‘Treme’ – ‘Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get the Blues?’: Here’s Sazerac in your eye

A review of tonight’s “Treme” – and, in case you missed the news, we’re getting a third season coming up just as soon as this is my slow jam…

“Depressed, shit. I ain’t depressed. I’m so mad I can’t even see straight.” -Albert

It’s not hard to blame Albert for being angry – even though, based on what we’ve seen of him this year, and what we know about the people of New Orleans circa Christmas 2006, Delmond is likely right that the anger comes from depression. Holidays are often a time of volatile, unhappy emotions, and when you pile on the mess that the city was for this particular holiday – and for these particular characters – who wouldn’t be feeling particularly angry, or blue, at everything that’s happening?

It’s interesting to see the different ways that character’s unhappiness manifests itself this week. Other than Albert and Delmond’s argument at the restaurant, the only real outburst comes courtesy of Janette, but it’s a doozy. Fed up with Brulard’s obnoxious insanity, and unable to resist a retort to Alan Richman for his anti-NOLA essay, she storms out of the kitchen, orders up a Sazerac (a local New Orleans cocktail) and hurls it in Richman’s face.(*)

(*) Credit Richman for being a good enough sport to play himself on the show – particularly given his long, ugly feud with Anthony Bourdain – though of course the scene actually is quite flattering to Richman, who can not only instantly identify the drink thrown at him, but is composed enough to crack an incredulous joke about it (“Nobody throws a Sazerac!”), rather than getting upset.

But amost everyone’s frustrated, depressed and/or angry in some way.

Albert’s apparent happy ending from Road Home last week turns out to be much more complicated, as he becomes aware of the enormous institutional backlog between him and the money he needs to rebuild. Colson spends the build-up to Christmas wrapping presents for his kids, even though he won’t be able to mail them in time and spends the holiday alone in his little trailer. A teacher at Sofia’s school commits suicide, which upsets Toni much more than Sofia, who still doesn’t know the circumstances of her father’s death. LaDonna tells Antoine that the rape won’t stop her, but she drifts off at work and is startled to realize where she is, and clearly shouldn’t be left alone based on her reaction to noise outside Larry’s house.

Even many of the characters who are doing well overall suffer some holiday-time setbacks. Antoine’s band comes together and plays a successful gig, but almost immediately starts losing players to other groups and gigs – forcing Antoine to bring in Sonny to play mediocre guitar – and then loses another member to a fatal shooting. Annie gets to perform with Shawn Colvin at the House of Blues, but when Colvin tries setting her up with a manager, the guy strongly implies that Annie’s not ready to take the next step yet. Davis gets his bounce record label off the ground, but has to deal with his eccentric Aunt Mimi (and whatever shady contract she made him sign) as well as various unreliable (but good) performers, as well as the limits of his own talent and ethnicity.

The one person for whom things seem to be going unequivocally well is Nelson, who’s raking in the cash, charming connections on both sides of the aisle – he even manages to somehow become closer to Liguori even as he’s confessing that he’s not the practicing Catholic he implied he was in the premiere – throwing more work Robinette’s way (even if it’s a typically FUBAR job that involves throwing out perfectly good textbooks), getting the ladies, etc.

Hey, Santa has to leave something fantastic under somebody’s tree, right?

Good episode overall. Nothing as intense as LaDonna’s rape and immediate aftermath, obviously, but other than Toni’s investigation into the Abreu shooting (which has yet to elevate itself beyond the abstract), I’m thoroughly enjoying following these characters at this moment in time – and, of course, listening to the ones who can sing and play.

Some other thoughts:

• Was very amused to see Antoine’s attempt to sabotage the teaching gig trumped by the school’s desperation to get anyone even vaguely qualified to fill the position. And then they turned things around and went very serious for a moment when we saw the kids’ understandable reaction to a particularly loud rainstorm.

• Character growth: Antoine’s Christmas presents for the boys are much better than last year.

• Though a drunken Antoine once sang with Sonny and Annie on a street corner, making Sonny a fill-in Soul Apostle is their first significant (and mostly sober, though Antoine can almost immediately identify Sonny’s drug problem) interaction, in an episode that also allows Delmond and Janette to finally have the conversation we all assumed they would when they were at the airport together in the season one finale. As always, I’m happy when characters on this show run into each other in new combinations, even though we’re still a very long way away from the Antoine/Delmond/Annie/Davis super-group I’ve been hoping for.  

• Before he runs into Janette at that New Orleans expat bar in New York to watch that year’s resurgent Saints team, I liked the glimpses of Delmond trying to reinvent his sound by figuring out what made old-school New Orleans jazz so widely popular back in the day. It’s a very specific question to this profession, and yet so specific that it’s hard to imagine another show on TV doing a story about that. Then again, it’s hard to imagine another show on TV being about jazz musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans. Simon and company do not go for the commercial, even if that’s what Delmond is somehow aiming for.

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