Treme: The Great Whole
I'd ordinarily open a TV essay with a phrasing along the lines of "Has anyone else noticed that…?" or "Is it just me, or does this show…?" I can't do that on a Treme piece, because nobody else is watching it. I shouldn't watch it; it isn't a show I should enjoy.
I don't care for, or about, the vast majority of jazz, aside from the unchallenging 1961-white-boy stuff, and the music sequences drag, mostly because the all-stars each episode is apparently stocked with don't register with me. I like the restaurant/foodie subplots while not liking the actress at the center of them, and yes, I know she played someone or other on Deadwood, but that doesn't mitigate anything, because I got through an episode and a half of that show and couldn't bring myself to care. Kim Dickens is basically fine; it's just one of my irrational hate-ons.
Most of the rest of the cast is actors I like a lot — many from The Wire, enough said — or actors who aren't exactly actors (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc is the shit, and if you haven't seen the Spike Lee doc on Katrina, arrange for that to happen in your life, because it is amazing), but I don't like very many of the characters. This is intentional, at least, and a realistic, human portrayal of a character I would not care to know personally is still worthwhile…but I can name a few characters I think the show wants me to like and side with who I can't really take. Annie, for one, with the cap-sleeve sweaters and the whimsical barrettes and the constant stricken "why isn't my junkie cheaty greezy boyfriend nice to me" face-pulling. Of course you root for her, in the sense that you root against Sonny, who is an everything's-your-fault dink of the ripest variety. Lucia Micarelli is a hell of a fiddle-player, and she's very pretty and her acting is fine, but the character is an Anthropologie amalgamation of doll-like faultlessness that everyone on the show, from writers to actors to characters, has a babbling crush on.
And yet, I keep plugging away with it, not because I feel obligated, but because I do actually like it, somehow. I don't like most of the parts, but then the whole is something different. David Simon's great gift is for transposing…or translating, or something…a place or an environment, entire. Its grammar, its hymns, its snacks and weather, whether it's the Baltimore projects or the Iraqi desert or New Orleans in 2006, all come through in documentary style. The location shooting helps, but it goes beyond that, comes from beyond that, from the writing and the construction, that deep and dimensional knowledge of place. It's why S2 of The Wire is fantastic despite a decent amount of bad acting and one of the most aggravating characters in TV history. It's why I want to see where the subcontactor subplot goes on Treme despite the presence of one Jon Seda, whose characters are never not slappable (but who is slapping himself with a top-flight moisturizer, apparently; dude hasn't aged a day since Homicide). The sense of watching a true story, the commitment to translating the real to the fictional faithfully, means that I can let irritants ride. The received wisdom on the show is that nothing "happens" or the plot doesn't really move, but I can't say I've noticed that — plenty happened in S1, and at a good pace, I thought. It does take its time, and Simon shows give less compelling characters equal time, but that contributes to the documentary texture; you can't have one without the other, so I wouldn't use a slow/fast metric for a Simon show, but that's me.
So, um. Has anyone else…noticed? That? [crickets] [eating beignets]
Tags: David Simon Deadwood Homicide: Life on the Street irrational actor hate-ons Jon Seda Kim Dickens Lucia Micarelli mmm beignets Phyllis Montana LeBlanc shut up Mary Sue Spike Lee The Wire thickened plots Treme try-hards TV