Monday, May 2, 2011

'Treme': Season 2, episode 2

Posted By on Mon, May 2, 2011 at 4:39 PM

Cheer up Chief!
In the weeks and months following Katrina, many New Orleanians fought their way back into the devastated, quarantined city with an almost blind ferocity. If you stayed and survived, or if you left for the storm and somehow managed to be one of the first to return, you were a true fighter - one of the few, the proud determined to set things right again. On "Treme," post-Katrina pioneers such as Big Chief Lambreaux, Janette, Ladonna and Toni spent episode after episode of the first season epically busting their asses all in the name of NOLA. Their efforts gained some momentum for individuals and the city, and in some cases yielded tangible results (Ladonna was finally able to close the book on Daymo; the Indians paraded on St. Joseph's night). But the effort was exhausting, leaving folks battered, bitter and, in some cases, hopeless.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the face and demeanor of the Big Chief. While he remains unfalteringly stubborn while contemplating his desperate financial situation ("I won't take money from my family"), he's lost the passion that originally defined him. And it's aged him significantly: the lines on his face seem deeper; he embodies a heavy slouch; and he moves with a slow, listless gait. Not even the promise of Del rejoining the Indians (or a delicious-looking fried turkey, for that matter) can seem to brighten the guy's day.

Meanwhile, Janette's up in New York exhausting herself trying to contract as many STDs as possible and cooking salmon too quickly. After efficiently making a dish to order, she gets an absurd lecture about "honoring the fish" from her prick boss. Chef Brulard then demonstrates the process of fish worship by meticulously cooking and plating the salmon with such painstakingly slow pride that table 10 up and leaves. Win: Janette.

The kitchen also serves as Janette's soapbox when GQ food critic Alan Richman writes a scathing article for the magazine bashing New Orleans and its nosh. It's a heavy-handed moment of sermonizing a la the late Crieghton, as if writer David Simon were tapping us on the shoulder saying, "Hey, 'scuse me, um in case you weren't paying attention, New Orleans is a service economy and it's struggling to regain its footing after a horrible natural disaster." Oh. Is that what this is about?

Much more evocative are the scenes in New Orleans actually showing the surge in crime and the floundering school system. At the episode's onset, Lt. Colson implores his force to "Let Bourbon Street be Bourbon Street," meaning leaving the idiot frat boys to self-destruct but not the city you've sworn to protect and serve. Sonny gets played by a couple of tween street kids who steal his tip jar and try to make off with his keyboard. An acquaintance of Antoine's gets a held up at gunpoint outside a club as Antoine arrives. Desiree holds down a day job at a public school and her conversations with former teachers and concerned parents reveal how dire the situation really is.

Speaking of Desiree, I'd like to propose a "Treme" spin-off: "The Antoine and Desiree Hour." Antoine and Desiree aren't just the most entertaining characters to watch, they're also the most dynamic, save for Toni. So far this season, the writing shows much more trust in Phyllis Montana LeBlanc's acting ability and comedic chops ("You blaspheming Ray Charles now?"), and rightfully so. LeBlanc's giving Melissa Leo and Khandi Alexander a run for their money and it's fun to watch.

Toni's getting wrapped up in another Daymo-esque Danziger Bridge disappearance case, while Sofia continues torturing her already tortured mother by staying out past military-enforced curfew. (I know this is New Orleans and all, but there's no way a bartender would sell Sofia one beer let alone a second for a friend!) Nelson continues wheeling and dealing around town, securing new political relationships and taking advantage of FEMA to secure subcontracting work for him and his brother.

In the end, though, it's all about backing that ass up, am I right?

Bounce with me.

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