Keeping up with TV
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Keeping up with TV

It’s a fun time of year for cable television as there are three shows I’m very interested in airing at the same time.

Let’s start with my television obsession of 2010 — Treme. The second season premiered last night, and Nola.com already has their Treme explained post up, providing all of the local color that I so desperately crave. I also assume that NPR’s jazz blog, A Blog Supreme, will be recapping the show each week, as it did last year. Finally, HBO has launched its own Treme blog, written by the show’s story editor Lolis Eric Elie. Be sure to check out his reading list and viewing list.

I’m also watching HBO’s Game of Thrones. I’m a at a bit of a disadvantage because I haven’t read the books. At the same time I’m trying to avoid spoilers from the books. I’m counting on the recappers at Television Without Pity to fill me in on all the details that I’m not catching. Here’s their long recap of the show’s premiere.

Finally, I’m watching The Killing on AMC. It’s an American remake of a Danish murder mystery serial, deliberately paced with dark atmospherics. TWoP is recapping this show as well. For pithier recaps, your go-to source is Project Rungay.

Wrapping up Treme
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Wrapping up Treme

Season one of Treme is finished, and I totally failed to produce the last two installments of the Treme essential reference. I think it’s because as the season drew to a close, the fictional plot points overwhelmed the factual depiction of New Orleans and its customs that so captivated me throughout the run of the series.

To fill in the gaps, I would recommend (as I did every week), Treme explained from the New Orleans Times-Picayune, and of course the ongoing series of interviews about Treme at A Blog Supreme.

Fans of the show will not want to miss David Simon’s interview with Alan Sepinwall, which includes a lot of exposition on what Simon intended with the show. Here’s what he had to say in response to complaints about the show being “too preachy”:

So I read Back of Town, and it tells me that we’ve not gone so far awry that the people who actually lost their homes, some of them are still exiled, all of them went through the torture of Katrina and its aftermath – the show is resonsant in its details. And that matters to me, in the same way it mattered to me that Marines found “Generation Kill” to be compelling in its depiction of modern warfare. And I don’t really care what Democrats or Republicans or politicians or people who were for the war or against the war thought about “Generation Kill.” I don’t care that somebody blogging in New York says when a character rants in New Orleans that they feel they’re being preached to.

Treme is, more than any other television series I can think of, a show made to be appreciated in this era. Here’s one of the questions Sepinwall asks Simon:

Just like you did on “The Wire” and “Generation Kill,” you threw people into the deep end of a culture they’re not that familiar with. Specifically with the Mardi Gras Indians, you clearly felt comfortable not having to even use the kid (Darius) for exposition. It was just, “We’re going to watch them work, we’re going to show them doing their thing. People will figure it out, or they won’t.”

Simon’s answer is interesting, but here’s my answer from a fan’s perspective. These days we have Google and Wikipedia to help us fill in the blanks. There are bloggers of all stripes writing about Treme. And of course the New Orleans Times-Picayune and NPR have been doing their part to fill fans in with all of the background information they can stand. So there’s no need for David Simon to fill in the blanks with boring explanations — fans who are interested have the Internet for that. It’s a show for the modern fan who’s willing to put in the effort to get the most they can out of television as a piece of literature. I appreciate they fact that they didn’t waste my time with stuff I could figure out on my own.

Treme episode 8 essential reference
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Treme episode 8 essential reference

Mardi Gras was the star of Treme this week, with all of the attendant cultural references. Probably the first thing to understand about Mardi Gras is that there are a number of parades spread across the weekend of Mardi Gras right up to fat Tuesday itself. Here’s the 2010 schedule from nola.com.

Personally, the one parade I always wanted to see that I never got to is Bacchus, the big parade on Sunday night. The Bacchagator is legendary. Endymion was mentioned and dismissed. It’s a huge parade that’s popular with tourists because it’s on Saturday night, the night of Mardi Gras that suits the schedule of out of town visitors the best.

The Krewes of Momus and Comus stopped parading rather than agree to ban racial discrimination.

For the full rundown of Mardi Gras info for this week, check out the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Treme explained. A Blog Supreme once again comes through with the details on the music from this week’s episode. They also have an interview with Blake Leyh, the show’s music supervisor.

Treme Explained summarizes the episode (and Mardi Gras) well:

This episode expertly and seamlessly walks viewers to and from multiple Mardi Gras experiences, from the creatively costumed free-for-all in the Faubourg Marginy to the see-and-be-seen pre- and post-parade gatherings Uptown to Zulu’s Basin-to-Orleans jog toward the club’s Broad Street den to dozing in front of PBS affiliate WYES-Channel 12’s live coverage of the Rex Ball. It happens pretty much just like this every year on a weekday during which the rest of the world is at work checking e mails and sitting in meetings.

As mentioned in the NPR interview, there was nothing unusual about the police shutting down the city at midnight on Mardi Gras. When the clock rolls over to Ash Wednesday, Mardi Gras is over and everything closes. As far as I know, it’s been that way forever.

Treme episode 7 essential reference
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Treme episode 7 essential reference

Sorry for the late posting of this week’s reference. I’ll blame it on Lost fatigue.

This week’s episode was the toughest yet. We saw examples of two ways to die in the aftermath of Katrina. The first was death while in police custody, and the second was the death of the older trombone player. His story reminded me of Clarence ‘Gatemouth’ Brown, the famous bluesman who passed away shortly after the storm in September, 2005.

Of course be sure to check out the New Orleans paper’s installment of Treme explained for this week, which has lots of information about the housing projects that were at the center of this week’s episode. It also explains the context of the “green dots” reference.

Patrick Jarenwattananon interviews Josh Jackson about this week’s episode for NPR.

Both outlets discuss Cajun music, which finally got a little screen time this week. Tipitina’s was previously mentioned on the show, and this week the Pine Leaf Boys played their gig there.

The New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic organized the jazz bands in the airport. The clinic is a worthy cause, it provides health care services to musicians, most of whom have incomes well south of the poverty line.

We’ve seen a lot of the ugly side of law enforcement in Louisiana on Treme, but it’s not all bad. The other day I saw an article on a prisoner-staffed hospice program at Angola prison that has transformed it from one of America’s most violent maximum security prisons to one of the least violent.

Finally, the scene where Albert Lambreaux was arrested while squatting at the projects reminded me of the lyrics to Mardis Gras Indians chant “Indian Red,” featured heavily in episode 3:

We won’t bow down
Down on that ground
Because I love to hear you call my Indian red

You don’t have to use your imagination to figure out where those lyrics came from.

Treme episode 6 essential reference
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Treme episode 6 essential reference

Old school blogger and New Orleans native Chuck Taggart wrote up his perspective on Treme last week. It’s a must-read post. He also points to the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s Treme site, upon which they explain every episode in detail, perhaps rendering this ongoing series by me superfluous.

Here’s the Time’s Picayune Treme Explained post on episode 6.

By this episode, I felt like we were settling into things and I would up taking a lot fewer notes for the essential reference. The big concepts seem to be well-flushed out at this point. I was a bit excited to see one of the characters take a field trip to my old stomping grounds, Port Arthur, Texas and Lake Charles, Louisiana. I was born in Sulphur, Louisiana and grew up between Lake Charles and Port Arthur. They’re all between Houston and New Orleans on or near Interstate 10, a highway that would be featured heavily in my biography.

One of New Orleans’ most famous landmarks, Cafe Du Monde, finally made an appearance this week. There’s a reason why it’s so famous as to have almost become a cliche — the coffee and beignets are that good. There are many great things in New Orleans, but the scene at Cafe Du Monde made me want to drive to the airport and catch the next plane to MSY.

Also check out NPR’s weekly Treme feature, which has tons of good information about last night’s show.

Treme episode 5 essential reference
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Treme episode 5 essential reference

One of the most interesting running threads through this week’s episode were the disagreements on jazz trivia between Antoine Batiste and the rabid Japanese jazz fan who bought him a new trombone. Their last disagreement was over whether a certain trombonist in a photo of Louis Amrstrong playing a slide trumpet is Kid Ory or Honore Dutrey. Here’s the photo:

Armstrong Slide.jpg

Batiste wins that one. That’s Dutrey on the left. Hopefully the NPR jazz blog or some other outlet will adjudicate the rest of the arguments this week. The Japanese benefactor was put in touch with Batiste by the Tipitina’s Foundation, a non-profit that seeks to preserve New Orleans’ music and culture.

I never recognize the musicians on the show, but I do know my chefs, and I recognized all four of the drop-ins on sight. They are Eric Ripert, best known for his fish restaurant Le Bernardin in New York, molecular gastronomist Wiley Dufresne of WD-50, Top Chef head judge Tom Colicchio, and David Chang, of the Momofuku restaurants. They were sent to the restaurant by New Orleans chef John Besh.

Other food and beverage mentions included Mardi Gras King cake (I order mine from Gambino’s) and the Sazerac cocktail. Abita Amber is a local beer in New Orleans.

The Krewe du Vieux is a real Mardi Gras krewe.

I noticed that the bailiff said “Oyez! Oyez! Oyez!” instead of “Hear ye! Hear ye! Hear ye!” to bring the court into session. There’s a Wikipedia article on oyez. As a point of trivia, Louisiana’s civil code is based on the Napoleonic Code, unlike every other state in the US.

Roy Blount is a New Orleans writer.

Real locations visited last night: Upperline Restaurant and Mother-in-Law Lounge.

President Bush’s January 12, 2006 visit to New Orleans was mentioned, as were the Danziger Bridge shootings. The investigation into the shootings is still ongoing, thus far four New Orleans police officers have pleaded guilty to helping with the coverup.

Update: A Blog Supreme has their episode 5 post up.

Treme episode 4 essential reference
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Treme episode 4 essential reference

First, some links that are worth noting from last week.

There’s an article about Donald Harrison, Jr., the musician who recorded the version of “My Indian Red” that played over the credits of episode 3, at Nola.com. Here’s what he says about Clarke Peters playing Big Chief Lambreaux:

I think what the series has picked up on is the seriousness that people who do that have. They maintain the culture and the spirituality of it, and the transcendence from everyday life. Those are some of the things I think Clarke really brings out. And the regal nature of being a big chief.

Back of Town is a Tremé blog.

Finally, a couple of books by Ned Sublette that David Simon cited as influences for Tremé: The World That Made New Orleans: From Spanish Silver to Congo Square and The Year Before the Flood: A Story of New Orleans.

In addition to several former members of the cast of The Wire featured on last nights’ show, writer George Pelecanos slipped in a reference to Hamsterdam early in episode 4.

The Apple Barrel is a local bar in New Orleans.

The term lagniappe finally reared its ugly head last night. It’s an authentic bit of New Orleans culture, but trotting it out as they did is liable to irritate the natives, as it’s sort of overly precious. Early on someone said something about people eating red beans and rice (and “not even on a Monday”) that rankled in a similar fashion.

LA Swift is a bus service operated by the state of Louisiana that takes people back and forth from Baton Rouge to New Orleans. Fares are only $5. The service was established after Hurricane Katrina.

Entergy is best known as an electric utility, but they provide natural gas service in New Orleans.

Singer-songwriter Steve Earle and his son Justin Townes Earle made cameos last night.

Deuce McAllister (whose jersey was featured last night) played for the New Orleans Saints from 2001 to 2008. He was cut before the Saints’ championship season last year, but the team brought him back briefly during the playoffs to let him lead the team onto the field.

Treme episode 3 essential reference
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Treme episode 3 essential reference

A few links from my notes on this week’s episode of Treme.

Mardi Gras indians were heavily featured again, so I’m recycling that link from the episode 1 reference. The Wild Magnolias tribe has a Web site with downloadable music, as well as its own Wikipedia article.

Dr. John’s version of My Indian Red was included on his 1992 album Goin’ Back to New Orleans.

Also on the music front, Professor Longhair’s Tipitina was referenced this week.

FEMA trailers of course have their own article in Wikipedia.

A couple of unique Louisiana drinking customs were mentioned in quick succession, go cups and drive through daiquiri shops.

McDonogh 15 is a school for the creative arts in New Orleans.

Embouchure is the shape of the mouth when playing a brass or wind instrument.

Feelings Cafe is a real restaurant, still open.

This week’s other guest musician was Tom McDermott.

Finally, a couple of cast notes. Desiree is played by Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, a Katrina survivor who David Simon cast having seen her in Spike Lee’s documentary, When the Levees Broke. She’s also written a book about Katrina. Annie the fiddler is played by Lucia Micarelli, who’s a concert violinist, not an actress. Esquire interviewed her last week.

Update: New Orleans may be America’s smallest big city. Phyllis Montana LeBlanc is a cousin of “Tootie” LeBlanc, one of the Mardi Gras indian chiefs name checked in Dr. John’s song.

Treme episode 2 essential reference
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Treme episode 2 essential reference

Some links to things mentioned in episode 2 of Treme:

Treme episode 1 essential reference
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Treme episode 1 essential reference

Here are some essential links for people who watched episode 1 of Treme:

Update: I forgot to note Brocato’s ice cream parlor.