Treme, Ep. 3.05, “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”: Oversized cast remains show’s strength, weakness

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Treme, Season 3, Episode 5: “I Thought I Heard Buddy Bolden Say”
Written by Eric Overmyer (Story), Lolis Eric Elie and Jen Ralson (Teleplay)
Directed by Alex Hall
Airs Sundays at 10pm (ET) on HBO

This week, on Treme: Amy’s family comes to visit, Sofia can’t catch a break, and Terry does a hell of a John Wayne

While this is another solid, entertaining, and inspiring episode of Treme, it has the unfortunate distinction of coming after last week’s installment, which ranks among the series’ best. Its proximity to “The Greatest Love” calls attention to this episode’s, and the show’s, weaknesses, by far the most prominent of which is the number of characters. Many shows find tremendous success with massive, sprawling casts, but what these show do that Treme doesn’t is tie their ensembles together. Each of our main characters has its own set of minor and recurring characters and while this gives the show authenticity, it also forces David Simon and co. to split the action between an ever increasing number of actors, performances, and locations.

This week, for example, we meet Annie’s parents, doubling the regulars in her story arc. Isabella Rossellini is perfect casting for her mother- it’s a wonderful surprise to see her pop up here and she is predictably great in the role, bringing depth and nuance to a potentially two-dimensional disapproving mother character. Alan Ariano also does well as Annie’s father, keeping his performance more reserved, which allows Rossellini the space she needs in their scenes together.

With guest stars like these, not to mention the murderer’s row that is the main cast, it’s no wonder Simon wants to explore each of his characters’ worlds. Unfortunately, with so many stories going on, there are bound to be one or two each viewer is less engaged with. While this may vary from person to person, for this reviewer, the two who regrettably win Least Interesting are Sonny and Nelson.

Each time we pull away from Annie and her parents, or Janette and her restaurant, or even Antoine goofing around with his students, to go to Sonny’s seemingly doomed relationship or Nelson’s vanilla scheming, it’s a disappointment. There are also the great threads of the demonstration and the devastating demolition of Desiree’s mother’s house, either of which would greatly benefit from the time given to Sonny and Nelson here. Last week’s episode benefited greatly from Sonny’s absence- one fewer plot thread allowed the main arc the extra few minutes it needed to really sing. If Simon’s not going to intertwine the narratives, as he mostly hasn’t over the show’s run, he needs to pare down their number.

The good this week isn’t limited to Annie and her parents. India Ennenga hasn’t always shone as Sofia, but the weariness she imbues into her few scenes this episode is wonderfully played. Sofia and Toni have been harassed by the police for a few episodes now- it’s nice to see the cracks start to show. We’re also treated to several fabulous musical performances, with a particular favorite being the group at LaDonna’s bar. Adding live music to the bar was a smart move, one that helps tie in LaDonna’s otherwise isolating storyline.

Davis’ tour also returns, this time less comedicly. Though perhaps his earlier tour scenes were intended to spotlight the character’s penchant for overexcitability and, frankly, bullshitting, they seemed like a great idea and one full of potential. That is paid off here, with Davis able to lead a group actually knowledgeable about and interested in jazz. Throwing Delmond into the group only adds credence to Davis and his never ending passion for New Orleans music, be it performance, history, or in this case, physical landmarks.

After weeks of upside, the honeymoon is starting to come to a close for Janette. The meal we see her serve to her business partner and, one assumes, a group of investors looks meticulous and absolutely delicious. Her role in the room of glorified server underlines the negatives of where her partnership could go. This episode also highlights the positives, though, as she’s able to offer a job to her visiting colleague without a second’s pause. Janette and her restaurant remain one of the most compelling of the narrative arcs. Kim Dickens is great- here’s hoping we don’t have to watch her get her heart broken again, as we did when Desautel’s closed in season one.

At the midpoint of the season, Treme is having a tremendous third year, despite the quibbles above. Though it’d be nice if Simon’d make a few changes, it seems highly unlikely he will; fortunately for the viewers, that means we should be in for five more episodes filled to the brim with character, culture, and music. Can’t wait.

What did you think of the episode? Which characters are working best for you? If Simon decided to cut a few, which wouldn’t you miss? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick

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