On Tremes third episode, a subplot involving Ladonna (Khandi Alexander) evokes televisions previous great TV series about New Orleans. While trying to find her brother, lost in the New Orleans penal system, Ladonna reluctantly contacts her brother-in-law, a civil judge. Ladonna alludes to friction with her in-laws that seems to extend to the judges secretary, who cops major attitude with Ladonna when she pays a visit. Ladonna informs her lawyer Toni (Melissa Leo) that her husbands Creole kin bear deep-seated prejudices against darker-skinned African-Americans.
One of the best episodes of the short-lived dramedy Franks Place put a comedic spin on the same theme. Frank Parrish (Tim Reid), an Ivy League college professor, inherits the French Quarter restaurant-bar of his estranged father. On Frank Joins a Club, he finds himself under consideration for membership from a snobby mens club, which he eventually learns has a history of admitting only light-skinned Creoles. A well-meaning member tried recruit dark-skinned Frank, who replied that, after a lifetime of being the only black in this class room or that faculty, he wasnt about to be the only black in an all-black club.
On the Treme episode Right Place, Wrong Time, Davis voices a theme of bigotry and racial profiling, when he claims that a National Guardsman arrested him because he was hanging out with an African-American friend. (Never mind that Davis was dropping f-bombs at the guardsman, who let his black friend off.) This week, however, the police seem to be equal-opportunity oppressors, as a sheriff stonewalls Toni, while patrolmen give a drunken Antoine a shocking, unprovoked beating for banging his trombone against their squad car. Treme very much seems to be in its element with its Wire-y critiques of law enforcement, which also help unify the disparate plot strands.
Antoines musical woes provide humor and pathos this week. The episode opens with Antoine bragging on his bone while getting it on with a stripper. Later, alas, he discovers that while hes playing music at a strip club, hes more famous pals have flown to New York for a Lincoln Center charity gig. Antoine drunkenly croons I dont have a ghost of a chance with you with Sonny and Annie, but then runs afoul of the cops. By the end hes not only misplaced his trombone, he has a loosened tooth and a cut lip, all of which threaten his livelihood.
This weeks Special Musical Guest is Dr. John, who records a rollicking tune about Mardi Gras Indians in the studio. If the studios going to be a recurring locale on Treme, why not explore the seedy underbelly of the recording industry? (You cant tell me theres no drama there.) The Dr. John tune puts the narrative momentum on pause, but nicely nods to the real Indians wake for their friend at the end. Id actual welcome a little more exposition about the heritage of the Mardi Gras Indians: the final tune sounds remarkably ancient. Alas, then a Katrina tour bus shows up with rubberneckers hoping to take, in the words of the Sex Pistols, a cheap holiday in other peoples misery. At least the show spared us an angry diatribe.
Im going to suggest that Tremes characters prove more effective when their dialogue drives their actions, rather than simply serve as out-of-thin-air sermonizing. Creighton remains an impassioned but passive figure, although maybe his discovery of Youtube (still new back in 2005) will give him a pet cause. Davis, on the other hand, still pontificates but has become a bohemian man of action: he also teaches Creighton and Tonis daughter to play Tipitina, writes a terrible song about strippers moving into his neighborhood and takes Janette out to a fancy restaurant.
Davis largesse brings down Janettes defenses, and Kim Dickens deliciously pauses before delivering the line Did you change your sheets, at least? At her restaurant, Janettes financial stress is almost nerve-wracking, and Dickens proves once again to be a sexy, subtle and invaluable character actress and Im not just saying that because we knew each other in college.
Angry street musician Sonny makes his own romantic gesture this week, when he buys his violinist girlfriend Annie a bottle of wine for her birthday. While Annie plays violin at a fancy gig, Sonny recounts his Katrina war stories about searching flooded out homes for survivors. Is he exaggerating? The way he snacks while talking about seeing vermin on dead bodies suggests maybe so, and his jealousy leads him to fall back on his habit of substance abuse. Sonny, like most of Tremes men (but few of the shows women, it seems), has internal demons, which seem to be reasserting themselves by the end. Incidentally, the Back of Town blog speculates that Sonny and Annie are based on a real couple who met a tragic outcome, and that possibility gives even more reason to keep tuning in.
@ Mark from Atlanta
"Whoever you are - you are better than this!"
@ Atlanta Backer
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