Like: TREME, Episode 2: “Meet Da Boys on the Battlefront”… and the luxury of semantics.

So the second episode of TREME was even better than the first.

Let’s tackle this numerically:

1. This tends to happen in David Simon shows as the first episode usually is saddled with the task of introducing a bevy of characters and plotlines. Now that we have some idea as to the nature of our characters, the show can proceed. Typically one would say “go” instead of proceed, but that implies some sort of action-y 24-like pacing, which could not be more inappropriate for TREME. David Simon shows sort of just “happen” in front of your eyes, as if we were just lucky enough to witness the events of real life.(1) Their pace could be considered languid by today’s standards, but I’d argue “deliberate” is better choice of words.

2. This is due to the exquisite care in the storytelling. Nothing is haphazard here. The slightest indulgence is often worth it; usually in the form of a stirring sample of jazz or blues.

3. I love the direction of the prisoner aftermath plot-line. It was the most compelling part of the pilot and the brief parts we got in the second episode were great as well (Slim Charles sighting!)

4. They toned down the Steve Zahn character in a major way. His abrasiveness is largely absent in this go round and we were treated to the better side of his deadpan acting sensibility. His work was my biggest complaint with a performance in the first episode and this was a complete 180, while still somehow being true to the original characterization.

5. They’ve seemingly shifted much the douchey-white-guy quotient that Zahn had in the pilot onto the new hipstery muscian guy named “Sonny.” It was a smart move, as it allowed us to get closer to Zahn’s character while still maintaining the nice racial meta-commentary concerning the white characters of TREME (being that-they-are-well-intentioned-but-ultimately-having-the-kind-of-low-stakes-that-let-you-talk-about-problems-of-the-system-at-large-instead-of-actually-dealing-with-them). Which brings me to:

Blog Post Thesis: I think TREME might partially be about what I’ll call “The Luxury of Semantics.” I’ve already referenced the fact that only characters who seem to be issuing impassioned (and somewhat cliched) rhetoric about Katrina/N.O. wheter it be: the failure of the government’s response, the injustice of the storm in general, and the amazing perseverance of the culture, all tend to be white people that were relatively unaffected or affected merely as a matter of choice. As such, these characters can afford the luxury of talking about hardship in the abstract. Now, this does not render their points any less accurate or diminish the validity of their care, just to say that it is inherently distant. Conversely all those who truly lost the most in Katrina, most of whom belong to the African-American population of the city, don’t seem to be too quick to sue the federal government or blame much of anyone. They’re too busy “doing” for a lack of a better word, usually physically rebuilding their house or business. The difference is clearly intentional. But like all things great, Simon is not dealing in black and white, even on the literal subject of black and white. Many problems with the physical reconstruction stem from the fact that theft has become commonplace. And Simon himself is a master analyzer of semantics (part of what makes him a great writer), so this pointed criticism is just as much self-directed; he even acknowledges frequently how much of an “admiring outsider” of New Orleans he is even though his affiliation with the city goes back decades. The criticism is likewise directed at someone like me, a young white male 2000 miles from the storm, exhibiting all the misplaced compassion I can muster. So yes, indulging yourself in the luxury of semantics is inherently inane(2), but it’s valuable tool in developing an idea of what exactly you want to commit yourself when it comes to the whole “doing” part of the equation. There are varying degrees of “usefulness”, but TREME is ultimately a show about responding to crisis, not in the “of the moment” heroic sense, but the long term nature of resolve.

And quite frankly, how far apart can we really be when there’s so much wonderful music to enjoy?

1- Take the amazing cinematography for THE WIRE, which was beautiful but lacked any kind of kinetic movement or omniscience. Simon once said something like [we never wanted the camera to be smarter than any of the characters in the scene]. It’s a perfect way of describing how the camera behaved in that show.

2 – Heck, I’ve printed hundreds of thousands of words in this blog on the basic matter of nonsense semantics. Mission accomplished!

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