‘Treme’ – ‘Feels Like Rain’: I write the songs

A review of tonight’s “Treme” coming up just as soon as I curse you out in Dutch…

“People like us, we just do a thing. We don’t have a choice, really.” -Janette

“Feels Like Rain” is the halfway point of this 11-episode second season of “Treme,” and I think by now we all have a good idea about what the show is – and what it’s not.

Nelson stands on his hotel balcony and says of New Orleans, “It’s all connected somehow. I’m this close to seeing how it all hooks up.” This is the sort of thing Lester Freamon might have said on “The Wire” and it would have been as much about the series as about the Major Crimes Unit’s latest case. There are some obvious connections between the characters of “Treme,” but they’re usually either geographic or spiritual, with most of them falling under the umbrella Janette describes in the above quote. I don’t think anyone’s waiting anymore for all the characters to be tied together in some grand plot, as everyone’s either already accepted that this isn’t “The Wire: New Orleans” or stopped watching for precisely that reason.

And you know what? I watch a scene like the one where Delmond shows Albert what he sewed, and I don’t much need some intricate story arc, thank you very much.

That scene represents everything that’s great about both the patient David Simon storytelling model in general and the way it’s used on “Treme” (here by writers Tom Piazza and Eric Overmyer and director Roxann Biggs) in particular. To an irregular viewer, it doesn’t seem like much: Delmond shows his dad what he’s been working on, and whom he’s been doing it for, and Albert is moved by the gesture and compliments the work. But for those of us who have been watching the slow burn of this relationship for the last year and a half – who have seen Delmond be so reluctant to embrace his father’s traditions, who have seen Albert act so distant from his wandering son, and who this year have seen Delmond not only reconnect with the sound of New Orleans but try to keep Albert’s fire lit even as the city tries to drown it – well, it’s one hell of a moment. The gestures and emotions on display from both men are so small (I especially liked the half-smile Clarke Peters allows Albert as Delmond insists that he’s been sewing and is just slow), but the build up to it magnifies everything so that the scene feels far more powerful than a more overtly emotional scene on a drama with a more traditional pacing.

And on the lighter side of things, take Davis’ pre-emptive peace offering to the gay couple next door about the noise he’s about to bring back into their lives with his new “brass funk hip-hop with a bounce twist” band. That’s a relationship the show let play out for a long time last season – to the point where most of us largely hated Davis in the show’s early days – and with that history in mind, we’re primed for a much bigger laugh than if we hadn’t seen a number of episodes last year where he went out of the way to assault them with a heavy bass line.

And when you take those little moments, whether serious or silly, and combine them with the tremendous New Orleans atmosphere, and the as-per-usual fantastic music (even Davis’ band sounds pretty damn good), you have a show that remains just an enormous pleasure to visit each week, even if it’s usually a long, windy path to nowhere in terms of major plot advancement.

Beyond those moments, this week largely deals with characters still trying to master these big new projects and disciplines they’ve taken on because, as Janette notes, the thing inside them gives them no other choice.

Antoine is still finding band managing to be a hassle (somewhat ironically, he actually seems to be doing better with the teaching job he didn’t want), and not only passes on a lot of the responsibility to one of his players, but seems awfully tempted by the idea of going on an international tour with Henry Butler where he can soak in the sights and not have to manage egos and schedules anymore.

Annie is still grappling with the idea of songwriting, though Harley finally manages to put her on the right path by taking her to see John Hiatt and quizzing her on what makes “Feels LIke Rain” such an effective song.

Nelson starts to get a better sense of how business gets done in New Orleans, not only with the rigged bid for the North White St. property, but with helping Oliver Thomas find a way around the permit issue for now so that the Pigeon Town Steppers can have their parade on time without Thomas having to take a politically difficult position.

Janette finally gets the hang of her first station at Le Bernadin, and seems content for the first time with her New York sojourn. (When she initially thinks Susan Spicer called to offer her a job, she has no interest in going back to New Orleans.) But she has to take a break from her apprenticeship to help Jacques with his immigration problem, and discovers that, unsurprisingly, Eric Ripert is a much more understanding boss than Brulard. (Though I like that Ripert was understanding in part because it involved Janette’s trusted sous-chef.)

Davis recognizes that his love of bounce is nice, but that more party music isn’t what the city needs, and tries to set up his new band as a more socially-conscious one, akin to the players he brought together to record “Shame Shame Shame” last year.

And while Delmond puts his trip back into the muddy roots of jazz on hold for a week, we see just how sincere his efforts have been to make a contribution to his father’s Indian suit – especially if that means that Albert will actually go out for Mardi Gras this year.

None of these are especially grand stories – nor is the ongoing alienation between Sofia and Toni, or the widening gap between Colson and many other NOPD cops – but they remain exceptionally well-told on the micro level that “Treme” has chosen to concentrate on, even if that will confuse or frustrate “Wire” fans who expect macro and micro at once.

Some other thoughts:

• So long as she stays with Larry up in Baton Rouge, LaDonna is a bit on the margins of the show as well, but Khandi Alexander drags herself back center stage for a moment with LaDonna’s angry, honest reaction to seeing her attackers in the photo array.

• What’s interesting to me about the use of “Feels Like Rain” (as both a song and the episode’s title) is that Buddy Guy’s cover version was one of the songs featured in “Bop Gun,” the “Homicide” episode that was David Simon and David Mills’ first produced TV script.

• The episode opens with Toni’s dream about Creighton (and I liked the comment on Creigh looking different, since John Goodman slimmed down a fair amount after leaving the show). It’s a device the show used last year with LaDonna’s nightmare about her brother, and seems to be something Simon and Overmyer will try on occasion, particularly, it seems, if it involves a dead loved one who can’t appear any other way.

• Antoine kicks Sonny out of the Soul Apostles, and I was almost startled by how much sympathy I felt for the guy when it happened. Yes, he made his bed by not listening to Antoine’s warning, but we know a lot more than Antoine does about just how badly Sonny needs the band. I would not be surprised at all if we see him diving pretty deeply into drugs over the next few

• Things between Davis and Annie remain strong, it seems, but I loved Davis’ pained reaction at Annie not knowing Phil Ochs.

• Not sure if Toni and Colson are slowly edging towards couple-dom or if they’re just providing each other with some company in a very lonely time for each of them, but I imagine that any public quality time spent with a lawyer infamous for suing the NOPD isn’t going to help endear our favorite cop to the fellow officers who already think he’s a troublemaker.

• Speaking of Toni, while the frostiness between her and Sofia remains compelling, the Abreu storyline remains the season’s obvious weak link. It’s a lot of scenes of people delivering exposition about events that happened before the series began, involving a character we have absolutely no emotional investment in (as opposed to Daymo last season). There may be a point to this eventually, but right now any scenes involving that investigation are the only time I struggle to pay attention to what’s happening in the show.

So go read Dave Walker’s latest explanatory post at his blog, and then tell me, what did everybody else think?