Well this morning I had in my mind exactly what I wanted to relay on where Treme is going this season, but after reading Jef’s interesting article This Just In About…Treme’s Shortened 4th and Final Season! I think I need to blend in the “what went wrong” aspect. Certainly the ratings drop from season 1 to season 2 is what set the HBO executives warning light on. But why the ratings drop? As I stated in my previews and predictions article, the storylines kind of dragged in the middle of season 2 and they moved away from what made season 1 great, “the struggle”. The struggle of people working to bring their community and culture back in the face of hardships and very little assistance. After watching the season 2 finale which I really enjoyed, I thought we would be getting back to that theme. Some storylines yes but most of the storylines still seem to be stuck in neutral.
Where it gets away from the writers are these storylines that are taking forever to develop. Janette, the former New Orleans chef and restaurateur, has spent all of season 2 in New York City and still in New York agonizingly deciding to return to New Orleans. The writers seem to be making this decision tough for her on purpose by showing us the scene in the season premiere where she is invited to a special chef’s dinner with almost every well known chef in New York. David Chang lets Janette know that events such as this wouldn’t happen in New Orleans. I think we all know she is heading back to New Orleans in order to advance the plot. This spinning of the wheels in New York so we can truly appreciate her love for New Orleans is not really great television. Although I certainly think her story of returning to New Orleans to start a new restaurant would be interesting and hopefully we get to see that this season. Sonny is another character seemingly stuck. He’s sober and working on a Vietnamese shrimp boat and dating the captain’s daughter. While the character of Sonny is interesting, the story seems to be going no where. What I suspect I’m supposed to take away from this story is the large Vietnamese culture in New Orleans but what it lacks is that struggle. Sonny was always interesting because he was overcoming drug addiction and as a street musician trying to make ends meet. The season 3 premiere showed me very little set up of interesting things to come for Sonny.
There has also been this preaching to the viewers of why the writers love New Orleans and why the viewers should love New Orleans. I think the former is fine but the latter seems a bit in your face. Viewers should really be able to come to that conclusion on their own. I never really had any desire to visit New Orleans other than Mardi Gras but after watching season 1 I really wanted to take a trip down because the way the culture and music was relayed in the show. There were numerous occasions in the season 3 premiere where I felt this theme of “why viewers should love New Orleans” was prevalent. The throwaway scenes where Detective Terry Colson visits his ex-wife and two boys in Indianapolis. He asks his boys what fun is to be had in Indianapolis with their reactions being non-existent and the following scene where he asks his ex-wife if she ever really liked New Orleans. This scene seemed to be implying she didn’t “get” New Orleans. And I can’t forget to mention the scene of Davis McAlary providing a musical history tour of New Orleans for tourists. Throughout the tour he takes the group to site after site telling them the great history and roots of music in New Orleans but all the sites are either destroyed or closed by neglect, Katrina, progress, etc. One tourist states “Don’t you people preserve anything.” which is a sad reflection on all that lost history. The problem is these storylines don’t advance the plot nor are they very interesting. Like I stated above there are ways to make the viewers love the city without wedging in these scenes.
The season 3 premiere began with the scene I mentioned in the preview article concerning musicians gathering in Treme to play a memorial tribute for a fallen musician only to be harassed and some arrested by the New Orleans Police after receiving complaints. An actual event that occurred. For most of us if we hear a stereo or anything loud after 10pm, we are picking up the phone to call the police. In the Treme, music is a way of life and part of the culture put so eloquently by Antoine Batiste in the scene “anyone with complaints about music in the Treme is in the wrong place altogether”. We see ordinary people in an extraordinary place. This is what makes Treme a great show and makes me want to visit this city.
For some “the struggle” continues, Toni Bernette is still inching closer and closer to finding out the details to the murder during Katrina in a department store which may have involved a New Orleans Police officer. While she visits the coroner she bumps into a young investigative reporter searching for information on a murder in the Algiers section of New Orleans. While Toni’s storyline of exposing police corruption post Katrina has always been interesting through 2 seasons, the addition of an investigative journalist just makes it more intriguing. David Simon, being a former journalist himself, has provided a vessel to really explore the police corruption and civil rights cases which became numerous in post Katrina New Orleans. This alone will make season 3 worth watching. The blending of real life events into storytelling is the key to Treme. In fact the one decent part of Terry Colson’s scene in Indianapolis with his ex-wife was her explaining that their boys are no longer allowed to visit him while he is still living in a FEMA trailer due to formaldehyde making people sick. We have all heard of these infamous FEMA trailers and it is certainly interesting how people dealt with this issue after learning about this. He returns to his trailer and now seemingly very conscious of what might actually be in it. Another setback in their road to recovery. This is what we want to see.
A few other storylines got underway but mainly did a lot of setup which is typical for a season premiere. Hidalgo is still trying to work the system for his wealthy land developers. His old work crew is assembling partial houses and getting paid to do very little or no work at all for a woman from Florida who holds the contract. Just another example of the city and people being fleeced by out of state developers looking to make a quick buck. Hidalgo sees this as an opportunity to get back in the game. Delmond and Albert Lambreaux continue to get different feedback from people about their fusion jazz and “indian” style album. I think we will see some intense dialogue concerning preserving culture and expanding culture with Albert and the other “indians”.
The decision to end the series after the fourth season is certainly no fault of the actors. The acting has always been phenomenal. The slow and dragging storylines may have caused many a viewer to abandon the show. In this world of wanting constant action and the need for instant gratification long stories about community and culture can turn people off. I’m sure the writers weren’t expecting an abrupt end to the series hence the longer storylines. I’m really hoping season 3 kicks it into gear and provides great drama but if it drags on it will only justify the need for a conclusion sooner than expected.