Treme, Ep. 3.01-2: Fantastic, underseen series continues to inspire

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Treme, Season 3, Episode 1: “Knock with Me – Rock with Me”
Written by David Simon and Anthony Bourdain (Story)
Directed by Anthony Hemingway

Treme, Season 3, Episode 2: “Saints”
Written by Eric Overmyer
Directed by Jim McKay
Airs Sundays at 10pm (ET) on HBO

Treme is a show unlike any other on TV at the moment. It’s sweeping, telling incredibly human stories by focusing on the small moments in each character’s lives. Rather than The Wire, David Simon’s previous series, Treme has emerged as a true successor to Friday Night Lights, focusing on the experiences of mostly good-hearted middle income and lower families and individuals who are struggling, doing their very best to get from day to day and weather the storms, figurative and literal, that life has thrown their way. After two mostly successful seasons, Treme begins its third full of life and promise and these first two episodes are a welcome reminder that purely character-based, real storytelling on television isn’t dead, just criminally underseen.

The musicians: Antoine Batiste, Annie Tee, Davis McAlary, Delmond Lambreaux, Sonny

Season three picks up with the musicians in mostly good places. Antoine is settled into his teaching and, while it’s clear he misses the musician lifestyle, watching him start to understand the power of his new role is great to watch. Wendell Pierce has grown his character tremendously- the Antoine seen so far in season three is one almost unheard of in season one yet the journey has been a natural one.

Annie and Davis are still going strong but their first significant challenge lays ahead- Annie and her band are starting to take off and Davis could easily be left behind. This storyline looks mighty familiar, but hopefully Simon and company have a few surprises planned. Davis’ decision to transition from his earlier songwriting into full-blown opera composition is entertaining and the enthusiasm Steve Zahn brings to his performances is contagious.

Delmond continues to work on his relationship with his father, Big Chief Albert Lambreau, but has mostly stayed in the background in these first episodes. Albert clearly will have medical issues arise this season, but for now the most interesting element to his story is the contrast he represents as a craftsman and construction worker with true musical talent and a hit on the radio. Sonny represents this as well. It’s been a while since we’ve seen him play any music, guitar or piano, though it appears that may be changing in the near future. As so many musicians know, there are a lot of artists out there who, for whatever reason, can’t make a living doing what they do so well and end up in completely different fields. It’s nice to see that part of the story told.

These two episodes are crammed full of live musical performances, each distinct from the others, creating a tapestry of sound and emotion. It’s an embarrassment of riches and how any music lovers could be skipping Treme is beyond this reviewer. The performances are vibrant and fun and run the gamut from impromptu get togethers to respectful, more sedate venues, to noisy bars full of people shouting along. If you’re not already watching, do yourself a favor and jump in. You’ll pick up the storylines quickly enough and, until you do, there’s plenty of music to make the wait worthwhile.

The chef: Janette Desautel

Talk to anyone about New Orleans and the two things they’ll mention are the music and the food, which is perhaps why though there is only one main character in the restaurant business, her storyline seems to get nearly as much time as the musicians’. Kim Dickens has been fantastic for years now, dating back to her time on Deadwood, and she is a perfect fit with the easy tone of this series. While it may frustrate some that the show is taking so long to get her back to New Orleans (it feels inevitable, at this point), it feels natural, at least to this reviewer.

This is someone emotionally battered by her failure and, as much as she loves home, returning holds the potential for the same heartbreak we saw her suffer through in season one. Besides, Janette’s time in New York allows scenes like the utterly decadent, amazing dinner seen in the premiere, not to mention cameos from much of the New York culinary elite. As with the absurd number of fantastic musician cameos, the inclusion of these chefs adds a touch of authenticity and makes the show feel all the more special and unique.

The public servants: Toni Bernette, Terry Colson, LP Everett

The intertwining of Toni, Terry, and Everett’s storylines this season is promising. Melissa Leo and David Morse work well together and have great chemistry, so it’s great to see their dynamic return, to some extent, after their characters’ falling out last season. Everett is a nice addition as well- bringing a reporter into the mix makes sense. So much, actually, that it’s surprising, upon reflection, that we haven’t seen one earlier. Hopefully things will start picking up with the inquiry into the police department. Police and governmental corruption, and the need to root it out, has been a minor recurring storyline for the whole of the run so far. It’d be nice to see it more fully addressed this season.

The citizens: LaDonna Batiste-Williams, Nelson Hidalgo

Khandi Alexander remains one of the absolute highlights of this series. It’s wonderful to see her get so much great material to work with and the family tensions hinted at last season have made for entertaining viewing. Hopefully this season will see progress in the case against LaDonna’s attackers. It is tempting to want closure on this issue, to see these animals prosecuted to the full extent of the law, but the restraint shown in keeping true to a more realistic timeline makes for far more responsible, and compelling, storytelling. As for Hidalgo, his storyline was one of the weakest last season and remains the least interesting at this point. With so many divergent characters being followed, it’s not surprising that one or two don’t hold the power of the others. There’s a lot of story to be told in this area of New Orleans life. Simon and co. are clearly interested in it- it just needs a character or plot boost.

What do you think of Treme? What’s your favorite music from this season so far? Which storyline interests you the most or the least? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

2 Comments
  1. Justin Wier says

    I never would’ve made the connection myself, but Treme does have a fair amount of Friday Night Lights in its lineage. It wouldn’t be hard to paint it as a less melodramatic FNL with art (in the form of music and food, as befits the city) replacing football.

    1. Simon Howell says

      David Simon and Jason Katims definitely have very different ideas of what “realism” entails, but you’re not wrong.

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