Tuned In

The Morning After: Treme-ndous?

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Having been all Treme all the time on Friday—with my Treme feature, my Treme review and my interview with Treme co-creator David Simon—I’m going to skip a full-on review recap of the show’s ninety-minute pilot last night. (I plan on doing a regular Treme Watch for the whole season, time permitting—though work travel next week may mean that time will not permit for the second episode.) Instead, I’ll add a few miscellaneous thoughts after the jump, and then you tell me what you thought:

* So, yeah, it was ninety minutes long. And toward the end I thought it started to feel a little overstuffed. That fantastic montage of Louis Prima’s “Buona Sera”—the visual highlight of the pilot along with Albert Lambreaux’s materialization as Big Chief—felt to me like the end of a pilot, and with a little rearrangement of scenes it could have been. But paralleling the opening second line (OK, that being the third amazing visual scene) with the closing funeral procession did hit on the themes of death and rebirth in the series (which I talked about, ironically, with David Mills the last time I spoke with him.)

* Speaking of that second-line scene: David Simon and Eric Overmyer told me they made the conscious decision not to start the series with the flood and show the disaster and recovery immediately afterward, reasoning that those were the stories America was pretty familiar with from media coverage. If Treme had done a first season about the flood and its aftermath, though, the second line would have made an excellent, cathartic final scene for that imaginary first season.

* I gave a lot of props to Clarke Peters (and those still stand), and there’s great casting and performances in this show all around, but Khandi Alexander just kills it from the second she steps on screen—the way she carries herself and speaks immediately conveys both LaDonna’s exhaustion and strength at once.

* And though I had my issues with Davis as a character, I can’t really fault Steve Zahn’s performance for them. Nor his bravery. If Twitter is any gauge, Treme got America’s attention by introducing itself to viewers by way of his naked ass.

* One of the first big musical cameos (besides Elvis Costello’s) was New Orleans trumpet player Kermit Ruffins. And his exchange with Davis comes close to summing up Treme’s dedication to showing us a hyperlocal world of New Orleans culture that rarely escapes the city’s borders. “You want to stand there and tell me that all you want to do is get high, play some trumpet and barbecue in New Orleans your whole damn life?” “That’ll work.” [laughs]

* Which reminds me: I did a lot of research preparing to write about this show and I’ve visited the city a few times, but when it comes down to it, I’m just a tourist. Treme felt very right to me, but do we have any natives in Tuned Inland? Do you think it got New Orleans right?

* Getting New Orleans right is important, obviously, but as important in reality-based fiction is not letting fealty to realism overtake the fiction. One danger that that you use “but it really happened” to justify scenes that don’t work dramatically; the other is that you let “but that never happened” take out scenes that do work. Case in point: I’ve already seen nitpicking that that scene in which Janette has her sous-chef plate up a Hubig’s fried pie for Creighton could not have happened, because Hubig’s was not up and running again yet in December 2005. The scene, however, was a perfect small moment, and Simon and Overmyer were right to have their pie and eat it too.

All in all, I thought, an eccentric, impressionistic pilot, but one with the ingredients to make a uniquely great portrait of a city. Agree or disagree?