'Treme' review: Guest stars and 'Shame, Shame, Shame'

Lots happened on Treme last night. Lots happens every week on Treme — the series’ carefully modulated rhythms, meant to echo that of the music that engulfs the show, can often lull you into thinking the drama is meandering when in fact it’s coursing along with vigor.

Guest stars and cameos were notable for being a cut above the usual oh-look-there’s-a-famous-face. Tim Reid played a tough but fair-minded judge. Reid, best known as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati, was the co-creator (with Hugh Wilson) of the 1987-88 dramedy Frank’s Place, a beautiful mood-piece set in New Orleans that never got the audience it deserved. It makes complete sense that Treme‘s David Simon might have admired that show, and invited Reid on to allow us to make connections between two rare New Orleans shows that play against cultural stereotypes.

Tom Colicchio and a passel of other celebrity-chef palls strolled into Janette’s (Kim Dickens) troubled restaurant. (Was Eric Ripert getting a little flirty with Janette there, exaggerating his French accent for effect?) In a quick scene that had all the suspense of a full-fledged Top Chef quick-fire challenge, Janette and her crew whipped up a fine meal for the visiting culinary dignitaries.

The first-rate writer and humorist Roy Blount Jr., showed up in a separate restaurant scene to bestow a compliment upon John Goodman’s Creighton Bernette. Blount, who’s written frequently about the complexities and pleasures of language, particularly common speech, played himself, praising Creighton for his profane, increasingly viral YouTube rants. In a nice touch, Creighton walks away from the encounter to tell his wife Toni (Melissa Leo) that he thinks Blount just insulted him, because he feels that no one of Blount’s stature would be impressed by a man yelling “f—” in a YouTube video. We, however, knew Blount was being sincere, because the camera slipped back to eavesdrop on Blount’s conversation with his tablemates, and we overheard him say that sometimes obscenity is the only way to express a forceful opinion.

I’ll narrow the numerous regular-cast subplots to one of the most important, and most troublesome (more on Ladonna’s brother and Antoine’s trombone next week, I promise):

Steve Zahn’s Davis McAlary was so central to the night’s hour that the episode was named after the song we saw him recording, “Shame, Shame, Shame.” No, not the great 1974 Shirley and Company disco hit, but a political-campaign screed that might more fully be titled by its choral phrase, “Shame, Shame, Shame On You Now Dubya.” It’s part of Davis’ nascent political campaign, making explicit his politics.

For me and I’ll bet some of you, Zahn’s character is the weak link in Treme. Zahn is playing him as an ultra-Zahn character — a self-absorbed speed-rapper whom we’re supposed to find funny and endearing, but on Treme he’s frequently crossed over into mere irritation. I’ve liked Zahn’s work well enough in movies such as Joy Ride and Shattered Glass, but he can also aloow himself to be used as facile comic relief, as he was in 2005’s Sahara and, increasingly, in Treme. We’re supposed to think that, in Treme, Davis’ hopped-up disc jockey — a guy who truly loves the music and culture but gets side-tracked by dope-smoking and horniness — is a well-intentioned fellow. But Zahn’s in danger of becoming a one-note actor whose mannerisms bury his talent: the Michael J. Pollard of his generation.

The hour ended this week with a remarkable, intricately filmed recreation of the “ReNew Orleans” second-line parade that carried us out on a wave of rich, loamy music whose joyous mood was marred by gunshots. As always on Treme, it seems, pleasure will mix with pain.

Did you watch? What do you think about the episode in general, and about Zahn’s Davis in particular?

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  • Andrew

    Kinda disagree with you about Davis. I don’t think we were supposed to find him to be some lovable rogue in previous episodes. He was occasionally funny, but more often then not, particularly in his treatment of his neighbors, a total asshole. He’s the show’s Ziggy.

    And for me, this was his best episode to date because he had a long overdue moment of self-awareness. After the admittedly cool way he talked all those musicians into cutting his campaign song, his ego was running high, seeing himself as the proud champion of all things New Orleans. And then he talks too much and gets a much deserved punch to the face and realizes that he’s been overstepping.

  • Barbara

    Last night’s ep was like a compendium of my favorite things: Roy Blount, Tim Reid/Frank’s Place shout-out, Slim Goodies, Eric Ripert, Krewe de Vieux! I was exhausted by the delight of it all. I’m wait-and-see on Davis. I saw enough of glimmer of self-awareness after his comeuppance in the bar which made me think Zahn has control of his character. The scene where he took down speakers he had been using on his neighbors was particulary well-done.

  • Mike

    The punch to Davis definitely gave him a gut check. I agree with both Andrew and Barbara. To see him change his opinion of his neighbors was a big change. Maybe in future episodes, he will be less of a clown, and grow into more of a political force that sparked him to bring the musicians together for Shame, Shame, Shame. I think this show is fun, with lots going on, bust sometimes I want to see the other characters evolve a but more. Where did the Japanese guy come from that bought Antoine a trombone? I like all of the subtle appearances by the stars, such as the chef’s and Blount. I think we will see Davis evolve a lot more. Move from the DJ we first saw him as, and grow into a bigger role. I guess we shall see.

  • robin

    Can someone explain to me the last scene with the boyfriend who plays piano and the girlfriend who plays violin and the bouncer. I just didn’t get it. Why did the bouncer even come and why did the piano guy tell him he had to leave. I’m lost.

    • Shannon

      Robin: The boyfriend who plays piano was, I think, jealous because when the gunshots began at the parade, the bouncer guy was the one who ran the girlfriend to safety. The boyfriend has also been taking drugs lately but thinks the girlfriend doesn’t know, so I think we’re meant to assume that’s playing a part in his weird behavior and jealousy. The bouncer came back to NO with the boyfriend after they met in Houston because the boyfriend convinced him he would love it there; the bouncer had mentioned wanting to visit NO when he and the boyfriend were smoking pot together in the prior episode.

      • robin

        thank you so much Shannon

      • dawnyawn

        But why was Annie crying?

      • Annie

        I’m pretty sure it was because she was so shook up from the shooting that day.

  • VeryInteresting

    I watched this series for the first three weeks and although they have some intriguing characters and situations, mostly it’s like sitting on the front porch watching the neighborhood. If I want to do that, I’ll do that instead of wasting my time on this show. The cast is great, but the writing is horrendous. Katrina was indeed a disaster of huge proportions and the people of New Orleans surely deserve a more fitting tribute to the blood, sweat, and tears shed during the aftermath and rebuilding. A totally exploitative series with little to add to the zeitgeist.

    • JohnK

      Yes, sitting on the porch and wathcing the neighborhood, but what a neighborhood! This is one of the great sources for our culture, and it is wonderful to see it “live”, not just staged in New York.

  • Ronnie

    I liked the entire ep, and yes, I agree that Davis got a “gut check”, literally. It seems that the white culture and the African-American culture exist side by side in “Treme” but don’t quite interact. I like seeing how some citizens fought to get New Orleans back, like Big Chief trying to get the projects open so his crew can come back. Shows some of the horrendous missteps by the Bush AND state government to get recovery efforts moving. Katrina was truly an epic disaster and no movie or TV show will ever fully depict the continuing aftermath. But “Treme” is close enough….

  • Jason

    I agree…Davis was too full of himself. He is in love with his New Orleans and Treme. He is just not capable of seeing anyone else’s pov. For example, his semi girlfriends wants to share her good news and he blows her off. The punch was his first call to reality. It is also deep in the understanding the color is true factor in New Orleans. Zahn’s character can run back to Mommy and Daddy and many poor Africen-Americans can not. It is like The Wire…it is building a foundation. It brings forth the unexpected when you are expecting something else.

  • Al

    I never got the opinion that Davis was meant to be funny or really endearing. I get the opinion that he thinks he’s really funny and endearing, but even to his friends, he’s an “a**hole.”

    This episode was absolutely captivating. I liked the way that it had sort of a classic tragic arc, with everything coming together around the mid-point only to fall apart by the end. I also like that in an era of fast pace, greater than life series, there’s an opportunity to find drama in what feels like everyday life, and whether it’s truly accurate or not, get a feeling for an entire city.

    To me, David Simon is to television, what Solzhenitsyn was to the novel. A man who wants to tell a fictional story about a way of life, and in doing so, create a more vivid depiction than any historical re-enactment ever could.

  • PixxieTrixxie

    I have been watching but I am not as engaged in this series as I was in the other Simon projects. IMHO, I think there needs to be more of a mystery to solve rather than just a missing brother – I keep waiting for all the characters to cross paths. I will remain patient but my interest is becoming indifference. Davis: He may have found his cause two weeks ago but he needs to get more focus.

    • Will

      Nononono, you don’t WANT the characters to all cross paths. Then it just becomes a piece of crap like ‘Crash’ where everything is too convenient to be even remotely believable.

    • Jim in LV

      Indifference is a perfect summation. It just doesn’t hold you over week to week. How often have you sat there after an episode ended and said “Wow, I can’t wait to see what happens next week!”? If you’re like me, never. It’s too self-important and just not compelling. I’m done with it.

  • Scott

    I have to disagree with the general concensus on Sunday’s episode. I thought it was by far the weakest showing of what might have been another monumental Simon triumph, but is unfortunately increaingly facile and predictable. The first episode left my wife and me open-mouthed in amazement and admiration, but by this week it had degenerated to a ham-fisted cameo-ridden diatribe. We all know the politics: the horrendous mistakes of omission and comission. So is it really necessary to beat that horse again? Is there anything less interesting to watch dramatized than politics? Especially if you’re not adding anything new to the conversation? It’s the characters that appeal, the specificity of their actions in reaction to an other-worldly setting. The first season of The Wire did that better than any American television program I’ve ever seen. But just as The Pacific is no Band of Brothers, Treme is no The Wire. We are much poorer for it.

    • Matt

      I mean, can we give Mr. Simon a break for not being able to live up to the greatest TV series in history after five episodes. If you were expecting Treme to be “The Wire: New Orleans”, I think you were just setting yourself up to be disappointed.

  • Keith

    Does anyone know the name of the actor who played the bouncer? I dont find any reference to him anywhere.

    • AmyEW

      From HitFix–the bouncer (who, of course, was introduced last week) played by Jeff Carisalez, a former recon Marine who was one of the technical advisors on David Simon’s “Generation Kill.”

  • Andrew

    After watching the first 4 episodes, I actually STOPPED watching specifically BECAUSE of Steve Zahn. After an amazing run with “The Wire,” it appears that Nina K. Noble is losing her touch.

  • mike yaklich

    So here’s my episode 5 question: who played the guy who punched Davis out in the bar. Sort of looked like Cutty from The Wire, but that actor’s name is Chad Coleman and he isn’t credited with a Treme episode on IMDB. I can’t find any credits for that part online, and the face looks familiar enough it’s driving me crazy. Any ID on the actor?

  • Jim in LV

    Notice how this was the last episode Ken reviewed? That should tell you something about how so many have steadily lost interest since the pilot aired. The show is self-important chest thumping “We’re New Orleans, we’re SPECIAL!” Ugh. No, you’re really not, and neither is this nonsensical show.

  • kathy

    Ouch! Michael J. Pollard? Stephan Zahn call your agent. Or call the wrong AA guy the N-word again and get yourself killed. Ouch!

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