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Treme, Ep. 4.01, “Yes We Can Can” a comforting, entertaining final premiere

Treme, Ep. 4.01, “Yes We Can Can” a comforting, entertaining final premiere

Wendell Pierce and Steve Zahn in Treme, S04E01, "Yes We Can Can"

Treme, Season 4, Episode 1, “Yes We Can Can”
Written by David Simon (Story, Teleplay), Eric Overmyer (Story), & George Pelecanos (Story)
Directed by Anthony Hemingway
Airs Sundays at 9pm EST on HBO

This week, on Treme: LaDonna has a new man, Janette has a new sign, and Davis has on a new padawan of jazz

Treme returns this week in glorious fashion, kicking of its final mini-season with “Yes We Can Can”. With more shows being produced with each passing year and a current frustrating sameness to much of this fall’s programming, it’s wonderful to get to spend even a few more weeks in this unique world. From the characters to the music to the cinematography, this is a show that feels like no other and just hearing the theme song makes any fan of the show feel instantly at ease, welcomed back to the colorful, inspiring, and occasionally harsh world of Treme.

We pick up with our extended cast quite a ways down the road from where we left them, on the eve of President Obama’s election. There’s a party atmosphere throughout New Orleans (or at least the part of it we see), with only a couple skeptical voices standing out from the crowd. Soon, though, it’s back to life as usual, with work to be done and chicken to be told off. We begin, after the cold open, with that delightful quick beat from Steve Zahn’s Davis, who continues to be a much appreciated comedic voice on the show. He’s much more than that in the premiere though, serving as the unifying thread between the disparate elements of the show. Janette, Annie, and Antoine all know Davis well and it would appear Nelson may be about to get a season-long musical education courtesy of everyone’s favorite jazz tour guide.

In previous seasons these various corners of the show have felt isolated. Janette’s always by herself, working in her kitchen, and Nelson’s mostly by himself, working the angles. The musicians always wind up interacting and each of the others at least has a partner in their storyline, but Janette and Nelson’s arcs (Sonny’s detour to the shrimp boat too), as entertaining as they may be, have occasionally left viewers wondering why they’re on the show. “Yes We Can Can” makes an active effort to bring the viewer from one place to another, reminding us of everyone’s connections and making the argument for each character’s place in the narrative. They succeed too- this attention to detail and prioritization of connection was a big part of the success of last season’s culminating scene, the fantastic party for LaDonna (this viewer doesn’t envy the writers their task of coming up with a better series-ending scene), and the effort again pays off here. It’ll be very interesting to see if David Simon, Eric Overmyer, and George Pelecanos can maintain this throughout the truncated season.

Speaking of LaDonna, it’s great to see her paired up with Big Chief Lambreaux, even if it does mean she’s splitting from the wonderful Larry. Lance E. Nichols has been great throughout the show and a fantastic partner for Khandi Alexander. Hopefully we’ll see him at least once more, but if not, the character went out well in season three. While LaDonna and Larry were good for each other, LaDonna and Albert are magic. Personalities as strong as theirs don’t necessarily play well with others and we’ll see if their relationship lasts (though with only five episodes this season, the safe money’s on yes); for now, they are completely at ease with one another and able to see each other (and be seen) clearly, something they’ve not found in their other relationships. Alexander and Clarke Peters only really get one scene together in the premiere; hopefully there’s more to come. They’re too good together for us to not see more of them.

Elsewhere, Annie is at a musical crossroads, Janette is starting over, Terry is unsatisfied on the job, Davis has a new musical inspiration, and Toni has a wronged New Orleanian to find justice for. These are all stories the show has explored before and with only four more episodes, it seems a bit odd to have so many characters starting over (or on the precipice of deciding to do so). That being said, with season three ending somewhat conclusively for many of its characters, this was perhaps inevitable. We’ll see if the writers have mini-arcs planned for each of the characters or if the finale will find them still in flux. Given Treme’s affinity for honest, messy answers, the latter seems more likely, but only time will tell. All in all, this is an entertaining, engaging premiere that reintroduces the world well while giving long-term fans plenty to pique their interest. If each of the episodes are this strong, we’re in for a fun final season.

What did you think of the premiere? Who else would watch an educational program for teens starring Sonny and Antoine? What was your favorite musical performance (Shorty was amazing, but “I Quit” is a sentimental favorite)? Which recurring characters are you most hoping to see return before the end? Post your thoughts below!

Kate Kulzick