Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Treme on Hiatus: The Devil's in the Details

The first-season finale of Treme on June 20 was titled “I’ll Fly Away,” and the 1929 gospel song about loss and redemption is performed at a funeral that ends the episode. Some of the lyrics (“Like a bird thrown/ driven by the storm...”) certainly apply to Katrina, which has taken place six months before the fictional TV saga begins. But, with oil now befouling the Gulf of Mexico, an untold number of those birds cannot fly at all. If only the HBO series -- which is scheduled to resume production this fall -- could fast-forward to 2010 and address this Louisiana double whammy

The show is set in New Orleans, where the characters struggle to adjust to post-hurricane reality and regain a sense of normality. One of them, English lit professor and novelist wannabe Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), opts out altogether. His self-pity stands in contrast to the courage of other people, including his civil-liberties attorney wife Toni (Melissa Leo), who keep fighting. Although they’re complete strangers, Creighton has a partner-in-selfishness: Sonny (Michiel Huisman), a busker prone to alcohol, cocaine and manipulating his vulnerable girlfriend, a fiddler named Annie (Lucia Micarelli).

She’s got a lovely impromptu duet on “This City” with Harley (Steve Earle, who reprises the number over closing credits), a fellow street musician serving as a mentor of sorts. The drama regularly features cameos by authentic artists, most actual Big Easy natives appearing as themselves, that provide a cultural history tour. Irma Thomas plays a mean game of poker and belts out “Time is on My Side” -- which she first released in 1964, the same year as The Rolling Stones version. Accompanied on piano by the legendary Allen Toussaint, Lloyd Price is on hand to deliver “Stagger Lee;” he enjoyed a 1959 hit with this 1928 tune by Mississippi John Hurt. Clarence “Frogman” Henry (“Ain’t Got No Home,” 1956) also makes the scene.

John Boutte, Creole jazz vocalist and composer of the Treme title song, serenades chef Janette (Kim Dickens) with “Bring It On Home to Me” (Sam Cooke, 1962). This ploy is part of an effort by Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) to convince her to stay in the Crescent City even though she’s lost her restaurant and is living in an uninhabitable house. When that attempt fails, however, the DJ quickly switches his romantic allegiance to Annie, who has finally broken up with the womanizing, drug-addled Sonny. Davis is a good-hearted but hyperactive hustler only able to focus on what’s right in front of him.

Meanwhile, across town, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) is burying her brother Daymo, mysteriously killed while unjustly imprisoned during the Katrina chaos, and resisting the advances of her ex-husband Antoine. (Their brief return to passion was “just a Mardi Gras fuck” that doesn’t count, she tells him.) Although remarried and the father of a new baby, he continues his cheating ways in between scattered gigs as a trombone player. Mardi Gras chief Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters, the show’s perpetually stoic and least interesting actor) is preparing elaborate feathered costumes for a ritual procession on Saint Joseph’s Day and still indicating disapproval of his son Delmond (a very good Rob Brown), who has chosen an avant-garde career on trumpet that doesn’t involve Dad’s cherished traditions.

With the requisite cliffhangers, Treme leaves fans eagerly awaiting its second season: Will Sonny grow increasingly violent and seek revenge? Can Janette make a go of it cooking in posh New York City eateries? How will Toni move on? Does Davis keep the job after being rehired by the radio station that fired him for allowing listeners to hear the live voodoo sacrifice of a chicken? Presumably, the timeframe will remain more or less the same. But maybe creator/executive producer David Simon and his colleagues eventually would want to take a five-year leap into the current horror of BP’s gusher, corporate malfeasance, government complicity and haplessness, tar balls washing upon beaches, shrimpers without work, ruined wetlands and all those dying pelicans no longer able to fly away.

The Treme funeral melody is about heading for “that home on God’s celestial shore,” but real-life images of the well vomiting Louisiana crude from the ocean floor suggest that BP has burst open the gates of hell.

-- Susan Green is a film critic and arts journalist based in Burlington, Vermont. She is the co-author with Kevin Courrier of Law & Order: The Unofficial Companion and with Randee Dawn of Law & Order Special Victims Unit: The Unofficial Companion.

No comments:

Post a Comment