Monday, December 09, 2013
Treme No. 33: This City
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.By Edward Copeland
Albert (Clarke Peters) seems unusually upbeat, pacing about his doctor's office, glancing out his window and commenting upon the unusually warm December day. He even tells Dr. Powell (Cordell Moore) that he feels as if he's overflowing with energy, but the doctor insists Lambreaux sit down. He describes Albert's mood as the "Indian Summer" effect and reports that the latest scans indicate that his cancer has spread to his liver. Albert shuffles out to the lobby where Davina (Edwina Findley) waits for him. She senses that her father didn't get good news, but Albert stays silent and gives his daughter a pat and a grin as the leave the building. (The credits give the first onscreen indication of the final season's cost-cutting measures as India Ennenga who plays Sofia and Michiel Huisman who portrays Sonny don't have their names present in the credits since they don't appear in this episode.)
Antoine (Wendell Pierce) to find all the students gathered in a circle and chattering. Robert (Jaron Williams) informs him that Cherise's boyfriend was shot and the teen girl (Camryn Jackson) was with him at the time. Batiste asks if her boyfriend had been involved in anything bad, but Jennifer (Jazz Henry) tells him that Cherise said no. Cherise isn't in class, hiding at home and frightened. Antoine urges the class to take their seats.
After the trip to the doctor's, Albert makes Davina drive him to some of his old haunts from growing up, beginning with the Seventh Ward, though he tells his daughter that no one called it that. "Some called it Creoleville…There were whites here, blacks too. Folks with Choctaw Indian in 'em, French blood too. High yellows," he tells her. Davina asks if this preceded segregation and he answers in the affirmative, explaining it really got bad in the 1960s when a white friend sat with them at the back of the bus and set off the driver who threw them all off. In the middle of Albert's tour, the show interrupts the flow with Toni (Melissa Leo) arriving at the home of the Gildays, the parents of the man who died in the Orleans Parish jail. A short scene of Toni at the door before returning to Albert and Davina. We do return to the Gilday home where Toni convinces Mr. and Mrs. Gilday (John Joly, Julie Ann Doan) to let her launch a wrongful death inquiry, including bringing in an outside coroner for an outside coroner. "We can't rely on the coroner's office, not in Orleans Parish," Toni tells the Gildays. This episode, "This City" (written by George Pelecanos, directed by Anthony Hemingway), repeats the exact bizarre cutting technique in the sequence that follows. We see Antoine knocking on Cherise's door, but — instead of just going in and seeing the scene where he talks to the girl and warns her to be aware of her surroundings — we cut to the shortest of scenes where Janette (Kim Dickens) and Jacques (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) shop for produce at a cart and Janette gets served a cease-and-desist order from Tim Feeny, ordering her not to use Desautel's in the name of her new restaurant. (Granted, drive time might have been needed to account for the different sites Albert points out to Davina, but it's pointless to show both Toni and then Antoine at separate doors and then play the short scenes in the entirety later. The Janette scene really sticks out. She could have been served anywhere, anytime. In fact, the scene isn't even necessary. The information gets conveyed completely in a scene at the restaurant with Davis later. These quick, separated scenes occur a lot in this outing but I'm ignoring them here on out in this no-frills recap. Thankfully, of the final five episodes, "This City" happens to be the only one reminiscent of the worst of Season Two.)
Delmond (Rob Brown) travels to New York and records with Terence Blanchard, who offers the younger Lambreaux more upcoming work on his tour for the album, but Del hedges, given the latest news on Albert's health and his impending fatherhood.
Annie (Lucia Micarelli) attends the Best of the Beat Awards held at the House of Blues on Decatur Street and wins best song. Marvin (Michael Cerveris) congratulates her, but Annie brushes it off as being fortunate while Frey tells her hard work earned her that honor. He also brings up the subject of dumping Bayou Cadillac for his Nashville musicians, insisting that Annie's band will understand. "I'm gonna make this record my way. That's why you hired me," Frey declares when Annie resists firing the musicians before taking the stage to perform "This City" in memory of Harley.
In that scene I referred to, Janette informs Davis (Steve Zahn) of Feeny's legal move and the two (mostly McAlary) unleash new, creative vulgar phrases for the businessman. They also discuss the costs with removing Janette's last name from the restaurant's sign, its menu and even her chef's uniform. Janette makes Davis smile though when she informs him that she's going home with him that night.
When Del returns to New Orleans, he finds his sister quite upset. Albert won't take any more chemotherapy, intent instead on concentrating on his outfit for Mardi Gras and the impending birth of his grandchild, which he insists will be a boy. Davina can't understand why Del isn't more upset, but he tells her that the doctor told them further chemo might not help much and they should honor Albert's wishes. "We should start preparing for what's inevitable," Delmond says as he takes his sobbing sister in his arms. Antoine stops by GiGi's to give her some child support for Randall and Alcide, but asks LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) why she still gives him that suspicious look now that he holds a regular job. "I've had a habit of doubting you for a long time. Maybe too long," LaDonna admits. As they talk about overcharges for the wiring, a tune playing by Gary Walker and the Boogie Kings and how Larry has carried the load for far too long when it comes to caring for the boys, LaDonna confesses to Antoine, "I like you better now than when we were married." Antoine smiles. "I had a growth spurt, I guess," he responds as the two do a little dance to the "Who Needs You So Bad?" with the bar separating them. During another meeting with LaFouchette (James DuMont) about the high amount of deaths in the Orleans Parish jail, Officer Billy Wilson (Lucky Johnson) stops by to taunt Toni (Melissa Leo) over her inability to nail him in the death of Joey Abreu.
(One thing I love is when series with disparate casts — or castes — create situations where these characters interact. My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks stand as just two examples of shows that do this well as does Treme, which creates one of the best in the scene that follows.) Nelson (Jon Seda) takes C.J. (Dan Ziskie) to lunch to meet Davis, proposing he might make a good liaison for them between the local music scene and the jazz center project, though he admits he's rough around the ages. McAlary does his best to be on his best behavior, citing his record label, disc jockey job and musical heritage tour as qualifications. He warns Liguori that he speaks his mind, but C.J. tells him he would expect nothing less. The banker then recalls McAlary's quixotic political campaign (in Season 1) when Davis planned to renamed the New Orleans Hornets the New Orleans Mormon Tabernacle Choir to shame Utah into returning the name Jazz back to the team. Davis also reminds him of his plan of Pot for Pot Holes. Unfortunately, Davis remembers who C.J. Liguori is as well — the banker who is one of the biggest GOP fund-raisers in the state and was involved in the Greendot program. Davis admits to boycotting his bank for 10 years. "I was wondering where that three hundred dollars went," C.J. comments drily while continuing to eat.
Twin Peaks fans, a club exists in New Orleans called One Eyed Jacks and Annie goes there to see Lucero perform (in front of red curtains no less) before hooking up with her occasional boyfriend, its lead singer, Ben Nichols.
Nelson finds Janette's new place, where Davis happens to be, and remarks how much better her food is than what's being served at her old place. She fills him in on the Feeny details and how she's going to try to appeal to his humanity to use her name. McAlary asks Hidalgo how he thinks his chances for being a community liaison for C.J went, but Nelson admits that he thinks Liguori plans to go another way. Davis gulps when realizing he lost a $30,000 job.
Murder never stops in New Orleans and when Colson (David Morse) arrives at another crime scene to discover his men fiddling about he also learns the victim is Cherise.
Toni tries to get FBI Special Agent Collington (Colin Walker) interested in the Orleans Parish in-custody deaths, but he admits to a full plate. Toni can't contain her anger since no movement has happened on the Abreu case she gave them. "Sphinx move faster than you fucking feds," she spits.
No humanity can be found in Tim Feeny (Sam Robards) who tells Janette that he plans to sue over a Times-Picayune article where she extolled fine cuisine over chain-style dining. She can forget about getting her name back as well. He even lets her pick up the tab.
"That sweet girl," Antoine says when Colson and Detective Nikolich (Yul Vazquez) question him about his meeting with Cherise two days prior. It turns out her boyfriend had been wearing one of his older brother's shirts and was killed by thugs he had a beef with from the Iberville projects. Nikolich offers the visibly shaken and upset Antoine that if it's any comfort, they've identified the killers and just have to locate them to arrest them for the crimes. "No sir, that's no comfort at all," Antoine responds. (Pierce brings to the table whatever is needed, even if that mostly ends up being Antoine's more comical side, but when he shows us Batiste's other layers, especially in this dramatic scene of devastation, he's even more of a wonder to behold. While so many members of this talented ensemble deserve award recognition, this scene reminds me that Pierce might be the most glaring Emmy oversight in addition to the series itself. Perhaps next year a going-away present.) LaDonna cooks Albert a dinner at his house as the share a dinner date alone. Later, the talk turns to mortality as Albert reminisces about many of his old friends, all gone, and even his late wife, who he admits LaDonna reminds him of in many ways. "When you get right down to it, death is an ordinary thing," Lambreaux admits while lying on his sofa, his head resting in LaDonna's lap.
Terry returns to Toni's house to find her doing the dishes. He tries to ask about her day, but she brushes it off, though he tells her about Cherise's murder and tells her they know the killer, but just have to find her. Toni erupts, asking if they'll lose the evidence and screw it up. She finally admits being shaken up by Officer Wilson's taunt and the snail-like crawl of the feds to take any action on the Abreu murder among other cases she gave them. She brings up the Orleans Parish in-custody deaths, but Colson trying to keep the situation calm says precisely the wrong thing by explaining that's the sheriff's department and not under his department's supervision. She blows up and storms up. (After all these years, even when Toni felt scared enough to send Sofia away when the NOPD harassed them, she still maintained her optimistic faith in justice winning out. Toni appears broken. (In the 33 episodes of Treme so far, Melissa Leo always has proved spectacular, but in this brief scene, seeing that tireless champion Toni Bernette break down and admits she feels the system is rigged beyond repair, Leo delivers another amazing piece of work. Morse, who stands calmly and lets her vent without trying to quell her fears or say she's wrong, performs at her level as the sounding board who knows to stay out of her way. One other note: The school Antoine teaches at, Theophile Jones Elie, was called an elementary school when introduced in the second season. The school still bears that name, but I wondered about how the school systems break down in New Orleans, since it seemed odd that 14- and 15-year-olds still would attend an elementary, but Colson describes Cherise as a middle school student. Still unclear, but who knows?)
Larry (Lance E. Nichols) carries a below-freezing demeanor when LaDonna shows up to give him Antoine's money for the boys. He balks when she suggests taking Randall and Alcide with her. Larry asks if she means to the Residence Inn or the room above the bar. They're best with him and unless she wants to talk about coming home. LaDonna asks him to tell the boys she was there and leaves.
That night, outside Theophile Jones Elie, a candlelight vigil takes place for Cherise and all the other young people slain on the streets of New Orleans. Young Jennifer even speaks on behalf of Cherise and all the other young people. "We love this city, but it hasn't loved us back," the teen tells the crowd.
BLOGGER'S NOTE: I almost got this no-frills update up last night, but my stamina and fingers failed me. Health circumstances this week make a recap of this season's third episode unlikely, but I'll try to return for the fourth episode and the finale.
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE
Sunday, December 01, 2013
Treme No. 32: Yes We Can Can, Part I
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along. Unfortunately, another hospitalization put the final nail in me finishing this first recap on time and places the remaining recaps in doubt and jeopardy.By Edward Copeland
As we return to our friends in New Orleans more than a year after we last looked in our their lives, it happens to be Election Day 2008, and we see the familiar trappings of any campaign — signs stacked on top of one another, long lines of citizens eager to perform their civic duty, poll workers taking their seats, ballot boxes being unlocked and set up and, finally, the actual process of voting taking place. During this montage, we catch our first sightings of characters we know. Desiree (Phyllis Montana-Leblanc) watches news reports of the expectations of a historic day while Honoré plays at her mother’s feet. Toni and Sofia Bernette (Melissa Leo, India Ennenga) stand in line together, awaiting the college freshman’s first chance to vote in a presidential election. Playing throughout this section of the premiere’s opening, we hear “Every Man a King,” the campaign song used by Louisiana’s legendary Huey Long and currently being spun by DJ Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) on WWOZ. As the tune ends, McAlary explains the station’s theme that day aims to play songs of political import. “The polls have indeed opened in our politically calcified and corrupt state and remember, if you want your vote to matter, the question is 'What are you doing here?' To paraphrase the great Lafcadio Hearn, better to vote once in Ohio in sackcloth and ashes than 10 times in every parish in Louisiana,” Davis tells his listeners, before switching to Allen Touissant’s own version of the song which gives this episode its title, “Yes We Can Can,” a song Touissant originally wrote as “Yes We Can” for Lee Dorsey in 1970, but which added the extra "Can" when it became a 1973 funk hit for The Pointer Sisters. (I swore I did try to avoid going overboard on the background, but I imagine I'll let up as outside forces close in on the time needed for even bare-bones recaps.)
As Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” glides us from WWOZ to the Lambreaux residence, Albert (Clarke Peters) sews in his driveway, mystifying his children Delmond and Davina (Rob Brown, Edwina Findley) that he lacks interest in joining their trip to the polls. Del emphasizes that the chance to vote for a black man for president might not come again soon, but his father stoically replies, “You really think that’s going to change some shit?” Though the last time we saw the big chief, chemo had left him bald. Now, his hair has returned and he’s regrown his mustache. After voting, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) and Desiree come upon a musical garden party of sorts, where John Boutté sings Sam Cooke’s classic “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Sonny (Michiel Huisman) drops Linh and her father Tran (Hong Chau, Lee Nguyen) off to vote, but Tran questions why he isn’t coming in order to tell his wife how to vote. Sonny explains he isn’t a citizen, so Tran says he’ll tell Linh what to do this time. Tran plans to vote for McCain. “Democrats in Vietnam — they quit, give up. Republicans for me, always,” Tran says. Sonny shrugs to his wife and asks, “McCain?” Linh just grins and replies, “Father knows best.” When Antoine asks James Andrews who’s paying him for the gig with Boutté, he tells Batiste that all the gathered musicians are working for free. Antoine decides to go home and retrieve his bone. While Albert expressed disinterest to his children, he sits on his couch and watches the television reports of the long lines that began early on this Election Day. Once Antoine has joined Boutté and the other musicians, they burst forth with “Glory Glory Hallelujah.” When no one watches, Albert himself turns up at a polling station. As the day turns into night, the celebratory atmosphere intensifies as Toni and Sofia join an Obama rally outside Kermit Ruffins’ Sidney’s Saloon, also attended by Antoine and Desiree and presided over by Ruffins himself, where all watch Barack Obama’s acceptance speech from Chicago. “That’s your president, baby,” Antoine tells Honoré. “He looks just like you.” Back at home, Albert again watches alone, still with an uncertain sadness about him. Ruffins blows his trumpet and makes his ways through the crowd shouting, “Yes we can” repeatedly until he gets to the middle of St. Bernard Avenue alone, clear of the crowd, and sees the flashing lights of police cars in the distance. Some things remain the same. The entire opening sequence of the premiere (written by David Simon & Eric Overmyer & George Pelecanos, directed by Anthony Hemingway) runs for nearly seven minutes. It’s a beautiful sight to behold and a great beginning to our final hours with our friends in Treme.
Following the credit sequence, we slowly pan from a group of chickens gathered behind the back of a small gray station wagon until we see the vehicle’s door ajar while two roosters near the door seem to be attempting to converse with Davis on his knees in front of his mode of transportation, taken out by a very large pothole. McAlary, in a moment that could be lifted from a Werner Herzog film, unemotionally says, “Fuck you” to the fowl as if they mocked his misfortune.(In the early years of Treme, I felt Zahn received undue criticism for his portrayal of Davis McAlary, many seeing him as little more than a caricature, but I’ve never thought that to be the case. Perhaps part of my defense stems from being an early fan of Zahn’s work both on stage and in films, but the Davis detractors give neither the character nor the actor who inhabits him the credit each deserves or recognize McAlary’s many layers of emotional depth and serious intent when it comes to the musical heritage of New Orleans. Davis McAlary as a whole exists neither as a cartoon nor a buffoon. Now that I recall, Herzog directed Zahn in Rescue Dawn, the feature version of Herzog’s documentary Little Dieter Needs to Fly.) Meanwhile, it appears that last season’s tensions between Tim Feeny (Sam Robards) and Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) reached a boiling point and Janette no longer works at the restaurant which continues to operate using her name, Desautel’s on the Avenue. Not one to give up, Janette currently paints her own sign for a new restaurant she’s about to open on Dauphine Street at Louisa Street in the Bywater area of New Orleans. Only selecting a name for her new eatery stumps Janette. Her sous chef (and lover when last we saw them) Jacques Jhoni (Ntare Guma Mbaho Mwine) suggests she call it Desautel’s, the only word she’s completed on the sign, but Janette nixes that since it was the name of her first restaurant. She floats the idea of Desautel’s on the Bywater, but Jacques says it summons the image of byproducts and might not be an appetizing image. For now, Janette remains stuck, but Davis’ vehicle does not as a tow truck comes to its rescue, if not McAlary’s. Once the station wagon leaves the scene, the viewer truly realizes what a monster the pothole that ensnared its front wheel is. It must be at least three feet wide, if not more, and who knows how deep, judging by the pooled water flooding to its surface. Davis yells in vain as the tow truck driver vanishes down the road about what should be done about the gaping hole. With no response forthcoming, McAlary surveys the surroundings. We leave New Orleans for a moment to check in on Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), back home in Texas, Galveston to be precise, with his cousin Arnie (Jeffrey Carisalez) in tow, looking for new projects in the wake of Hurricane Ike. Hidalgo also busies himself cursing at not getting through to one of his brokers, telling Arnie that the elusive man has “Five mil of mine under this guy’s ass and I can’t get him on the phone like he’s just some discount broker? What the fuck is that?” Nelson meets with two businessmen, Jimmy Staunton and Doug McCreary (Patrick Kirton, John Niesler), about getting involved in the demolition game in Texas. McCreary asks how big a slice Hidalgo might like and Nelson tells him he already has 15 crews ready to work and can get more if needed. “You didn’t like New Orleans much?” McCreary inquires. “Work was good, but I’m home now and damn glad to be back in the Lone Star State, believe you me,” Nelson replies. Staunton declares that if Nelson is tight with Bobby (a reference to a character named Bobby Don Baxter, a Texas demolition baron that Nelson enlisted to help tear down the Lafitte Projects in Season 3), he’s tight with Staunton. However, in order to get the contracts, Nelson must use the Houston bank that McCreary happens to own. Back in the Crescent City, it first appears as if Davis plans to repair the pothole himself as he wheels a shopping cart out to it filled with buckets and what appear to be supplies. Instead, he uses the cart, buckets and various other tools to create an almost modern art sculpture tall enough to warn motorists and to cover the road hazard. “My work here is done,” Davis proclaims as he walks away. (This section of the episode — and you could include the Galveston scene I’m about to recap as part of it as well — cuts from one short scene to the next in ways that often proved disruptive in many Season 2 episodes but, as in Season 3, they’ve fixed that flow problem so it doesn’t feel as if the viewer constantly hits a road bump for no good reason. They don’t have an underlying connection as the magnificent collection of short scenes in this episode’s pre-credit sequence does, but that segment had Election Day to serve as the cake for which those disconnected moments could be frosted into confectionery perfection, giving us one of the greatest openings of a Treme episode ever in the first of its final five. However, even when they don’t feel superfluous, because of health difficulties and other interruptions that barely allowed me to post this first recap on time and put the timeliness of the remaining four in question, I will be leaving many scenes I deem of lesser importance out of these pieces entirely.)
Back in Galveston, Nelson's broker finally returns his call and gets an earful from Hidalgo as to why he hasn't sold his stocks yet. "We are shedding like a thousand points on the Dow in the two days since the election. I can't take anymore," a more subdued Nelson tells his broker on the other end of the line before erupting again, "Get me out of this fuckin' market now!" As Nelson pockets his phone, he joins Arnie at a food stand selling Tex-Mex cuisine where Arnie and Nelson's lunch orders wait on the counter. "What do you think happened?" Arnie asks. "It's Obama, I guess," the erstwhile Republican Hidalgo speculates. "Wall Street doesn't like the guy or something, but this shit started two months ago when they let Lehman Brothers go under," Nelson declares, pointing at his cousin for emphasis. Arnie asks how much of a hit Nelson has taken so far from the economic collapse. "Between yesterday and today, what I lost about two months ago — about a million four and climbing," Hidalgo replies. "Don't worry. These are on me," Arnie reassures his cousin about paying for lunch. A somewhat clumsy instrumental version of the children’s gospel classic “This Little Light of Mine” (composed by Harry Dixon Loes around 1920 and recorded in numerous styles and genres with its lyrics.) plays us out of Galveston and into the Theophile Jones Elie band room. Antoine circles the young teens before urging his budding musicians to stop, telling them that the notes emanating from their instruments are "cacophonous — from the Greek word caca." Antoine asks the kids why they aren't coming prepared as they'd discussed and one replies that they are trying. "Not hard enough," Mr. Batiste tells his class. One of the students, Markell (Markell Henderson), admits to missing the former lead instructor, Mr. LeCoeur, who left for a post at a New Orleans high school. Antoine tells the band that LeCoeur isn't coming back and the students have him as their instructor year-round now. As Batiste lectures the kids about coming to class "correct," Cherise (Camryn Jackson) disassembles her saxophone, places it in its case and prepares to leave. Antoine inquires about her destination and Cherise tells him that she has to pick up her little brother, though Jennifer (Jazz Henry) teases that Cherise plans to hook up with her boyfriend. The bell rings for the day, so most everyone exits anyway. Antoine shakes his head and mutters to himself about someone as young as Cherise already having a boyfriend. Then he notices Robert (Jaron Williams) still sitting in his desk, staring down and shaking. Antoine asks Robert what's wrong because he knows it couldn't have been him playing that horn. "It hurts, Mister Batiste," Robert replies, indicating his groin area as his trumpet bounces up and down off his jittery legs. Antoine asks the boy if he's been "pulling on it" and his student offers the additional information that "it burns when I pee. It's sticky down there." Pierce delivers a great empathetic cringe once he realizes what afflicts one of his best students. Antoine inquires as to whether Robert has had sex and the prodigy once nick-named Bear tells of one girl in his neighborhood and "she's been bothering me." Antoine sighs, "They all do." He learns, to no great surprise, that Robert lacks both a family doctor or any kind of health insurance. "Gather your things, boy — your horn, too," Batiste tells his student as he puts his coat and cap on, a grin of wistful STD-related nostalgia crossing his face. (As has been the case throughout Treme’s run, Pierce’s portrayal of Antoine remains the series’ heart and soul. Pierce finds new ways to make Antoine funny and serious, often simultaneously, and reveals new sides to Batiste each season. The show manages to give most members of its ensemble cast moments to shine, but I can’t remember a wasted moment involving Pierce.)
We’ve already witnessed changes in several characters’ lives: Janette working on another new restaurant; Nelson feeling the financial impact of the 2008 Wall Street collapse and Antoine becoming the year-round, lead instructor for young band students. The biggest upheaval though may have happened in the life of LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander). LaDonna and Larry have separated and LaDonna visits with Alcide and Randall (Renwick Scott, Sean-Michael Bruno), her sons by Antoine, on the porch of Larry’s Mid-City home. She asks if the teens if their stepdad treats them well and they tell their mom that Larry even has improved as a cook, though they have breakfast for dinner a lot. “Larry’s a good man and he loves you two like you’re his own,” LaDonna tells the boys, though the oldest, Alcide, immediately fires back with the question, “Then why did you leave?” LaDonna tries to explain to the adolescents that sometimes things just don’t work out between people, but she promises the three of them will be together again soon — though she emphasizes that the reunion won’t occur in the house that holds the porch on which they currently sit. Alcide remains skeptical, having heard LaDonna’s promises before, but she insists that once she gets the bar up and running again that she’ll find a home for the three of them. “You finish the school year out here. It’s what’s best for you,” she tells her hardened oldest son. “Until things sort themselves out.” Alcide looks decidedly unconvinced and unmoved while Randall lets LaDonna cradle him in her arms on the porch swing. Antoine reunites unexpectedly with a former member of his Soul Apostles when he finds Sonny working part-time at The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic that helps professional musicians who catch the sort of STDs that young Robert has. Sonny tells Antoine that he took this part-time job and does some gigs out of fear he’ll spend so much time on his father-in-law’s fishing boat that he’ll speak Vietnamese better than he does. Unfortunately, the clinic can’t help Robert since he not only isn’t a professional musician, but hasn’t reached the age of 15 yet, though Sonny says The Daughters of Charity at Ochsner will help him. “Fourteen and already burned, huh?” Sonny comments. “Yep. The kid’s a prodigy in more ways than one,” Antoine adds before sharing the hardest aspect about being a New Orleans musician to Sonny: “Having to explain to your girlfriend why she has to take penicillin for your kidney infection. The former bandmates erupt in hearty laughter. Even young Robert grins, though that prompts Batiste to swat him and ask, “What you laughing at, boy?”
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE
Treme No. 32: Yes We Can Can Part II
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This recap contains spoilers, so if you haven't seen the episode yet, move along.By Edward Copeland
We finally see Annie (Lucia Micarelli) doing what she does best — playing the hell out of the fiddle with her band Bayou Cadillac on “Do You Wanna Dance” (with French lyrics, no less) on a Lafayette, Louisiana stage. When the set ends, Annie gets a big bear hug from Michael Doucet, founder of the band BeauSoleil, whose group had an album that bore the name Bayou Cadillac. He tells her he loves the name of the band and while Annie worries that he might take offense, Doucet assures her he takes it as a compliment. She tries to spread her exuberance to her manager Marvin Frey (Michael Cerveris), insisting it’s the best show ever and wishing they taped it or the concert in Mobile for a live album. “You might even sell a few copies in Lafayette or Mobile or even New Orleans,” Frey responds unenthusiastically. As Frey and Annie watch Doucet take the stage and Annie imagines being that big in a few years, Frey walks away. “Why do I get the sense that you are trying to tell me something?” Annie asks her manager. Frey tells her that in the music industry, it’s getting harder to survive on the margins. Her album did what it did but once they get north of a certain point geographically, it goes nowhere. “Doing rock ‘n’ roll dance hall tunes en francais in Lafayette?” Frey poses. “What the fuck Marvin? We’re in Lafayette,” Annie replies. “That’s right. You’re in Lafayette. I just thought you were hungrier than that,” Frey tells his client.
Terry (David Morse) looks quite comfortable reading the Times-Picayune sports section in Toni’s living room as he complains about the Atlanta Falcons who will face off against the hometown Saints with a 4-4 record. He fears he’s boring Toni with the football talk, but she surprises him with her pigskin player knowledge. Sofia breezes through the room, as she prepares to return east to school, and notes how comfy Colson seems in the house, asking if the living arrangement is permanent. Her mom informs Sofia that the city demolished Terry’s house. “I was too late getting started. Mold and rot had its way with everything,” Terry tells Sofia, who asks what she should call him now — Terry? Detective Colson? Colson suggests The Tall Guy. Colson inquires of Toni if she’d mind if he’d spend Thanksgiving with her and Sofia in New Orleans. He’d already asked his sons in Indianapolis and they approved, though Colson realizes he should’ve broached the subject with Toni first. Toni insists that both she and Sofia would love to have him there. (Morse has been so great in so many roles since his first splash on St. Elsewhere, that he truly was a welcome sight in his recurring role in the first season, even more so once he became a regular in Season Two) Annie seeks advice from ex-boyfriend Davis about Marvin’s advice that she dump Bayou Cadillac in favor of Nashville studio musicians. “I should tell him to go fuck himself, right? Isn’t that what I’m supposed to say?” Annie asks McAlary. While Davis agrees with her problems with Frey, he also admits that his relationship with the Lost Highway record label beats any local label, including his own. Annie thanks him for lending her his ear. “What else are psychically wounded ex-lovers for?” Davis replies before hopping on a bicycle and heading to his own label. He asks Don B. if his Aunt Mimi might be on the premises, but Don says between the two of them, most days he feels as if he’s holding down the fort by himself. He then gives Davis his paycheck, which McAlary complains will go to more than $800 in repairs for the pothole debacle. He also asks Don to admit that most days Bartholomew would pay to keep Davis out of the office. Before McAlary scampers off, Don gives him a demo of “the next big thing” that will come out of New Orleans, which turns out to be a new work by Trombone Shorty.(Micarelli, the only regular cast member who came to the show with no acting experience, truly grew in her acting prowess over the course of these 36 episodes. Her musical abilities always were present. I wonder if she’ll return exclusively to the world of music or she’ll continue to pursue acting work. I hope she does.) Nelson returns to the Big Easy to check on his remaining investments there and to see if any opportunities remain that might help him rebuild his losses. He checks in with banker and business partner C.J. Liguori (Dan Ziskie) to see if he took a hit, but Liguori admits that most New Orleans businessmen always act more conservatively. In fact, he appears to be channeling the late, Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), despite the vast differences in Toni's late husband and C.J.'s political leanings, when he responds, "Hold the Corps accountable. Down here in New Orleans, we've lost our naiveté. We're several years past believing anything but spit, chewing gum and dumb luck keeps anyone high and dry." Liguori tells Hidalgo to relax and reminds him that most Mid-City properties should turn over soon and he holds pieces of that and that he wouldn't bet against the jazz center, the plans for which sit on Mayor Ray Nagin's desk. C.J. suggests Nelson get a good meal and a few drinks, but Hidalgo asks if there is anything immediate he could do for Liguori. C.J. informs him of a community meeting in the Treme about the jazz center that he could monitor for them since he'd be less likely to be recognized.
Colson arrives at a crime scene where a man lies shot dead in his front yard. He summons one of his detectives, Cappell (Dexter Tillis), to discern what they know. He isn’t happy to learn that neither the young detective nor the silent Detective Silby (JD Evermore), seen at a distance, have bothered to canvass the neighborhood for potential witnesses. Terry notices a surveillance camera above the street. Cappell tells him that it’s unlikely the camera even works. Colson orders Cappell to start knocking on doors while he checks in on any possible security footage. When Colson gets to the office that monitors the cameras, the officer on duty watching them (Carl Palmer) confirms that the camera in question no longer works, as is the case with most of the surveillance equipment in the 6th District. “Why am I not surprised?” Terry sighs. The officer suggests that even though the cameras don’t work, they still serve as a deterrent, adding that even if all the security cameras worked, understaffing would prevent monitoring all of them. Colson asks how many continued to function. The officer guessed that in the 6th District, perhaps 10 to 12. “Out of how many?” Terry inquires. The officer gives him the total of 38. He suggests that Colson talk to the head of IT in Nagin’s office, if he wants to make any progress, but he thanks him for dropping by. He doesn’t get many visitors apparently.
Albert works as part of the team rebuilding GiGi’s for LaDonna. She also allows the Guardians of the Flame to practice there, which they do when the rest of the tribe arrives. LaDonna asks Big Chief Lambreaux how late they plan to rehearse, hinting that she’s thinking of other activities, though both she and Delmond watch the Indians go through their paces. Antoine arrives home and tells Desiree about Robert’s STD and Cherise’s boyfriend. Batiste admits that he didn’t sign up to be a father figure when he took the job. Sonny stopped for a quick drink at B.J.’s but when he has to take a leak, he finds the bar’s bathroom out of order. He steps outside to relieve himself but gets promptly greeted by the flashing lights of a patrol car. Sonny insists he consumed a single drink, but that doesn’t concern NOPD Capt. Jack Malatesta (Tony Senzamici). “Son, you can flash your titties if you have ‘em. You can lie down in the street in your own vomit, but one thing you cannot do in the City of New Orleans is pull out your pecker and piss on our hallowed ground,” the officer declares as he shuts the patrol car’s door on Sonny. (One of the great pleasures of Treme always has been its dialogue, especially when it allowed itself longer speeches. I don’t know if David Simon, Eric Overmyer or George Pelecanos gets the credit for that line, but I love it.) Shortly after his arrival in lockup. another man (Garrett Kruithof) get shoved in the holding cell, promptly collapsing, asking for help or a doctor and telling Sonny that he needs his inhaler for his asthma. Sonny calls a deputy for help, saying the man needs a doctor. The law enforcement official asks Sonny if he is a doctor, which Sonny obviously replies in the negative. “Then what the fuck do you know about it?” he spits before walking away, leaving the man writhing on the cell floor.
Nelson visits Desautel’s on the Avenue, disappointed that his favorite dishes prove M.I.A. Tim Feeny stops by and glad-hands him and Hidalgo pretends he’s enjoying the pork loin he’s consuming. He asks Feeny if “chef” might be available for a brief chat and Feeny says “he” is. Nelson inquires about Janette, but Feeny just mentions the new chef being a great hire from Atlanta. When Feeny asks the woman serving behind the bar about how long Janette has been absent and she tells him about two months. Nelson pushes the rest of his meal aside and finishes his drink. Colson goes to Deputy Chief of Operations Marsden (Terence Rosemore) and demands a transfer, which Marsden refuses. Terry’s anger grows and he tells Marsden that he’s documented all the attempts to screw him over and jack him up, but he’s not going to quit. Marsden suggests that Colson take his pension and retire. He also reminds him that for all the years Colson served in the 6th District, he can’t quite call himself a virgin.
When Toni gets Sonny out of jail the next morning, she senses something happened. Sonny tells him that nothing to him but shares the tale of the neglected asthmatic. He tells her EMTs eventually showed up after he wasn’t breathing and was blue and tried to revive him, but they were too late — the man was dead. Davis brings a box bearing gifts of liquor to Janette for that night’s opening. “How many times will I get to see you open a new place in my lifetime — six, seven tops,” McAlary proclaims. Janette welcomes the present. She can’t obtain credit from any liquor distributors to make running a full bar possible. She offers Davis a free opening night meal, but McAlary opts for a rain check citing his interest in the community meeting concerning closing the live clubs on Rampart in order to make way for the jazz center followed by Trombone Shorty’s big show at the Howlin’ Wolf. Toni makes a date to talk with sheriff’s department Capt. Richard LaFouchette (James DuMont) to learn more about the man, whose name she learned was William Gilday, who died in his department’s cell. LaFouchette shares the list of in-custody deaths, but Gilday’s name doesn’t appear. Toni asks what the hell is going on over there. “It’s jail, Toni. Shit happens,” LaFouchette responds. (It’s always easier to play a villain, but Melissa Leo amazes with her ability to play such a force of good as Toni as spectacularly as Leo throughout the run of Treme. Of course, as with the rest of the talented cast and show itself, she received no Emmy recognition just as she failed ever to be nominated for her great work on Homicide: Life on the Street. Perhaps that Oscar win for The Fighter and her recent Emmy win for her great guest spot on the hysterical Louie takes the sting out, despite entertainment awards being honors and pointless simultaneously. Speaking of Louie, while Dan Ziskie always displays a dry wit as C.J. Liguori, since I started watching Louie late I can’t help but picture C.J. as the Southern lawman who requests Louis C.K. reward him with a kiss on the lips for saving him from some thugs.)
Not all characters know each other in the Treme universe, but eventually some do cross paths. In the final season’s premiere, Nelson Hidalgo meets Davis McAlary at the community meeting concerning the idea of shutting down the live clubs on Rampart to make way for the jazz center. After Nelson makes a few comments, Davis realizes that Hidalgo plays for “the other team.” McAlary determines that Hidalgo needs re-education that only D.J. Davis can provide. He takes the Texas businessman into the crowd outside the Howlin’ Wolf awaiting Shorty’s show, where he introduces him to Antoine as “a corporate succubus who has set up shop in our quaint little village with the intent of harnessing its essence for fun and profit.” Davis attempts to begin his work on Nelson by offering him a joint, but Hidalgo declines and instead offers to get drinks for Antoine and Davis, who kindly oblige. “Why’d you go and call that man a suck-your butt?” Antoine asks McAlary. “He seemed alright to me.” (As I said earlier, Pierce’s Antoine always has served as the heart and soul of the series, but it’s great to see him and Zahn in comic routines with each other or anyone else. It’s not exactly true to the spirit of the definition, but Antoine and Davis function in a way as the yin and the yang of Treme, except neither truly exudes pure darkness or negativity.)
After a gig with Ellis Marsalis, Delmond’s agent James Woodrow (Jim True-Frost) inquires about Albert’s health. Del informs him that the Big Chief’s cancer has gone into remission, so Woodrow asks if Del plans to return to New York anytime soon. Del expresses hesitancy, since Albert needs to remain cancer free for three years. Woodrow balks at the idea of that long an absence, but asks if he’s free to travel to NYC for a few days. Terence Blanchard wants to use him on a recording. When Del gets home, he greets his girlfriend Brandi (Brandi Coleman), who presses Del as to when he plans to tell Albert about his impending grandchild. Delmond admits to being superstitious — “circle of life and all that,” Del says.
Antoine greets Troy Andrews aka Trombone Shorty backstage following his final set with Orleans Ave. Andrews asks Batiste how he’s been and Antoine replies, “Fine until after this last set.” Shorty interprets this as Antoine disliking the direction in which Andrews’ music is heading, but Batiste clarifies. Andrews’ new music makes him uncertain where Antoine Batiste is going and considering whether he should pawn his bone right now since he’ll never catch up. Shorty tells Antoine he might have some upcoming gigs he could toss his way, including one on an upcoming film set to film in New Orleans about old-time jazz pioneers. In the club itself, Davis shows Nelson photos on the wall of when Trombone Shorty was a child prodigy. Hidalgo admits to wondering about the name, but misses the larger point of McAlary’s visual illustration. “He is who he is because he comes from where he comes from, not some conservatory of music or performing arts center. He comes from the streets, the second lines, from the funerals and later those shithole three sets-a-night clubs. Music lives where it lives. You can’t fuck with that. You don’t want to fuck with that,” McAlary imparts to Nelson. (Another great piece of dialogue.) As hinted in the last episode of Season 3 when Albert and LaDonna went AWOL during the fund-raiser for GiGi’s, the two definitely became involved and the relationship proves to be the catalyst behind Larry and LaDonna’s impending divorce. LaDonna starts to put on her coat, ready to return to the Residence Inn, but Lambreaux urges her to stay since Davina took a trip out of town for a few days, so LaDonna accepts. She asks Albert if he’s tired, but Lambreaux admits to only being tired of people inquiring if he’s tired or how he’s doing. (Khandi Alexander and Clarke Peters prove to be such a great pairing that it’s a shame it didn’t occur earlier. Alexander plays every range of emotion well, but few do fiery and pissed off as well as she does. In contrast, Peters says so much simply with his face. Albert raises his voice from time to time, but it’s his stoic stubbornness that makes the character so fascinating.) Janette bids Jacques good night and she prepares to lock up Desautel’s on the Dauphine. She has managed to keep Jacques as a faithful sous chef, despite Eric Ripert’s advice, but you see the sadness in her eyes as Jacques climbs into a woman’s convertible and gives her a big kiss before they drive away. Janette pours herself a drink and sadly imbibes alone, reminiscent of her early days in New York. (Kim Dickens stands as another in this series’ ridiculously talented ensemble who conveys so much without saying a word. The humor and pathos she’s milked so brilliantly from this chef’s journey truly stands as a remarkable achievement.)
BLOGGER'S NOTE: Full recaps of the remaining four episodes seem unlikely, so I'm aiming for an overall appreciation to run after the finale.
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Harder to survive on the margins
BLOGGER'S NOTE: This preview of the fourth and final season of Treme contains mild spoilers for the last five episodes, but nothing too serious. If you fear knowing ANYTHING ahead of time, move along. Also, health problems and other interruptions have put timely recaps in jeopardy. At least part of the first episode will be up in time Sunday, but I can't make promises about timeliness going forward.By Edward Copeland
The headline that I used for this preview of the truncated fourth and final season of HBO's Treme paraphrases something Marvin Frey (Michael Cerveris), manager of Annie Tee aka Talarico (Lucia Micarelli), says to his client in the Sunday season premiere after she finishes a set with her band. Frey advises Annie that her album has peaked and, if she wishes to continue her ascent to stardom, her act requires big changes. While Frey's statement specifically pertains to Annie, it also applies to the unforgivable final season HBO allowed for this great series created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer. Yes, even in the commercial-free universe of pay cable, where subscribers should matter more than ratings, the various TV ratings systems (which grow more imperfect and outmoded by the day as the methods by which viewers watch TV evolve in ways A.C. Nielsen never could have envisioned) still capture the attention of channels such as HBO and Treme never drew an audience comparable to shows such as The Sopranos, Game of Thrones or even Boardwalk Empire. I suppose I should commend them for sticking with Treme as long as they did, but that doesn't excuse HBO for the scraps that it threw the series' way for a final season. Despite the burdens of a season half the size of a traditional one (and they received an 11-episode order for season 2) and steep cuts to staff and crew, the people remaining at Treme manage to go out well with few signs on the screen of the behind-the-scenes austerity measures imposed upon them in order to complete the story they never intended to run past four seasons. When I first learned of what HBO gave Treme for Season 3.5, my thoughts went to the citizens of New Orleans and the city itself, whose economy benefited from the series' filming there each year. Hasn't that city suffered enough? I digress. Five episodes remain to spend with the great characters we've met over the previous 31 episodes. We'll join the second line after the last episode airs Dec. 29.
As the card shown above from Sunday's premiere indicates, the final season of Treme picks up 38 months after Hurricane Katrina and the federal flood that followed and devastated New Orleans and neighboring regions. More specifically, the day on which season 3.5 chooses to begin happens to be Nov. 4, 2008 — that historic day that saw Barack Obama elected the first African-American president of the United States. While the U.S. started the process of transition from one president to another, we learn of changes to most of the characters in the Treme universe in the premiere, “Yes We Can Can” (written by Simon, Overmyer & George Pelecanos, directed by Anthony Hemingway), in terms of relationships started and ended, both personal and professional. For those forgetting where we left our friends more than a year ago, LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander) struggled after her bar GiGi’s got torched in a suspicious, presumed revenge fire; Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown) found himself more torn than ever between his New York jazz career and his New Orleans roots, especially after his father Albert (Clarke Peters) began treatment for cancer; Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) continued to butt heads with Tim Feeny (Sam Robards), the moneyman behind her new restaurant, Desautel’s on the Avenue; Sofia Bernette (India Ennenga) headed east for college as her mom Toni (Melissa Leo) continued to fight the good fight and began a relationship with Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse), who attempted to do the same within his police department; Sonny Schilder* (Michiel Huisman) wore down Tran (Lee Nguyen), the father of Linh (Hong Chau), and made her his bride; Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), back in the good graces of C.J. Liguori (Dan Ziskie) and friends after exile for association with Oliver Thomas, worked on various projects, including a New Orleans city jazz center, a project that Del and Albert already decided not to take part in despite a possible lucrative end; Annie’s burgeoning career led to her breakup with Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), who gave a “final” performance announcing he was quitting the music industry; and Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) found himself getting into the groove in his job as the assistant band instructor at Theophile Jones Elie Elementary.
My return to recapping Treme episodes comes after sitting out Season 3 (and post-episode summaries/reviews of Boardwalk Empire as well) due to worsening aspects of the physical limitations associated with my primary progressive multiple sclerosis. A major impediment to me continuing the recaps stemmed from the fact that my recaps of both series grew so insanely ambitious with research and links supplementing the general summary and assessment of each individual episode. In fact, I got so detailed when referring to neighborhoods and sections of New Orleans that some readers assumed that I either hailed from there or had lived in the city for a sizable portion of my life when I never got the chance to visit the Crescent City back when I was mobile. Thankfully, no one thought I was old enough that I acquired my knowledge of 1920s Atlantic City from first-hand experience. My recaps for the final five episodes of Treme won't approach the detail or ambition of my season 2 efforts. (Look at my recap of Treme's season two episode "Carnival Time" or my recap of Boardwalk Empire's season 2 episode "To the Lost" to see how overboard I went.) I regret not being able to recap season 3 of Treme because I felt it turned out to be its best season, especially following season two, which contained individual episodes that proved great and contained truly memorable moments, but had too many episodes undermined by an editing style that seemed geared for children with ADD. In season three, the series largely corrected its flow problems and managed even to find use for some of its characters who had been annoying and pointless such as Sonny. It also introduced a new character in young enterprising reporter L.P. Everett (Chris Coy), a writer for ProPublica, who arrived in New Orleans to investigate the possible murder of a man by police following Hurricane Katrina. Everett's work brought him into contact with a natural ally in Toni and paralleled the internal frustration of Terry trying to delve into the culture of cover-up and corruption throughout the city's police department. While the entire ensemble managed to get their moments in season three, in my eyes, the season really belonged to Morse's stellar work as Colson. As a point of personal pride, when in season two Janette toured the kitchens of various New York restaurants, she began at the marvelous fictional creation Brulard’s, named for its owner and chef Enrico Brulard (a magnificent invention of a character by actor Victor Slezak — I still dream of spin-off where Brulard and Dr. John decide to open a restaurant and club together). Janette bonded best in Brulard's kitchen with actor Paul Fitzgerald's character, who never received a name, referred in credit lists simply by job title as Le poissonnier. In my recap of one of season two's best episodes, "Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get the Blues?" (written by Lolis Eric Elie, directed by Alex Zakrzewski), I decided to christen Fitzgerald's character as Paul. To my delight, when he turned up in New Orleans at Janette's new restaurant, he had a name and it happened to be Paul. I'd love to think I had a hand in that, but I'm not deluded enough to assume such a thing. It pleased me nonetheless and I wish I'd been able to note it when it occurred.
What makes this final stretch of Treme particularly interesting are how some episodes seem to have an overlying theme in a way that previous installments didn't. While episodes might revolve around a common event or day such as Mardi Gras or Thanksgiving, a couple of these final five delve specifically, though subtly, into overarching topics. As I referred to earlier, few signs on-screen indicate the steep cuts made for the final season. You spot them when some regulars' names only appear in episodes in which they appear and in the relative absence of bigger names such as Elizabeth Ashley's wonderful Aunt Mimi, who appears but once and briefly.
Whenever I try to describe Treme to nonviewers, a pat description defies me. No television antecedent that's not really dependent on plot springs to mind as a comparison. Treme proves to be neither about the journey nor the destination while telling its tale of a community and its culture in the aftermath of a disaster, but, in the end, Katrina really isn't its point either. Miraculously, Treme works and, this late in the game, I finally realized the closest comparison to its type of storytelling. It came not from television, but a movie: Robert Altman's Nashville. It also focused on a musical community with a large cast of characters, some of whom met, some who didn't, and didn't contain what anyone could call a conventional plot, yet it's one of Altman's masterpieces. Of course, Nashville comes to a climax of sorts and covers a very specific period of time. That thought prompted memories of another essentially plotless, though quite different, great film that by coincidence took place in our bicentennial year: Richard Linklater's Dazed and Confused, only it contained no big finish. As for television, I still can't think of a Treme antecedent and that's probably a good thing. I expect someone to correct me in comments and come up with a similar TV example and I'll be suitably red-faced for that series not occurring to me, but until then I welcome that in my mind Treme stands as one-of-a-kind.
Treme premieres on Sunday night on HBO at 9 p.m. Eastern/8 p.m. Central.
*As far as I recall, Sonny's last name never was mentioned or seen on the show itself, but a book solved that mystery. Treme: Stories and Recipes from the Heart of New Orleans by Lolis Eric Elie, former story editor for the series, presents recipes belonging to various characters from Treme and it reveals Sonny's last name as Schilder when providing his dishes.
Labels: Altman, Boardwalk Empire, Clarke Peters, D. Morse, David Simon, E. Ashley, HBO, Kim Dickens, Linklater, M. Cerveris, Melissa Leo, Overmyer, Television, The Sopranos, Treme, TV Recap, Wendell Pierce, Zahn
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE
Wednesday, October 16, 2013
Bouncing to a TV near you (plus a personal announcement)
At 11 tonight Eastern time on a network I didn't realize even existed, let alone that I had until recently, a new series
Jazz hardly stands as the sole musical genre born in the Crescent City, but as Treme's Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) declared once, New Orleans' music scene tastes and has a recipe much like its gumbo: Lots of ingredients end up in the mix. One of the newer forms to spring forth from its club scene (and a particular favorite of Davis) goes by the name of bounce. Big Freedia: Queen of Bounce (which I haven't seen) promises to take viewers deeper into the culture and origins of that sound with one of its giants, Big Freedia, as our guide. The specific connection to Treme stems from Big Freedia's appearances in two of the second season's best episodes — "Everything I Do Gohn Be Funky" (written by Simon, directed by Tim Robbins) and "Santa Claus, Do You Ever Get the Blues?" (story by Overmyer and Lolis Eric Elie, written by Elie, directed by Alex Zakrzewski). Big Freedia took part in the constant attempts by Davis to enter the music industry, in this case by trying to recruit local artists to contribute tracks for a compilation CD so Davis can showcase his own work. Big Freedia got to take part in the priceless scene where Davis reluctantly takes his delightful Aunt Mimi (Elizabeth Ashley — even more priceless and delightful herself) to a club because she insists on seeing this bounce music for herself before agreeing to help finance her nephew's plan.
Speaking of Treme, my announcement. Provided that my fingers and hands hold up, I'm planning to recap the final episodes of Treme. Don't expect them to be as detailed as they were for season 2, but I'm going to try. I feel I owe it to the show, especially since my health problems prevented me from recapping season three, which turned out to be the series' best season. Keep your fingers crossed for me and hopefully my Treme recaps shall return for five more times in December.
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Better Off Ted: Bye Bye 'Bad' Part III
that STILL has yet to watch Breaking Bad in its entirety, close this story now. If you missed Part I, click here. If you missed Part II, click here.
— Saul Goodman to Mike Ehrmantraut ("Buyout," written by Gennifer Hutchison, directed by Colin Bucksey)
By Edward Copeland
Playing to the back of the room: I love doing it as a writer and appreciate it even more as an audience member. While I understand how its origin in comedy clubs gives it a derogatory meaning, I say phooey in general. Another example of playing to the broadest, widest audience possible. Why not reward those knowledgeable ones who pay close attention? Why cater to the Michele Bachmanns of the world who believe that ignorance is bliss? What they don’t catch can’t hurt them. I know I’ve fought with many an editor about references that they didn’t get or feared would fly over most readers’ heads (and I’ve known other writers who suffered the same problems, including one told by an editor decades younger that she needed to explain further whom she meant when she mentioned Tracy and Hepburn in a review. Being a free-lancer with a real full-time job, she quit on the spot). Breaking Bad certainly didn’t invent the concept, but damn the show did it well — sneaking some past me the first time or two, those clever bastards, not only within dialogue, but visually as well. In that spirit, I don’t plan to explain all the little gems I'll discuss. Consider them chocolate treats for those in the know. Sam, release the falcon!
In a separate discussion on Facebook, I agreed with a friend at taking offense when referring to Breaking Bad as a crime show. In fact, I responded:
“I think Breaking Bad is the greatest dramatic series TV has yet produced, but I agree. Calling it a ‘crime show’ is an example of trying to pin every show or movie into a particular genre hole when, especially in the case of Breaking Bad, it has so many more layers than merely crime. In fact, I don't like the fact that I just referred to it as a drama series because, as disturbing, tragic and horrifying as Breaking Bad could be, it also could be hysterically funny. That humor also came in shapes and sizes across the spectrum of humor. Vince Gilligan's creation amazes me in a new way every time I think about it. I wonder how long I'll still find myself discovering new nuances or aspects to it. I imagine it's going to be like Airplane! — where I still found myself discovering gags I hadn't caught years and countless viewings after my initial one as an 11-year-old in 1980. Truth be told, I can't guarantee I have caught all that ZAZ placed in Airplane! yet even now. Can it be a mere coincidence that both Breaking Bad and Airplane! featured Jonathan Banks? Surely I can't be serious, but if I am, tread lightly.”
— Jonathan Banks as air traffic controller Gunderson in Airplane!
The second season episode “ABQ” (written by Vince Gilligan, directed by Adam Bernstein) introduced us to Banks as Mike and also featured John de Lancie as air traffic controller Donald Margulies, father of the doomed Jane. Listen to the DVD commentary about a previous time that Banks and De Lancie worked together. Speaking of air traffic controllers, if you don’t already know, look up how a real man named Walter White figured in an airline disaster. Remember Wayfarer 515! Saul never did, wearing that ribbon nearly constantly. Most realize the surreal pre-credit scenes that season foretold that ending cataclysm and where six of its second season episode titles, when placed together in the correct order, spell out the news of the disaster. Breaking Bad’s knack for its equivalent of DVD Easter eggs extended to episode titles, which most viewers never knew unless they looked them up. Speaking of Saul Goodman, he provided the voice for a multitude of Breaking Bad’s pop culture references from the moment the show introduced his character in season two’s “Better Call Saul” (written by Peter Gould, directed by Terry McDonough). Once he figures out (and it doesn’t take long) that Walt isn’t really Jesse’s uncle and pays him a visit in his high school classroom, the attorney and his client discuss a more specific role for the lawyer, with Saul referencing a particularly classic film without mentioning the title. “What are you offering me?” Walt asked, unclear as to Goodman’s suggestion for an expanded role. “What did Tom Hagen do for Vito Corleone?” the criminal attorney responds. “I'm no Vito Corleone,” an offended and shocked White replies. “No shit! Right now you're Fredo!” Saul informs Walt. Now, Walt easily knew what movie Saul summoned as an analogy there and I hope any reader easily can as well. It happens to be the same one referenced visually at the top of this piece when poor Ted Beneke took his fateful trip in season four’s classic “Crawl Space” (written by George Mastras & Sam Catlin, directed by Scott Winant). Gilligan from the beginning repeatedly told of how his original pitch for Breaking Bad was the idea of turning Mr. Chips into Scarface and he referred to Brian De Palma’s version of Scarface often, actually showing Walt and Walt Jr. watching the film together in the final season with the elder White commenting, “Everyone dies in this, don’t they?” — possible foreshadowing for how Breaking Bad would end, though it didn't play out that way. The show achieved homage more openly in casting key players from the 1983 film itself: Mark Margolis as Tio Hector Escalante and Steven Bauer as Mexican cartel chief Don Eladio. Of course, the entire series implies the reiterated refrain of De Palma’s film “Don’t get high on your own supply” because, while Walter White never used his blue meth literally, it certainly juiced him up and, as he told Skyler in the last episode “Felina” (written and directed by Gilligan), it made him feel alive. Unfortunately, I doubt any surviving cast members of 1939’s Goodbye, Mr. Chips remain with us so Breaking Bad might have cast them in appropriate roles, but many of the 1969 musical version still abound and what a kick it have been to see Peter O’Toole or Petula Clark appear as a character. Apparently, in 2002, a nonmusical British TV remake came about, but they needn’t have dipped that far in the referential well. Blasted remakes. As far as Scarface goes, I still prefer Howard Hawks’ original over De Palma’s anyway.
As I admitted, some of the nice touches escaped my notice until pointed out to me later. Two of the most obvious examples occurred in the final eight episodes. One wasn’t so much a reference as a callback to the very first episode that you’d need a sharp eye to spot. It occurs in the episode “Ozymandias” (written by Moira Walley-Beckett, directed by Rian Johnson) and I’d probably never noticed if not for a synched-up commentary track that Johnson did for the episode on The Ones Who Knock weekly podcast on Breaking Bad. He pointed out that as Walt rolls his barrel of $11 million through the desert (itself drawing echoes to Erich von Stroheim’s silent classic Greed and its lead character McTeague — that one I had caught) he passes the pair of pants he lost in the very first episode when they flew through the air as he frantically drove the RV with the presumed dead Krazy-8 and Emilio unconscious in the back. Check the still below, enlarged enough so you don’t miss the long lost trousers.
The other came when psycho Todd decided to give his meth cook prisoner Jesse ice cream as a reward. I wasn’t listening closely enough when he named one of the flavor choices as Ben & Jerry’s Americone Dream, and even if I’d heard the flavor’s name, I would have missed the joke until Stephen Colbert, whose name serves as a possessive prefix for the treat’s flavor, did an entire routine on The Colbert Report about the use of the ice cream named for him giving Jesse the strength to make an escape attempt. One hidden treasure I did not know concerned the appearance of the great Robert Forster as the fabled vacuum salesman who helped give people new identities for a price. Until I read it in a column on the episode “Granite State” (written and directed by Gould), I had no idea that in real life Forster once actually worked as a vacuum salesman.
Seeing so many episodes multiple times, the callbacks to previous moments in the series always impressed me. I didn’t recall until AMC held its marathon prior to the finale and I caught the scene where Skyler caught Ted about him cooking his company’s books in season two’s “Mandala” (written by Mastras, directed by Adam Bernstein), Beneke actually raises his hands and says, “You got me” — words and movements that return in season four’s “Bullet Points” (written by Walley-Beckett, directed by Colin Bucksey) when Hank tells Walt about the late Gale Boetticher and speculates jokingly about whether the W.W. in Gale’s notebook stands for Walter White. In the same episode, Hank discusses his disappointment (since he assumes Gale was Heisenberg) that he never got his Popeye Doyle moment from The French Connection and waved goodbye to Alain Charnier. Walt reminds Hank that Charnier escaped at the end of the movie, but in “Ozymandias,” Hank imitates Gene Hackman's wave anyway when he gets the cuffs on Walt and places him in the SUV. Film references and homages abound throughout the series. I don’t recall any to Oliver Stone off the top of my head (except, of course, that he wrote De Palma's Scarface) and I hope there weren’t given that filmmaker’s recent hypocritical and nonsensical whining about Breaking Bad’s ending where he called it “ridiculous” among other sleights. If that’s not a fool declaring a nugget of gold to be pyrite. (“IT’S A MINERAL, OLIVER!”) I'd also like to commend the nearly subliminal shout-outs to two great HBO series that received premature endings in the episode "Rabid Dog" (written and directed by Catlin). You can see the Deadwood DVD box set on Hank's bookshelf and, though the carpet cleaning company's name might be Xtreme, the way they design their logo on their van sure makes the words Treme stand out to me.
I wanted this tribute to be so much grander and better organized, but my physical condition thwarted my ambitions. I doubt seriously my hands shall allow me to complete a fourth installment. (If you did miss Part I or Part II, follow those links.) While I hate ending on a patter list akin to a certain Billy Joel song, (I let you off easy. I almost referenced Jonathan Larson — and I considered narrowing the circle tighter by namedropping Gerome Ragni
& James Rado.) I feel I must to sing my hosannas to the actors, writers, directors and other artists who collaborated to realize the greatest hour-long series in television history. I wish I had the energy to be more specific about the contributions of these names in detail. In no particular order and with apologies for any omissions: Vince Gilligan, Michelle McLaren, Adam Bernstein, Colin Bucksey, Michael Slovis, Bryan Cranston, Terry McDonough, Johan Renck, Rian Johnson, Scott Winant, Peter Gould, Tricia Brock, Tim Hunter, Jim McKay, Phil Abraham, John Dahl, Félix Enríquez Alcalá, Charles Haid, Peter Medak, John Shiban, David Slade, George Mastras, Thomas Schnauz, Sam Catlin, Moira Walley-Beckett, Gennifer Hutchison, J. Roberts, Patty Lin, Anna Gunn, Aaron Paul, Dean Norris, RJ Mitte, Bob Odenkirk, Steven Michael Quezada, Jonathan Banks, Giancarlo Esposito, (because I have to put them as a unit) Charles Baker and Matt Jones, Jesse Plemons, Christopher Cousins, Laura Fraser, Michael Shamus Wiles, (also need to be a unit) Lavell Crawford and Bill Burr, Ray Campbell, Krysten Ritter, Ian Posada as the most shit-upon child in television history, Emily Rios, Tina Parker, Mark Margolis, Jeremiah Bitsui, David Costabile, Michael Bowen, Kevin Rankin, (another pair) Daniel and Luis Moncado, Jessica Hecht, Marius Stan, Rodney Rush, Raymond Cruz, Tess Harper, John de Lancie, Jere Burns, Nigel Gibbs, Larry Hankin, Max Arciniega, Michael Bofshever, Adam Godley, Julia Minesci, Danny Trejo, Dale Dickey, David Ury, Jim Beaver, Steven Bauer, DJ Qualls, Robert Forster, Melissa Bernstein, Mark Johnson, Stewart Lyons, Diane Mercer, Andrew Ortner, Karen Moore, Dave Porter, Reynaldo Villalobos, Peter Reniers, Nelson Cragg, Arthur Albert, John Toll, Marshall Adams, Kelley Dixon, Skip MacDonald, Lynne Willingham, Sharon Bialy, Sherry Thomas, Mark S. Freeborn, Robb Wilson King, Bjarne Sletteland, Marisa Frantz, Billy W. Ray, Paula Dal Santo, Michael Flowers, Brenda Meyers-Ballard, Kathleen Detoro, Jennifer L. Bryan, Thomas Golubic, Albuquerque, N.M., AMC Networks, University of Oklahoma Professor Donna Nelson and a list of crew members and departments I’d mention but, unfortunately, my hands aren’t holding out. Look them up because they all deserve kudos as well because Breaking Bad failed to have a weak link, at least from my perspective.
In fact, the series failed me only twice. No. 1: How can you dump the idea that Gus Fring had a particularly mysterious identity in the episode “Hermanos” and never get back to it? No. 2: That great-looking barrel-shaped box set of the entire series only will be made on Blu-ray. As someone of limited means, it would need to be a Christmas gift anyway and for the same reason, I never made the move to Blu-ray and remain with DVD. Medical bills will do that to you and, even if tempting or plausible, it’s difficult to start a meth business to fund it while bedridden. Despite those two disappointments, it doesn’t change Breaking Bad’s place in my heart as the best TV achievement so far. How do I know this? Because I say so.
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE
Thursday, October 03, 2013
Sirota already did it: Bye bye 'Bad' Part II
that STILL has yet to watch Breaking Bad in its entirety, close this story now.
By Edward Copeland
When envisioning the epic farewell I felt I must write upon the conclusion of Breaking Bad, I didn't anticipate an important section of the tribute would begin with a South Park reference to The Simpsons. (If, by chance, you missed Part I, click here.)
Now, anyone with even a smidgeon of understanding of the basic tenets of comedy knows that if you need to explain a joke, you've failed somewhere in the telling. Despite this rule of humor, forgive me for explaining the title of the second part of my Breaking Bad tribute, but I can't assume that all Breaking Bad fans reading this also hold knowledge of specific South Park episodes. Way back in that animated series' sixth season in 2002, poor Butters' alter ego, Professor Chaos (six years before any of us knew Walter White and his inhabiting spirit Heisenberg), finds every scheme he devises greeted by some variation of the episode's title: "The Simpsons Already Did It." I just spent a long way to travel to the point of my headline, which refers to the great columnist David Sirota's article, posted by Salon on Sept. 28, the day before "Felina" aired, titled "Walter White's sickness mirrors America." (If you didn't understand before, I imagine you comprehend now how explaining a joke tends to kill its punchline.) In his piece, Sirota posits:
the specific pressures and ideologies that make America exceptional at the very moment
the country is itself breaking bad.
The most obvious way to see that is to look at how Walter White’s move into the drug trade
was first prompted, in part, by his family’s fear that he would die prematurely for lack
of adequate health care. It is the kind of fear most people in the industrialized world
have no personal connection to — but that many American television watchers no doubt do.
That’s because unlike other countries, Walter White’s country is exceptional for being a place
where 45,000 deaths a year are related to a lack of comprehensive health insurance coverage.
That’s about ten 9/11′s worth of death each year because of our exceptional position
as the only industrialized nation without a universal public health care system
(and, sadly, Obamacare will not fix that)."
Aside from the fact the Sirota misses the mark a bit concerning Walt’s original motives for entering the meth-making business and makes it sound as if his family encouraged the idea and raised money concerns before he even started to cook (more specifics on that later), Sirota’s piece covers ground that I always planned to discuss as well. Sirota might not be the first person to voice this hypothesis, but I’ve only seen and read his article (post finale, as I purposely tried to avoid other pieces to make mine my own as much as possible). I also saw the funny package envisioning how Walter's tale would play out if set in Canada. Health care costs in the U.S., significant in Breaking Bad, secured itself as a crucial aspect of my retrospective since the first half of season five given that I’ve existed as a permanent patient for nearly the exact same time period as Breaking Bad’s television run. Unfortunately, my experiences give me much in the way of first-hand knowledge on the subject through which to view the series' take. While Sirota argues that Walt began his criminal career to pay for his exceedingly costly cancer treatments and White indeed used his ill-gotten gains toward those bills, he never expressed a desire to make a load of money to keep himself alive. Walter White already resigned himself to the idea of his impending death. The meth money’s only purpose originally, according to Walt, merely meant leaving behind a nest egg for Skyler, Walt Jr. and his as-of-then unborn child. He said as much in the great scene from the first season episode “Gray Matter” (written by Patty Lin, directed by Tricia Brock) where the entire family gathers at Skyler’s behest to stage a pseudo-intervention of the health care variety, passing around the “talking pillow” to take the floor and address Walt as to why he should accept the Schwartzes’ offer to pay for his treatments. The scene turns particularly grand when Marie surprises (and pisses off) her sister by agreeing with Walt about not wanting to suffer through the chemo treatments and succeeds at changing Hank’s mind as well. A wonderful example of how the show (as all the best dramas do) successfully mixed levity with tragedy. One of the funniest moments in the history of The Sopranos came in its fourth season episode “The Strong, Silent Type” (story by David Chase, written by Terence Winter, Robin Green & Mitchell Burgess, directed by Alan Taylor) when Tony’s crew attempts a drug intervention on Christopher with disastrous and hilarious results. The night that episode aired, the premiere of “The Grand Opening” episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (directed by Robert B. Wiede) followed it, with Larry David’s own singular attempt at an emergency intervention for his new restaurant’s chef (Paul Sand) who had Tourette syndrome. My stomach hurt from laughing so hard that night. What makes interventions so easily comical? When Walt agrees to treatments and uses his meth money to pay (while lying to Skyler that he accepted Elliot and Gretchen’s offer to help), what motivates him isn’t (at least consciously) a sudden desire to fight the cancer but the need to live longer and build up a bigger bequest for his family. While the insanity of medical costs floats around the series at this time, this isn’t where Breaking Bad truly takes aim on our broken system.
As I wrote in my sole previous piece on Breaking Bad prior to this post-series wake/celebration, I came to the series late and only began watching it live in the third season that premiered March 21, 2010, and ended with Gale Boetticher opening his apartment door to an emotionally fragile and gun-wielding Jesse Pinkman on June 13. As proved to be the case with each season of Breaking Bad, each new season topped the one that preceded it, even though no bad seasons or mediocre episodes exist. Breaking Bad tackled the high price of medicine, if not as an overriding concern, or motivation, in the first two seasons not only through the obvious costs of Walt’s cancer treatments, but also when Heisenberg first appeared and marched into the headquarters of the psychotic Tuco, demanding not only advance payment for his “product” but reparations as well to cover Jesse’s hospital bills from Tuco beating poor Pinkman within an inch of his life. For myself (and, admittedly, this came from overidentifying with someone losing the use of his legs, albeit not because of an assassination attempt by vengeance-seeking lookalike cousins), the series’ most direct discussion of the flaws in this country’s health care system came in the hospital scenes dealing with the aftermath of Hank’s shooting. In the early days, when Walt coughed up cashier’s checks for cancer bills since his health insurance coverage through his school district didn’t approach the needed benefits to pay for his treatments, viewers saw some of the costs, but we never received a final bill, especially after Walt went the surgical option, handled by Dr. Victor Bravenec, played by Sam McMurray. McMurray also played Uncle Junior’s arrogant oncologist, Dr. John Kennedy, in the classic Sopranos episode “Second Opinion” (written by Lawrence Konner, directed by Tim Van Patten), where Tony and Furio used some not-so-friendly persuasion on the golf course to convince Kennedy to treat Junior right. (When McMurray showed up on Breaking Bad as an oncologist, part of me wondered if his character wasn’t Kennedy, having relocated under a new name to Albuquerque out of fear of mob repercussions, unaware that his new patient might be deadlier than anyone in that northern New Jersey crew could be.) Back to Hank. We know the extra needed to get Schrader on his feet again. That even came up again in the final eight episodes: $177,000. Pretty pathetic that a loyal public servant such as Hank Schrader, whose job constantly required him to put his life on the line, didn’t get the kind of catastrophic coverage he required when he needed it. For all the times, she could annoy him and cause him grief with that little kleptomania problem, Hank Schrader could not have chosen a better mate than the former Marie Lambert. Marie might only work as an X-ray technician, but she spoke the truth as she yelled at the various people in the hospital that Hank had to begin work on regaining the use of his legs immediately because a delay of even two weeks would be too late. I actually cried when I watched the episode where Betsy Brandt spoke those lines as Marie because I’d yelled those words myself at people in the hospital when I went in there in May 2008. (For those unfamiliar with my personal plight, click here.) I already had limited use of my legs because of my primary progressive multiple sclerosis. Two weeks stuck in bed can do irreparable damage to a marathon runner. Quite some time ago, I was able to make contact with Ms. Brandt and shared my tale with her about how I wish that I’d had someone like Marie back then to fight on my side. She graciously wrote back, “Edward, Marie would have definitely been your champion…and we all need a champion at times.”
So much more to say. Who knows when I will get them posted? As I posted on Facebook, odds are this is psychosomatic or coincidental, but my M.S. symptoms have spread to parts of my body they had avoided before since Breaking Bad ended. Perhaps sheer force of will held them at bay until I saw the series until its conclusion. I haven't written all I planned to yet, but this makes for a good stopping point for Part II.
TO READ ON, CLICK HERE