ken Burns' Jazz" anyone?) And his idea for the government of New Orleans to be run by the Mafia is almost worth considering--ALMOST. They certainly couldn't do as horrible of a job as the lovely folks from FEMA did.

Speaking of the government, let's now move on to the Bernettes, Creighton (John Goodman) and Toni (Melissa Leo). On the outside, they appear to be a nice, "safe," white couple--especially when you see how their home was left unscathed by Hurricane Katrina. We first meet Creighton, a college professor, while being interviewed by a smug, unsympathetic "BBC-like" reporter. "The flooding of New Orleans was a MAN-MADE catastrophe! A federal F**K UP of epic proportions and decades in the making," Creighton shouts at the reporter with such intensity. The reporter goes on, completely unfazed by Creighton's statement, and instead asks him how he could continue to stand by a "once great" city in America. Toni, on the surface, may disapprove of her husbands "F-Bombs" and outbursts, but it turns out that she's perhaps much more dangerous than he is.

Toni Bernette does what the government has failed to do--work for the people. In fact, when she runs into two police officers at a local eatery, one of the cops boldly refuses to surrender the extra seat at their table, telling Toni that it was taken. He was salty over the fact the she filed a lawsuit against him for police brutality. It's evident that Toni has her fair share of enemies. Luckily, she also has some friends.

LaDonna Batiste-Williams, (Khandi Alexander) proprietor of a local bar and the ex-wife of Antoine Batiste, is searching for her brother who may have been incarcerated shortly before Katrina. The government has no record of him or his arrest, but LaDonna hears otherwise from a visit from a local who actually saw her brother in prison. LaDonna meets Toni at that eatery, tells her what she knows, and asks her for her help.

The second officer, a lot nicer, promised Toni a huge favor. He promised to provide Toni with, quite possibly, "confidential" records that might help her in her search of LaDonna's brother. Although he insists that there's no record of him or his whereabouts, LaDonna stresses to Toni that somehow, records would always magically disappear--even before Katrina. And she was right. Toni ultimately finds a more recent picture of LaDonna's brother (possibly during the height of the storm) and the search for him can now begin. Of course, as Toni begins to probe further, the government grows less cooperative in helping her with her search. When Toni comes home, Creighton is now calm and reading the newspaper, while Toni stomps and jumps and drops a few "F-bombs" herself. Creighton just laughs.

Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) had little to say. But his eyes, as they stared out at the ruins of his home and belongings, spoke volumes of the pain and abandonment that not only he must have felt, but the pain that all of New Orleans will never let go. The anger and rage comes from Albert's daughter. She expresses that anger as they drive over the same bridge where during the height of the hurricane, police officers threatened people with their guns for attempting to walk across it and find refuge. Albert is completely numb from his pain and hurt. He refuses to leave and asks that his daughter drive him to a nearby bar. Angered by her father's stubbornness to leave, she immediately calls her brother, Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown), the now famous jazz trumpeter, during one of his gigs at The Blue Note in NYC, to come down and talk some sense into their father.

We soon discover that this bar is where Albert, the Mardi Gras Chief Indian, and his fellow "tribesmen" would come to practice every weekend. Albert steadily cleans as much of the debris as he can, but it's clearly not a one person job. He tries to convince his friend (and tribesman) who has a "successful" hauling business to lend him a hand in clearing out the trash from the bar so that they resume practice, but he's not convinced that there will be another Mardi Gras. When Albert puts on his full Mardi Gras costume and shows up at his friend's house, he has a change of heart and eventually helps him to haul out the debris.

Treme is full of interesting, well-rounded characters. But perhaps the character that stands out most is the music. For the first time, the music will serve as a key player in telling these vivid stories rather than as mere backdrop. And the world will finally be introduced to a host of wonderful New Orleans' musicians: vocalist John Boutté (who sings the wonderful theme song), the Rebirth Brand Band, the Treme Brass Band, and Kermit Ruffins, a wonderfully talented jazz trumpeter, just to name a few.

It has just been announced that after one episode, Treme has been renewed for a second season!!

Now, tell me out there, what are your thoughts on Treme, New Orleans, Hurricane Katrina, FEMA, jazz, etc.?

1 comment:

  1. i read about this in something (time, new yorker- i can't remember) and was very excited about it. i'm not going to read your review until I see the first episode. it sounds right up my alley though. were you a fan of "the corner" or "the wire" ?