‘Treme’ – ‘Everything I Do Gonh Be Funky’: Making the band

A review of tonight’s “Treme” coming up just as soon as I listen to my fish…

“What’s the downside?” -The bartender
“Musicians.” -LaDonna

So many characters this week are looking for music to save their souls, or fill their wallets, or in some other way improve their lot in life, that were this a different kind of show – heck, even if it were “The Wire” – I’d imagine that within an episode or two, Antoine, Sonny, Davis, Albert, Annie and every other player in the cast would somehow wind up in the same band together, aying nightly at LaDonna’s bar and packing crowds in.

For now, at least, life in “Treme” isn’t that dramatically neat, and everyone’s working on their own thing independently of one another, each with their own agenda. Antoine likes the sense of purpose and the spotlight that could come with fronting his own group. Davis wants to showcase his love of bounce in a way that Darnell won’t let him at the radio station. LaDonna needs a better draw than Turkey Neck Tuesdays, and Sonny just wants to get the hell off the street already.

It’s particularly interesting to see the contrast between Antoine (talented, popular, charming native who knows and is known by everyone) and Sonny (mediocre musician, transplant, somewhat isolated addict). Antoine goes and schmoozes musicians all over town (just the way Davis did last year to make his “Shame Shame Shame” record), where all Sonny can do is hang up a flier in the music store and hope for the best.

Music will only save so many, and music can only concern so many characters, even on this show. But the music-related scenes were by far the most interesting ones this week.

This was a bit of a slow and bumpy episode – so much so that when we were going to discuss “Treme” on a recent podcast and Fienberg had only seen through this episode, I insisted he watch at least one more to get a better sense of where the season’s going. There are moments and stories here that will take on greater meaning later, but even by this series’ relaxed standards, this was a bit on the light side.(*)

(*) I know TV is a writer-driven medium, and that very little happens during production and post-production on this show that Simon and Overmyer don’t want to have happen, but I do wonder if the even slower-than-usual rhythms of this episode had anything to do with special guest director Tim Robbins.

In particular, where this episode – and the season in general – runs into trouble is in its mix of fact and fiction. Simon and Overmyer noted in an interview with Dave Walker (whose “Treme” annotations at his blog remain weekly must-reads) that their show is an odd sort of period piece, going back only a few years in time but caring very much about the details of those years. And when the show veers away from the lives of these fictionalized characters and has them talking about real-life people and incidents, it often feels like something separate from the series, even though Lt. Colson and Toni are supposed to exist in the same New Orleans as the cops from the Danziger Bridge incident, even though Nelson’s new political connections are in the know about that “Indian fellow” Bobby Jindal who has a shot to be governor, even though Janette is supposed to be as real as GQ food writer Alan Richman. (Whose post-Katrina takedown of New Orleans cuisine was as brutal as Janette’s summary suggests.)

Colson talks about how important it is to focus on the here and now, and when “Treme” sticks to stories of what its own characters were up to in 2006, it feels like that really is the here and now for them – it feels as alive and present as a good period piece should. When characters stop to talk about actual events and people (as opposed to when real people become notable characters themselves, like Kermit), it often starts to feel both abstract to their lives and like old news, in a way I’m sure Simon, Overmyer and company don’t want it to.

Some other thoughts:

• Though Toni just wants to focus on her pre-existing caseload (including a Danziger Bridge client), she can’t help being drawn into another private detective-style hunt on behalf of grieving Mr. Abreu.

• Like Annie, I am tremendously amused by Davis’ system for organizing his CD’s, which is as convoluted as anything the characters in “High Fidelity” could come up with.

• Janette’s chef boss is hanging on by a very thin thread. And I dig that about him.

• We don’t know what his exact endgame is, or whether he has any driving motive beyond profit, but Nelson is clearly a man who knows how to work the system, make contacts and exploit them for his own benefit. Smooth operator. And now he’s in business with Albert’s pal Robinette.

• Lt. Colson’s address to the troops about letting Bourbon Street be Bourbon Street sounded very much like something a similarly-wise cop – with the similar-sounding name of Colvin – might have said on “The Wire.”

• Though many of the characters continue to exist independently of each other, sequences like the Thanksgiving montage – filled with comic beats like Davis being horrified by his family and Davina being amused by Delmond having multiple women in multiple cities, and more poignant moments like Toni flinching at the sight of the third place setting – help place them all within the same context.

• Something is definitely amiss with Albert. He walks off the job site at the start of the episode, isn’t there for Indian practice, has broken up with Lula, etc. Though with only $495 to fix up his house, I can’t blame him for being tired and quiet.

What did everybody else think?