‘Treme’ – ‘Carnival Time’: Home cookin’

A review of tonight’s “Treme” coming up just as soon as I break a tooth on some kind of plastic alien fetus…

“If this is right, I can’t imagine what wrong is in this town.” -Nelson

Not that “Treme” is particularly plot-intensive to begin with, but it seems at first glance that David Simon and Eric Overmyer are viewing these annual Mardi Gras episodes as an opportunity to step away from the ongoing narrative even more than usual and just marinate in the sights, sounds and tastes of the city on its biggest day.

And there’s certainly a ton of wonderful atmosphere here, and different corners of the event on display this year than the ones we saw in “All on a Mardi Gras Day.” We head out of town so that Annie and Harley can have a Cajun Mardi Gras. Nelson rides the Zulu float, as part of his ongoing fantasy camp experience in New Orleans. Toni introduces us to the custom of spreading the ashes of loved ones in the river on the holiday. Janette gives us a sense of the homesickness an expat feels on this day of days, while Colson gives us the perspective of a cop – one of the few species in New Orleans who dreads the coming of Fat Tuesday.

And yet, I feel like a number of stories advanced – significantly, in some cases – even as we spent so much time at parties and parades.

Sonny gets back into the band. More importantly, he now has a guardian angel of sorts in the Soul Apostles’ bassist Cornell, who’s determined to keep him clean – even if it means being on an oyster boat for every hedonist’s favorite day of the year (as evidenced by his “day apart” from Annie a year ago).

Toni says goodbye to both Creighton’s ashes, and to the fiction that she could keep the truth of his death from Sofia.

For all the warning signs of depression or fatigue or whatever that Albert was showing earlier in the season, he comes through like a champ on Mardi Gras day, looking resplendent in his new suit (with Delmond’s contribution proudly affixed to his chest), marching throughout without having to take a break in Davina’s car, and even getting lucky (with, presumably, the documentary filmmaker) in Delmond’s hotel room.

And perhaps most importantly, Nelson goes more native than ever by joining up with the Zulus, and seeming to fall more in love with the city with each passing minute.

Of course, who wouldn’t fall in love with New Orleans with the experiences Nelson Hidalgo has had since the start of the season? He’s making both connections and money hand over fist, eating incredible food, bedding gorgeous women and having amazing experiences that he’ll be dining out on for the rest of his life. It’s easy to love a city when it treats you this well, where the love that  aToni or Janette(*) continue to have for the place that’s cost them so much is a more impressive testament to the hold the Crescent City has on those who’ve lived there.

(*) I might have added LaDonna to that list, but given her reluctance to come back for Mardi Gras, and Larry’s sense of just how badly she needs him on that day, suggests that she’s wavering, very badly, in her belief that the city should still be her home. She may overcome her fear and grief in the season’s remaining episodes, but where you can tell Janette would love to dust off her fairy costume if she could justify a third trip home in such a short span, LaDonna feels far more comfortable celebrating Mardi Gras out of town.

And so even as Nelson’s story has been one of how business gets done in any major city like this – through favors and contacts and a whole lot of schmoozing – it also, for now, seems to be one about the city as seen through the wide, happy eyes of a newcomer. Most of our regular characters are natives, and the ones who aren’t came to the city well before the series began (and Nelson’s cousin Arnie is such a minor character that we’ve rarely bothered with his reaction to the place), so this is a new color for the series. (And I’m not talking about the blackface Zulu makeup.) It’s entirely possible that Nelson might cash in at some point and go find some new city to fall in love with while leaving New Orleans no better than when he arrived, but seeing his Mardi Gras day, it’s hard to imagine him getting the wanderlust anytime soon.

As I said last year, I’ve never managed to make it to New Orleans, for Mardi Gras or any other time. I can only hope that when that opportunity arises, I can enjoy myself even a small fraction of what Nelson, or Albert, or Antoine (who loses out on a few hook-ups but gets to introduce his boys to great music) did on this particular day.

Some other thoughts:

• As always, worrying about awards when it comes to a David Simon show is pointless, but I couldn’t help watching Melissa Leo’s work in the scenes down by the river – at all the pain and confusion and grief washing over her face and overwhelming her voice – and wonder if perhaps the halo effect of her Oscar win (Emmy voters are impressed by either movie stars or people who have won movie awards) might somehow get her into the nomination field this year.

• I had forgotten about the Davis/Sofia connection and assumed Sofia would cross paths with Colson at some point. But this felt more natural, and it led to a pretty impressive referendum on the state of Davis and Annie’s relationship. Even after he blows off the Cajun Mardi Gras idea (and with an excuse I imagine Annie saw right through) and she comes home to find a half-naked teenager in their bed, Annie trusts Davis enough to not jump to the conclusion that the girlfriend would on… pretty much every other TV show ever.

• On the other hand, Desiree rightly trusts Antoine as far as she can throw him, but it did seem like he had a good enough time with the boys to compensate for losing out on some action.

• Until his encounter with Sofia, pretty much every Davis scene this week was hilarious, from his desperation to get a shoe (and then desperation for a different reason when Annie tells him what’ll happen if he finds her a match) to his boyish excitement at having his dad’s parade appearance as an excuse to stay home. (“I’m gonna be there for my dad!”) I think his mom is right that Davis is in love with Annie, but the whole “relationship=compromise” equation is one he’s not done strruggling with.

• As most of the small guest roles on the show are either taken up by New Orleans locals or by members of the Simon repertory company (here, James Ransone’s Nick gets to dine at Le Bernadin with Janette), it was a little surprising to see a recognizable character actor like John Beasley (Irv from “Everwood,” among many other roles) pop up in the for-now small role as Cornell’s uncle with the oyster boat. Either they have bigger plans for him down the road, or Beasley just happened to be in town for a bit?

• Does Delmond hear a snippet of one of his own songs on the boom box after he runs into his old friend Jo Jo? Or is there just something in the music that fires up his thought processes on the whole old-school jazz project?

• Meanwhile, the way Rob Brown played Delmond’s reaction to realizing who was in his hotel room and what was happening there was priceless.

• If Eric Ripert weren’t universally held up as both one of the best chefs and best guys in the culinary field, I would start to worry that the show was sucking up to a guest star by making him be such a thoughtful, generous boss to Janette. But if there’s someone out there who’s dying to talk smack about either Ripert or his food, I have yet to encounter him.

• Though Colson’s Mardi Gras ends with the surprising relief of a one-murder day in the city, I’m still worried about the guy. His verbal assault on the kid with the gun may be understandable, but it suggests a man who’s hanging on by a thread every bit as thin as the one that’s holding up the entire police force.

So go read Dave Walker’s latest episode explainer over at his NOLA blog, and then tell me, what did everybody else think?