“Shame, Shame, Shame”
May 9th, 2010
There is a certain familiarity within Treme that has seemed a little bit foreign in the early stages of the series – community is obviously a key theme for the series, but it seems like everyone knows everyone else, or at least seem to know everyone who they need to know in order to allow Simon and Overmeyer to make the arguments they want to make. It just so happens that Lambreaux knows a city councilor, and it turns out that Ladonna’s brother worked at Janette’s restaurant, and it seems Toni Bernette represents just about everyone in this city. There’s a point where we start to wonder just how all of these connections could be possible, moments that pull us out of the sense of “realism” and authenticity the show seems to be trying to capture (and which Christopher Cwynar wrote about here).
And yet, “Shame, Shame, Shame” opens with a dream sequence, which is precisely the opposite of realistic and yet which sort of places everything into perspective. There is a certain level of spiritual fantasy to New Orleans, a lyricism which the show wants to be able to capture: it wants to show people struggling in the wake of the storm, certainly, but it also wants to emphasize that they are always part of a community, and what better way to capture that than by having them know one another, or at the very least having their paths intersect more than we could have imagined. The show’s various cameos are not so much meant to overwhelm us with star power (although tonight’s got to me for reasons I’ll get into after the jump) as they are to place these characters within “real” communities, providing them a sense of hope within a situation that isn’t going to be getting better anytime soon.
Sure, there are occasionally moments when things seem a bit too serendipitous, but there are enough moments where this episode nicely delineates between hope and reality that I think I’m along for the ride.
I’m not going to go nuts here, as I’m running low on time and you’ve probably read Sepinwall and Poniewozik already, but I want to focus on a few things in the episode. First and foremost, no one warned me about the Top Chef/Treme mashup at Janette’s, which is really interesting as I now understand what serious Jazz fans must feel like watching the rest of this show. I’ve tended to view the musician cameos as a novelty, something that gestures towards authenticity in a very obvious way – it hasn’t been enough for me to feel like the musical performances have been manufactured, but I will say that it has sort of placed them in a separate context from the fictional world the series was trying to create. However, this week we saw the music converge with the character, as Kermit and all sorts of other local musicians get sucked into the Davis for Council campaign; the show uses its own image of Kermit as a celebrity (rather than just his name recognition) in order to make Davis’ recording part of that larger community. It’s more subtle than what we saw earlier in the series, which doesn’t mean that it works better but rather that it seems to be looking forward a bit more.
As a devoted Top Chef viewer, I was excited to see head judge Tom Colicchio and guest judges Wylie Dufresne and Eric Ripert (along with someone who I didn’t recognize) show up at Janette’s restaurant, and the story played out a bit like a fantasy: Janette puts together an inspired menu, they seem pleased with the food, and Tom even invites her back to his restaurant if she ever comes to New York. I was a bit distracted by the fact that they were there, but it makes sense that they would head to a restaurant like hers, and it makes even more sense that Janette would be wrapped up in it. She’s needed a distraction, so for her to get an opportunity to cook for them is a welcome turn of events which pulls her out of the drudgery of it all. While I think the show is gaining the ability to pull off matter-of-fact cameos, it works better when the character is as taken aback as we are, so we relate with Janette’s excitement here rather than being excited on our own. It was a nice part of the episode, and shows how these cameos are working to the show’s advantage even if they’re taking a bit of getting used to.
The other major development here was the Second Line parade, the first “real” parade since the storm – at that point, we’ve had the wonders of Davis’ quest for musicians (a wonderfully drawn scene), the pleasure of the title track (so to speak), and even some beacons of hope in Ladonna’s search for her brother, so things are looking up in New Orleans. That parade is one of those scenes that unfolds like a fantasy, people celebrating and dancing and excitedly (but not violently) promoting their cause with the “ReNew Orleans” t-shirts. The infectious energy was getting to everyone: Sonny’s bouncer friend was feeling the rhythm, Janette was making out with Davis in broad daylight, and Creighton and Toni were both overjoyed at the sight of it all. However, the series’ spirit can’t overcome reality, as the series was recreating a parade which ended with the violence depicted, a shooting that brings it all back to Earth. Crime is returning to New Orleans, and neither the Police nor the community is ready to deal with it considering that they weren’t able to do so before the storm either.
The storm seems to have offered characters a respite, a chance for them to get their heads above water, but what matters is what they do afterwards. While his bouncer tenant is out getting odd jobs and trying to make a living, Sonny asks him for a loan so that he can go back to being a junkie (which reignited when he was in Houston). It makes you wonder whether Antoine will use the gift given to him by the Japanese music-lover to bounce back or to simply enable him further, and whether other people will get similar gifts. The show may include elements of fantasy, elements which seem too good to be true, but the show isn’t about the happy endings they create: rather, it’s about how they mesh with the realm of the authentic, and how these characters manage to take those gifts and those happy circumstances and use them to build a new life.
This was a very fun episode of the show, but it also demonstrated that the fun can’t last, and that there are still dark times for New Orleans ahead. That juxtaposition really worked in the episode’s favour, so I’m excited to see how the second half of the season unfolds.
- Some very purposeful editing notes this week: early on they cut from bathroom scene to bathroom scene, and then there was two scenes later connected by car doors opening and closing. The Wire was a wonderfully edited show, and it seems like the sort of stylistic perspective that show took is being nicely integrated here.
- I enjoyed the scene with Creighton getting recognized in the restaurant: that fine line between whether someone is making fun of you or actually praising you is tough to be able to discern, and that Creighton is concerned about it shows that he isn’t letter his sudden fame get the better of him (even if he keeps making the videos).
- The scene with Davis and the individual who took offense to his use of the “N Word” seemed a bit sudden, but having Davis settle his battle with his neighbours after they brought him in off the streets was a key step in the rehabilitation of his character. Davis was pretty much 100% awesome this week, so I’m glad people are (hopefully) starting to come around.