Posts Tagged ‘ Treme ’

#telosvision: fall shows up

greetings tellybox fans

summer has gone, and it’s that time of year when i share my thoughts and opinions about the treats that are being offered up by bosses in TVville for our Autumn/Fall delectation. please accept my apologies that this year’s offerings have arrived so late, but for some reason i’ve just not been able to sit down and get this post written before now. in my defence, there is a lot to consider this year, in fact, that in order not to overface you i’ve divided things up into two posts, this first one will handle shows from the States and a subsequent one will examine British programmes.

as far as i’m concerned it’s something of a vintage in terms of returning series in the US, with quality reigning over quantity – however, i have to say that i’m less enthused by the new offerings than i would like and suspect the opposite is true where they are concerned.

however, let’s just pause a moment to honour some shows to which we are wishing farewell as they prepare to wrap up for a long Winter sleep. last night, for example, saw the finale of another great season of Louie. i laughed (a lot) i cried (a bit) and the cameos by David Lynch are perhaps my favourite of all in the three seasons so far. while the final episode of this season was in the tradition of the more muted, reflective ones, the scene where Louie attempts to reattach the doll’s eyes, and in particular his use of the phrase “shit on my father’s balls” was up there with my favourites.

the other big loss to me was The Newsroom, which wrapped at the end of August and was definitely my favourite new show of 2012 so far. despite having possibly the sappiest credit sequence in television history and being sort of a remake of his comic-drama from 2006/7 Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip – which i liked but was, despite being not really very similar, deemed too similar to 30 Rock to be renewed – Aaron Sorkin’s latest TV offering really grabbed me.

the performances were pretty much all-round excellent, with Jeff Daniels, Emily Mortimer, Olivia Munn (xxxx) and Sam Waterston deserving of special praise. possibly most impressive of all, however, was Dev Patel, who for the first time ever did acting that i didn’t TOTALLY HATE, but actually sort of liked. quite incredible. however … i don’t know what it is about Sorkin, but i always seem to like the stuff everyone else hates (A Few Good Men, Studio 60) and vice-versa (The West Wing, Charlie Wilson’s War, The Social Network, Moneyball). i’m honestly not trying to be contrary, but if my track record is anything to go by, despite being renewed for a second season, The Newsroom might want to watch it’s back.

anyway, not wanting to dwell on what has passed, let’s turn to the shows that are being being unwrapped and placed back on the shiny shelf. (nb. when it comes to stuff i’ve already seen, whilst i will be mentioning some aspects, i will, as always, try hard not to drop any significant spoiler-bombs.)

for those of you who aren’t up to speed with any of the returning series mentioned but would like to be, this post comes to you sponsored by BBC iPlayer, 4OD, Hulu, HideIPVPN (which is just my favourite of the many online services that can help you to watch Hulu when not in the US or iPlayer when not in the UK) and probably most importantly of all, which is the place to go to catch up with previous or current seasons of pretty much any major series that has so far eluded you. the internets are brilliant, peeps, use them.

returning shows

Treme: top of the tree, the long awaited return of the brilliant New Orleans-based drama created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, who as far as i’m concerned are giants among men in a metaphorical world where being able to reach high things is a sign of wisdom, decency, truthfulness and beauty. wheel number one of what i’m calling ‘the Sunday Trike of Awesome’, season 3 began Sunday last and is already right back up to speed. David Simon has always stuck to the same logic – “follow the money”. with two years now between itself and Katrina, NOLA (and the Tremé in particular) still has a long way to go. housing is still the hot topic, and there’s plenty of green notes to be made, if you know the right people. meanwhile, everyone else will just have to keep fighting just to stay put. [HBO, Sundays, 10PM ET – or here]

Boardwalk Empire: Sunday Trike of Awesome wheel number two stands in the shape of season 3 of Terence Winter’s artfully crafted, cruel and awkward prohi-era surviveathon. there are some series that it’s really not worth going back and starting on if you missed the boat first time round, but this is not one of them – for those who’ve been slow on the uptake hereabouts, you really need to get on board. that having been said, i won’t add too much by means of comment on this season other than to say that as long as Chalky White is around to see what becomes of AC under the redoubled if not exactly untroubled Thompson regime and to witness the inevitable increase in focus on New York and Chicago then i’m happy. [HBO, Sundays, 9PM ET – or here]

Homeland: wheel three is season 2 of Showtime’s big hitter from last Autumn (which i only caught up with when it was broadcast here in this Spring). as regular readers might remember, i took a few episodes to get into Homeland – again, the credits were a significant turn off – but i eventually became hooked. you might also remember, however, that despite my enhookedment, i had some reservations concerning both its sexual ethics and the role of mental illness. in the end, i was sad to see that it fell into a couple of the mental illness pitfalls that i’d laid out, and i’d say the whole thing about sexuality still has a way to go before all the cards are on the table. however, reservations not withstanding, this time round it has definitely been upgraded to my ‘watch US broadcast’ list.

season 2 premiered on Sunday, but don’t worry i won’t give anything away. he’s made it all the way from tutoring a terrorist’s son in Afghanistan to sitting in the US Congress, but deep down i think we all know that he’s still, he’s still Brody from the hole. expect a lot more drawn-out squinting and secret Muslimising to distrustful music from Brody, and pestering from the CIA plus drawn-out ambiguity over how long it will take her to remember the link between Brody and Nazir’s son (that inconveniently solidified in her head seconds before her ECT began) from Carrie. [Showtime, Sundays, 10PM ET – or here]

New Girl: i’m still not really sure why i like New Girl quite as much as i do. but i really do. like it. in spite of her name, i’ve always liked Zooey Deschanel and she’s definitely one of the reasons it works so well, but the thing i wasn’t really prepared for was the writing being so consistently great. from the outside it might look a bit flyaway, like it’s on the same level as something trivial like The Big Bang Theory, but it’s not. it’s actually really good. I can honestly say that i desire nothing more from season 2 than more of the same, please. [Fox, Tuesdays from 9th Oct, 9PM ET – or here]

new shows

Vegas: let’s start with CBS’s headliner, which sets out to tell the story of the early days of Sin City seemingly by mainly pitting just-in-from-Chicago casino boss Vincent Savino – played by Vic from The Shield (Michael Chiklis) looking more like a bulky Bruce Willis than ever – against Ralph Lamb, Dennis Quaid’s brooding old-skool-Nevada-rancher/lawman. at the start of the pilot, grizzed ol’ man Lamb, who was a distinguished MP during the war, is installed as an emergency Deputy Sheriff while the current Sheriff hides from some mobsters that he double crossed and ‘ratted out’ to the authorities. Lamb just wants to run his ranch in peace, but, since that stupid big dam got built, the small city that’s sprung up near his land is becoming a pain in his skinny, Lee-clad ass.

what he doesn’t want is planes to fly over his land, or fancy, arrogant Italian out-of-towners to climb above their stations. what he does want is to punch people in the face and wear his Stetson. can you guess who’s the Sheriff of Las Vegas by the end of the first episode? it’s good to see that Carrie-Anne Moss is slowly working her way back from Matrix-enduced shame, i’ve long rated her as an actor, and to my eyes she looks far better in a shift dress now than she did in leather trousers back then. while there is some crossover in terms of style, content or arc, Vegas definitely doesn’t have the requisite seriousness to be on par with Boardwalk Empire, or Mad Men, or Scorsese’s Casino, and after the pilot i can’t say whether it’s going to turn out to be worth watching at all, but i’d like it to be, so i’m in for at least the first three episodes. [CBS, Tuesdays, 10PM ET – or here]

Revolution: J.J. Abrams has really taken the whole ‘EPing a TV series is the new directing a movie’ thing to heart, but should we trust him after Lost? well, Jon Favreau directs the pilot of this slightly odd post-technopalyptic sci-fi-a-rama and despite it being slightly infected with the dreaded expositionitus, and genuinely containing of the lines “It’s happening, isn’t it?!”, “Family? Kid, I don’t even know you!” and “You know, I didn’t ask you to come back”, i almost liked it. basically, one day, everything electronic and also (for some unexplained reason) engines stopped working and fifteen years later a fragile society is living hand-to-mouth in a part wild-west, part medieval Europe type scenario. this society is ruled by some sort of warlord and one family is keeping a very powerful secret from him and everyone else.

we’re supposed to be wondering about this small, silver USB drive/scarab necklace thing that might be the key to what happened to the tech, but i spent the whole time trying to work out how twenty somethings in a small isolated community could have perfectly fitting jeans, leather jackets and make-up so long after the end of all mechanised industry. that, and why, despite relying on basically the same physical principles, guns fire and oil lamps burn, but combustion engines don’t work. why fifteen years after it fell (hilariously unrealistically) from the sky, there’s a perfectly untouched plane sitting in the middle of a field, why, if you lived in a world where someone holding a crossbow sideways above their head can repel downward blows from a sword at close quarters, would you not do mostly stabbing motions in that situation instead, and why the goofy, multi-millionaire former Googledouche has brand-new-looking glasses. in fact, i was just beginning to think that, by failing to properly think through the implications of its starting premise, it had fallen into the same trap as 2009 mega-flop FlashForward, when Giancarlo Esposito (the fabulous Gus from the fabulous Breaking Bad) showed up. that, on its own, has bought it another episode.

Last Resort: submarine, blaa blaa, Pakistan, missile strike, blaa, defying orders, fired on by own team, blaa blaa, T-1000 is an angry one, backup communication network, NATO early-warning station reminiscent of the control room from Jurassic Park on a remote island (always with the remote islands), local gangsters, blaa blaa, Washington, now shit’s got serious. etc. the pilot previewed weeks ago and i’ve been left with little inclination to seek out further episodes. [abc, Thursdays, 8PM ET – or here]

Elementary: Jonny Lee Miller as a modern-day Sherlock Holmes living in Brooklyn with Lucy Liu’s Dr Joan Watson, what could be boring and or ridiculous about that? if it continues to be as bad as the pilot, i’m guessing that by episode 3, the only people watching will be Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss’ lawyers. i’m out. [CBS, Wednesdays, 10PM ET – or here]

Arrow: this is one of the few Fall shows that will be broadcast in the UK this year, with Sky One having picked it up and due to put it out a month or so behind The CW from late Oct. it’s a teen-drama version of DC’s Green Arrow very much in the mould of Smallville, and i imagine it will strike the right sort of chords among its target demographic. i found the pilot pretty meh, but it’s very clearly not meant for me. [The CW, Wednesdays, 8PM ET]

Go On: despite Friends and several terrible movies, i actually really like Matthew Perry and, as you know, thought his work in Studio 60 (his last significant TV role) was excellent. here he plays a widowed sportscaster who’s undertaking counselling. i’ve long thought that group therapy scenarios are ripe fodder for comedy, which is one of the reasons why, along with two friends, i’ve been working on a screenplay for a sitcom which is set in just such a context. who knows if we’ll ever actually produce anything polished, let alone do anything with it, but the constant risk, however, is that in the time that we’re dealing with our creative blocks something else comes along and occupies a similar space – a 30 Rock to our Studio 60 if you will. happily, while i sort of like Go On, i’m fairly sure it’s not treading on our toes too much. [NBC, Tuesday, 9PM ET – or here]

• three real stinkers

Neighbors (abc): weak concept, poor acting, cheap gags. terrible.
Partners (CBS): no, guy who was in Numb3rs and The Newsroom, just no.
Ben and Kate (Fox): über-corny family sitcom. derivative and sloppily written.

#telosvision: treme (the third, fourth & subsequent lines)

long-time readers will recall me writing about the first season of Treme last year. the bitter-sweet story of the residents of New Orleans’ poorest and most historically and culturally vibrant neighbourhood trying to rebuild their lives and community following ‘the storm’, moved me greatly.

well, not only is the second season just about to come to an end on HBO (which will probably mean a migration to Sky Atlantic quite soon after they’ve finished showing season 1), but also the DVD of the first season is now widely available in the UK. i’m not going to talk in many specifics about the narrative arc, etc., of either season here, but if it’s not something that’s currently on your radar, then i’m sharing a few broad-ranging thoughts and insights which i hope will change that.

Treme places very few priorities higher than accuracy. like its illustrious forebear, Frank’s Place, it is made by and stars several daughters and sons of NOLA, and many of those involved who are not native, are clearly under the city’s spell. perhaps none more so than the creators, David Simon and Eric Overmyer.

the fact that the series was originally created by Simon and Overmyer, of (utterly deserved) Homicide and The Wire fame, was what initially attracted me. however, given how different it turned out to be, i must admit that it was a surprise to find that Treme was as engaging, as perturbing and as hard-hitting as anything of their’s i’d seen previously. Treme has a similar sense of scale and scope to The Wire, focussing on the concerns of a small geographical area but setting those concerns in the context of a large city with a large socio-political structure.

unlike the Baltimore of The Wire, however, the New Orleans of Treme is not a seething, brutal leviathan, swimming beneath a thin layer of political ice, but a beached whale. the waters have come and gone, and everything has been turned over, inside-out and left out to dry. Treme is about the resources for and possible of hope in the face of utter destruction.

the one resource that Treme focusses on more than any other is music. New Orleans, of course, has a musical heritage that few of the world’s cities can equal. arising out of its unique history, born largely of its position straddling the mighty Mississippi, New Orleans represents a collision of Western European, Latin American, African and North American cultural influences, and nothing illustrates this better than the city’s musical legacy.

in particular, the infusion of European instrumentation and African rhythms imbued New Orleans music with a strong culture of brass. add to the mix the influence of Cajun, Zydeco, Polka, Banda, Ranchera, Delta Blues and European sacred music. these diverse cultural intertwinings, and the fact that it was the first city in America to allow slaves to freely associate and to play music in public, NOLA was destined to be the birth place of jazz.

music and the many social customs that involve it are cast in Treme as the glue that holds the place together – the infrastructure that Katrina could not destroy. shaped by its French Catholic past, New Orleans is a city that rises to music and lays down to music; welcomes its new borns and mourns its dead to music. happy or sad, together or alone, in public and in private, it is always music that marks the comings and goings of everyday life. it is a sacred city with a sacred rhythm.

in this sense, Treme is about folk music. i don’t mean mumbling, beards, waistcoats and Morris-men – Folk music – i mean folk music, music of the people. every type of good music is folk music somewhere – emerging out of lived experience, speaking to and charming it and returning back to its source in the life of the community.

but, despite the tempo of its music, Treme is not an upbeat drama. it is (somewhat predictably) steeped, from the outset, in tragedy. aside from the colossal tragedy of Katrina, the project itself was steeped in loss. one the main characters is based on New Orleans-based academic, blogger and political activist, Ashley Morris, who wrote profusely and passionately about The Wire and as a result became close friends with David Simon. in 2008, Morris died from a massive heart attack at the age of forty five. two years later, another of Simon’s long-time friends and collaborators, David Mills, the first season’s co-executive producer and writer (and staff writer on NYPD Blue, Homicide, E.R., The Corner and The Wire), suffered an aneurysm and dropped dead in New Orleans twelve days before the premiere of season 1.

there is little doubt that these tragedies close to Simon, as well as the numerous testimonies of those who suffered through the storm, shaped the tone of both series of Treme. however, the most beautiful moments Treme offers are those flickers of light that peak through the gloom, when laughter and good eating and dancing take away the pain and renew the faith of the characters – but i would be lying if these are the rule within the emotional landscape rather than the exception.

just as in The Wire, people die – and with alarming frequency and remorseless equality (i.e. don’t ever go thinking that central characters are safe). post-Katrina New Orleans is a disturbed place wrapped around disturbed people. in a strange way, the losses that we witness, that we grieve, bring with them a sense of calm and order that Treme has few other ways of portraying. i cannot help but think this is how it must have felt for many New Orleans people after the storm with the finality, surety and neatness of death providing a kind of perverted solace.

as with The Wire, the faces come and go, but what remains, what is really the focus of our attentions, is the city. the New Orleans of Treme is like a child perpetually struggling in the surf – just as it splutteringly finds its feet, another wave, perhaps smaller, perhaps larger than the last rolls in. the kicking, the gasping, the jumping is never over. the only way out is when you have no strength left.

but there is hope yet. the cultural bonds – the songs, the marches, the dances – are so powerful, are down so deep, are spread so wide that life will, must go on. as one character notes, following the death of a friend, towards the end of season 2, “he was always broke, but never beat.”

Treme wants to say that post-Katrina New Orleans will forever be broken in a specific way, but will never be beaten. i don’t know about you, but that’s a message from which i can take hope. everywhere i look around i see the unmistakable signs of brokenness and sometime even the glorious moments of peace, or the beams of truth that shine through can’t make up for the unescapable reality that damaged people damage people.

however, when the short-term goals of protecting those we love and holding on to what is ours become frustrated by the ebbs and flows of existence, sometimes, that is when its possible to see clearest that however broken life gets, it will never be truly beaten. frustrated? yes. waiting, with eager anticipation, for a end to futility? sure. hopeless? never.

The City by Steve Earle (shown above in his role as Harley in Treme)