Treme, Season 3, Episode 10, “Tipitina”

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Sam Wilkinson

According to a faithful reader, I'm Ordinary Times's "least thoughtful writer." So I've got that going for me, which is nice.

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  1. Avatar Mark Folse
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    There is no way this series is going to let go of Davis. He’s too obnoxiously popular. (The infamous sign at d.b.a that says if your name is Davis Rogan you’re not welcome here covered with one that says if your name is Steve Zahn you’re welcome here). Annie and Sonny are both poised to be jettisoned for an abbreviated season, and I wouldn’t have an issue with that. Davis Rogan found his niche and I suspect Sonny will, too.

    It was really such a satisfying finale in so many ways I’m going to have to give some more thought to where I think Simon and Overmyer go in their remaining five episodes.Report

  2. Avatar Bill Loehfelm
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    In defense of Jeanette:

    Her boss does seem to be reneging on promised autonomy. Many chefs vary their menus, especially seasonally (it’s considered a mark of a great chef), so her wanting to drop the crawfish ravioli from the menu makes sense, and her argument that people would remember and come back for it is valid. Many dishes suffer under mass production, her rep and the restaurants rep would suffer. Also, people would keep coming to see what she does next with her menu, excited about the “next” crawfish ravioli. People in New Orleans follow chefs like they do musicians, always eager for new material. Finally, she wouldn’t be a chef without a few random firings and hissy fits.Report

  3. Avatar HeartbreakRidge
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    Further in defense of Jeanette: her argument about it being a seasonal dish is completely valid, in that using frozen crawfish would mean using s*** compared to fresh.

    Also, all of these bits and pieces in this episode are familiar to anyone who’s read Kitchen Confidential (big surprise) 🙂Report

    • Avatar Sam in reply to HeartbreakRidge
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      Her explanation of freshness makes sense and I agreed with her, but that came after she declared that she wouldn’t be making it anymore, before the issue of seasonality came up.

      For whatever this is worth, I am more sympathetic to Janette than I am to Sonny, Annie, or Davis. However, it still seems at times like she’s nothing more than a vessel for Bourdain’s (sometimes misplaced) rage about the food industry.Report

  4. Avatar brophy
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    Sam, sorry to hear you found this season disappointing. To each his own, more power to you and I appreciate your dedicated poating on the show with your observations.
    Personally, I found S3 to exceed expectations and be most fulfilling. Maybe moreso because of all the additional acts featured this season (Anders Osborne, Guitar Lightning Slim, Little Freddie King, Tab Benoit, Quintron, etc) and also because of the allegorical references and parallel statements the series made about our society that go beyond the superficial story line of characters.
    With Annie and.Sonny sunsetting their spotlight in the story, I felt it touched on an aspect of life that not every person in our relationship has an absolute starring role…..that some folks make an impact, albeit brief, then go their own path.
    I would be curious to hear your thoughts on the commentary Treme writers were making on a historical / societal levelReport

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to brophy
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      I think for me, the places where commentary was made are (always) where the show is at its strongest. Those moments aren’t the ones that bother me; it’s the needlessness of those three (damned) characters. I recognize that they were useful plot devices. Had the show gone longer, Sonny would have given us entry into the Vietnamese communities, Davis always gave us entry into the musical communities, and Annie…well, Annie was just terrible. She never once felt necessary or important or compelling.

      When the show soared though? Like it has always done with Antoine, like it has always done with LaDonna, like it has always done with Albert? Those are the moments that keep bringing me back. And that’s before you even start to consider the way in which those characters represent the endurance of an often broken and baffling system.

      Now, if you’re into the show for the music – is that a fair way to describe you? – I think that your defense of Season 3 is certainly warranted. From that angle, I thought the music almost always worth listening to (with the exception of Annie’s work).Report

      • Avatar brophy in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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        ha ha on the Annie hate (agree)…. its interesting that during S1, we ALL were waiting for the shoe to drop, each scene expecting Annie to be the victim of a PTSD Sonny (ala real life Adriane Hall). Now by S3, everyone is entirely sick of poor, weak Annie, hoping she would find a quick exit from the series.

        Oh, Annie……lmao

        I asked, because from your perspective giving this series an honest review and how it is digested by those outside of the region. There is a lot of NOLA minutiae that, while relevant, is not actually pertinent to the actual story being told. Meaning, on first go-round it would take some getting used to understanding what they are getting at which distracts from the larger message. Sure, the writers might be delivering a pointed event about regional housing projects, but once you get past that, it becomes a bigger question that confronts every other American city. From the music to the food to the dialect, New Orleans is just another character in the grand story these writers are telling, IMO. Judging by the several interviews and blog posts of David Simon, it would seem that this is the direction they were looking to take the show from the get-go. It wasn’t necessarily about the Corps, Danziger, FEMA trailers, etc….it how we understand living in a society, one in which we esteem to actually be progressive or ‘civilized’, has to be something more than just commodification.
        New Orleans music isn’t necessarily Trad, Swing, Dixieland, Bounce, Zydeco, Cajun, Jugband, etc……its just social music (there really aren’t any genre classifications in the area). I felt like the one thing the writers have challenged their viewers with is breaking out of the boxes we’ve imposed on ourselves by embracing those things that make us human; our expressionistic endeavors (food, music, revelry, etc). It just so happens that New Orleans is a great (convenient) place to accentuate those attributes.Report

        • Avatar Mark Folse in reply to brophy
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          Brophy, I think you’ve nailed it. Keep in mind that this is not television in any conventional sense. As I’ve argued on Back of Town and Simon himself points out in several interviews–including the latest one on Wired–this is a long form narrative more akin to a novel than anything else committed to film in the past barring The Wire.

          The goal was to capture New Orleans faithfully and use it as allegory (Simon’s own words) for how one city organizes itself socially going into the 21st century, when most older, urban areas are in collapse and the rest of the national is fragmented into suburban enclaves further divided by their cable television subscription and viewing choices.

          I would argue that the minor characters are necessary to fulfill Simon’s vision. Consider Sonny and Annie as two types: characters drawn to New Orleans by its musical reputation. One, Annie, rebounds to success and is well on her way to moving to Austin or Nashville. Sonny could have resolved in one of two ways: an addicted failure or as someone gone native, both very true types. Also, consider how you would feel about the minor characters if you were committed to reading a 500 page novel, or a series of novels. This is a very different form of television.

          Great site, and great conversation.

          Mark Folse
          Back of TownReport

          • Avatar Sam in reply to Mark Folse
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            Mark,

            While I’m willing to go along with Simon’s stated goals for the project – that this was an exploration of one city’s organization of itself going into the 21st century – I’ll say simply that I don’t think Treme was as compelling when that exploration involved characters like Annie or Sonny or, and now I’m hedging just a bit, Davis.

            That said, Simon can say that this isn’t television in the conventional sense, but I was sitting in my living room, watching the show on a television. I watched The Wire on television. The Wire was full of compelling characters; I can’t remember any as useless or unnecessary as Sonny or Annie ended up being. Even if The Wire had unlikable characters, they felt integral. One good example might be Ziggy, who was simultaneously annoying and absolutely necessary. I’ve never felt that way about Sonny or Annie or Davis; they’ve always been plot devices who gave us access to aspects of the city that might have been difficult to incorporate otherwise (Sonny to the Vietnamese community, Annie to the musical community, Davis to musicians). In each case though, when I was interested, it was with the people they were interacting with, not with those characters themselves.

            He can also claim this is more a novel than television, but I’d object just as strenuously to a novel that asked me to engage with characters who were simply a means to an end. This is amplified by the fact that those characters weren’t minor characters: Annie and Sonny and Davis are supposed to be pivotal players in Treme. They weren’t Blind Butchies or Brother Mouzones. Treme had its minor characters, including Aunt Mimi, or Linh’s father, or Robinette, or Jacques. Those three though were on a much higher level within the show’s hierarchy. Consider the time we spent on each of them.Report

            • Avatar brophy in reply to Sam
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              CERTAINLY not arguing with you as no opinion is ‘right’. I’ve never liked Annie, but Sonny and Davis have had some really deep experiences in the series. This is why I find your views REFRESHING because if you’re not familiar with some of the archtypes that these characters are loosely based off (Davis moreso than an Anders Osborne-type Sonny).

              As far as minor/major character developments and the weight of relevant scenes…..have you ever read Faulkner? I don’t see Treme fitting any kind of parallel with The Wire in terms of story/scene delivery. While I’m deep in my hyperbole pants now, I think the real beauty of Treme will be seen a decade from now….there is NOTHING even close to the artwork being captured in this work.

              The character I find most interesting is Robinette, the demo guy, because he is as much a part of the entire story (music, rebuilding, money, heritage) and is an agnostic player to the change/preservation going on around him.

              The characters in Treme, now that you’ve forced me to actually think about this, present a challenge that I don’t know any other series has to deal with The writers have to bring the multifaceted, many times contradictory, personal struggles to light while also being tethered to the REAL-LIFE events and very specific individuals each character was made a composite of. Unlike The Wire, where Omar was a guy derived from several career criminals (most of which aren’t intimately known), Treme’s characters are coming several individuals with documented and known personalities (i.e. Ashley Morris, Davis Rogan, Donald Harrison, etc), then interacting with the actual people (Kermit, Aurora Nealand, Oliver Thomas, etc). Thats got to be hell for a writing staff. Its essentially Howard Zinn’s “People’s History of the United States” covering post-Katrina

              I suppose because of this, I have to temper how I watch the show. When I first watched the first episode this season I was disappointed, finding it trite and contrived, like it was sloppy writing just throwing as many themes as it could into the episode. I think this was because I was overthinking it going into the episode, trying to anticipate where each piece would fit. The problem with this is, there aren’t going to be any plot twists….you can’t avoid the storylines that are going to unfold because it was actually what was happening. In the opener, the Colson scenes stoled it for me. The “whats there to do in Indianapolis” line was pitch perfect and rang brighter than the actual dialogue.

              One thing about Treme, is that I recognize that on the surface it is a rather insular show relegated to 5 square miles in America. Even folks in Metairie don’t get the series (and the references). However, I find it short-sighted to focus on the New Orleans references (though they can be crucial to the story) because what the actual theme of the series is depiciting is ANY city in America, because it all applies (preserving the culture of a community / what does it mean to be a part of a community?).Report

              • Avatar Mark Folse in reply to brophy
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                First, I hold Davis up to Ziggy any day. Even Shakespeare had his use for clowns to advance his story.

                Brophy, I don’t think bringing in Faulkner is hyperbole. I think Simon set out to move beyond the Wire, even further away from convention while still using film. Film students will be watching Treme for decades to come. Hell, Salmon Rushdie considered doing a television series (and probably back away when he realized he would have to relinquish some creative control to a team). Treme is a game changer, and those aren’t always easy.

                I think another challenge the writers (and many viewers) face is the deliberate attempt to portray a culture. The United States is a country without a culture in the sense that New Orleans has one, the way less mobile and more homogenous places have a culture. The closest thing most Americans have to a culture is their church, their kid’s sports team, work, and the random collection of neighbors who share the same set of disconnected culture bubbles that are as interchangeable between cities as restaurant franchises. The viewer is being asked to comprehend something that doesn’t really exist in this country any longer outside of recent immigrant communities and its alien and its hard and its important.Report

  5. Avatar Beth Arnette
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    I’ll be another Janette apologist.

    I don’t think she wanted to be a celebrity chef. She just wanted to come home to New Orleans and have her own restaurant again, a financially viable one.

    She was lured with a fabulous space, etc. The space is really too large so it requires that her restaurant be a destination for travelers, not just a local place. The thing has snowballed.

    With regard to serving brunch, the type of restaurant that Janette runs, a chef-owned restaurant , isn’t IHOP. You are closed and take off at least one day a week, and even then you may spend it working (ordering food). If you don’t recharge those creative batteries, they run down.

    I don’t see that she was repeatedly warned.

    Also, he is supposed to be a partner, not a boss.

    And she is just trying to hold him to his promise that she didn’t have to worry about the restaurant making money for the first year. That brunch wouldn’t make or break the place, I’ll bet. He says it’s easy or free money. That’s because he’s not on his feet in the kitchen. He’s out front dining or in an office somewhere.

    With regard to the use of frozen crawfish, it’s my understanding that New Orleans/Louisiana has four seasons: crawfish, crab, shrimp and oyster, or something to that critter effect.

    It’s also said that New Orleanians don’t eat to live, but live to eat. Fresh food is very important to them. They eat by the seasons, even if their cuisine isn’t always haute.

    Cuisine at the level that Chef Janette Desautel prepares it also values fresh ingredients.

    Frozen crawfish? Bite your tongue.Report

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Beth Arnette
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      Beth,

      I respect your defense. But this is part of a larger problem that I have with the show, one that I’ve extrapolated on in other recaps. Of all the characters and all of their problems, I have a very hard time having any sympathy for a character who is seeming to have too much success. I can’t pivot from my concern for LaDonna (victimized again and again and again) or Albert (fighting cancer) or Antoine (struggling to pursue his dreams while recognizing that his own place in the world might not be in performing music) to a character whose biggest concern is that she’s being asked to make brunch once a week.

      I’ve struggled with this from the beginning, when I objected mightily to Creighton’s suicide. I recognize that he was based on a real person, but if you’re not from New Orleans (something I’ve taken time to observe about my critiques), what it looked like was a character who hadn’t been significantly touched by the storm proposing to speak and suffer for those who most certainly had. LaDonna’s brother was murdered. Antoine and Albert lost their homes. Janette lost her restaurant. Creighton, on the other hand, lost his roof, which insurance promptly paid to repair, and then got a book deal out of the disaster.

      It is, perhaps, a personal failing of mine that I can’t find the sympathy necessary to mourn equally for all of these characters, but I can’t and I don’t. Janette’s concerns pale in comparison to those of other characters on the show, and that’s something that I struggle getting past.Report

      • Avatar Beth Arnette in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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        Sam,

        Thanks for your response. I am familiar with your complaints regarding some of the characters. I don’t expect any viewer to have the same amount of sympathy for and interest in each character, or at least not all the time. Sympathy and interest may wax and wane.

        It is true that LaDonna has had a lot of burdens, but she’s the female lead despite this being an ensemble show. I don’t have a limited supply of sympathy and interest: it’s not a zero sum game. So being sympathetic and interested in LaDonna doesn’t mean that I don’t have some love left over for other characters.

        As far as Janette having too much success, her experience calls into question the definition of success, something that might give pause to all the characters (and viewers).

        I will concede that in watching the week-before-last’s episode a second time, Janette seemed whiny. Like Davis, that makes some viewers laugh at her some times and annoys them at others. If I am made uncomfortable by Janette’s brattiness or by Davis, it probably says something about me.

        However, in this week’s episode, her financial partner, Tim, is evil. He said for her not to eff with him because he wrote the book on that, or something to that effect. Almost everyone likes to think that they are bad azz in some way, some of the time, and that no one should mess with them; but, Tim is abusive and proud of it.

        Further, this is a person whose only talent is in making money off of other people’s talent.

        The negative effects of his oppression of Janette extend beyond just her to her staff.
        I think most viewers can relate to oppression in some form, and the idea that we’re all connected.

        So the problem is more than just whether to make brunch once a week (on top of all the other meals she’s planning and preparing). I have never worked in the restaurant business and I’m glad I’ve never had to. I’ve always had nice sedentary office jobs using a typewriter and later a computer. I am, however, capable of understanding how demanding the hospitality industry is, at all levels, and the differencein intensity and level between what those workers do and what I do at home to make a meal.

        As a reminder, Janette was there (from New York City, no less) for her sous-chef Jacques when he was incarcerated during Season 2.

        Since I’m posting about Janette, I want to say (and I don’t know if anyone has blogged this elsewhere) that physically, she reminds me of Anne Kearney who owned Peristyle in New Orleans. Same coloring.

        I’m stopping now so that I’m not a white person whining about whiny white television characters. Thanks for blogging about Treme’.Report

        • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to Beth Arnette
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          Beth,

          There’s no doubting that Janette’s boss is a top-shelf dickhead. She was warned about this though: David Chang and Jacque both tried I think. But she went in on it. Then she was hugely successful. I can understand her objections, but somebody whose made her living in the restaurant business didn’t see this coming? I boggle.

          That said, I certainly don’t mind a back-and-forth between us about the show. If the show wasn’t so compelling, we wouldn’t be moved to stake out different positions. That’s to the show’s credit. And although I’m a frequent critic, I truly love some of this show, and I’m forever wondering what it might have been with fewer “main” characters.Report

          • Avatar Mia Canzani in reply to Sam Wilkinson
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            Maybe it might be helpful to view Janette’s storyline less from a personal, and more from a societal point of view. She’s successful, yes, if you apply common capitalist criteria. But I think her struggle to find her way is meant to be about the food service industry and how hard it is for someone like Janette to find a way to just cook excellent food and survive on it. Its not just a greedy entrepreneur vs. a naive or obstinate victim. Its two types of restaurants, two types of gastronomy, two ways to deal with culture and heritage. The chef-owned gourmet place, where quality, creativity and character rule vs. the trendy, market-driven place where the gifted chef is taken advantage of to make profits and to make people believe its the real deal. Same with the National Jazz Center whose noble cultural purpose seems to serve as a pretense to make profits, and where Delmond and Albert are used to give it a semblance of authenticity, credibility and participation.

            From this perspective it seems irrelevant if there were people who warned Janette or not. She had to go for it, so that the confrontation between those two mindsets could be shown.Report

            • Avatar Sam in reply to Mia Canzani
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              Mia,

              I’m sorry I hadn’t noticed your comment until now. My apologies.

              My issue with Janette goes back to my fundamental objection to the show: it’s gap between the suffering of its white and non-white characters is staggering. I have only a limited amount of time and energy to be sympathetic to their suffering, so when I’m asked to feel for LaDonna, I have no issue. At this point, it’d be easier to discuss what hasn’t happened to her than what has. But being asked in the next breath to then be sympathetic to Janette? Who has a restaurant and a salary and her friends and her home and her dreams? While LaDonna has a dead brother, a burned bar, and the scars of an unpunished sexual assault? No.

              I can’t do that as a viewer. Just as I struggle to be as sympathetic with Davis’s angst as I am with Albert’s. So yes, perhaps Janette is in a crummy position within the world of well-compensated chefs; its just that crummy within that world doesn’t hold a candle to crummy in the real world (such as the one occupied by LaDonna and Albert and Antoine and Desiree, etc.).Report

              • Avatar Mia Canzani in reply to Sam
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                Sam,
                thank you for your reply. I think I get your point.

                I am from Europe and have never been to New Orleans. For me, Treme is like a window that allows me to look into a world different from mine. That is maybe the reason why I am not only interested in the characters, if I like them, if they annoy me, or how much I feel for them. I’m very eager to learn about the city and the way things work and what changed with the storm. Janette is my/our window into the world of gastronomy. So I am quite ok with Janette’s story and what it tells us.

                It’s probably just like in real life that we care about our luxury problems if we do not have more serious ones. I suspect that the gap between the suffering of white vs non-white characters is meant to reflect the real situation, social and economic differences and what comes with them. What do you think about that?Report

              • Avatar Sam in reply to Mia Canzani
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                Mia,

                I think that what you’re getting at it is likely true. Whites in New Orleans almost certainly are doing better than the city’s minority populations. What I find odd – and I’ve written about this elsewhere – is that this cleavage is left for the show’s fans to tease out. There’s never been anything explicit about the gaps that apparently exists. And because there hasn’t been anything more explicit, I’ve never been quite sure if it’s a thing we’re supposed to see or a thing that’s just happening within the show’s confines.Report

  6. Avatar Joe
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    This show would be so much better if they cut the number of characters in half, and focused on who was left. It feels like there’s such a dizzing number of story lines going simultaneously that really important stories get short shrift, while we waste time watching Sophia mope around with her can’t-act dream-child smile, or Sonny bore us to tears with his battle with heroin, or Jeanette eat dinner with Eric Ripert (and Tom Colicchio! my heart be still, celebrity chefs!!), or Davis provide the comic-relief hijinks. The Wire was an ensemble piece as well, but it was so sharply written, and so brilliantly edited that you never felt like a millisecond of screen time was wasted. Treme, on the other hand, feels like hours of filler puncuated by moments of brilliance. I wanted to like it so much more, being a huge admirer of Simon, but can’t help but be disappointed.Report

  7. Avatar brophy
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    Joe – that would’ve been true up until about four episodes ago when Sophia got shipped off. Sonny, Annie, and Sophie story archs were all cut from the main thrust of Antoine, Chief/Delmond, and Jeanette. I couldn’t see S4 having any of those characters coming back for a large role.

    With only 5 episodes remaining in the series, I’m not sure there will be much closure on any of the main stories…..Davis will likely become DAVIS. Just an eccentric gigging talent and writer on the Frenchmen circuit. It’d be 2009….enough time to cover the Saints Super Bowl, I suppose and the magic in the city getting crunk. IF they do (and they will) I guarantee Simon takes a stab at the NFL, who tried to copyright “Who Dat” away from the fans of the city during this time. The only other arch I could think of is driving home the involvement of the Army Corps of Engineers with the levee failures coming to light during this period. I dunno….maybe that would be the coda for season 1. Spike Lee could be an arch with his HBO specials during this time (I dunno), but that’d be odd because that is when Phyllis Leblanc Montana (Desiree) got her big exposure. I don’t know if they’ll ever finish the Lafitte housing development because we still aren’t seeing whats become of it (particularly in this period)…..do they touch on the development ($) of Freret Street? Landrieu’s run for mayor?

    Bigger question, though – WHO is left for musical acts to feature? Eric Lindell, Ingrid Lucia, Revivalists, Yat Pack, Luke Winslow King, Johnny Sketch, Keith Frank, etc? I dunno…but they covered a LOT of ground in season 3, thanks to LPReport

    • Avatar Sam Wilkinson in reply to brophy
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      There is a lot of ground left for them to explore. If the show does eliminate some of these characters – and I can’t shake the feeling that we’ve seen the last of Annie and Sonny, at least, and possibly Davis (although he’s arguably the show’s biggest name actor, besides Melissa Leo) – then following up with Antoine, LaDonna, and Albert, whilst simultaneously following the Saints run to the Super Bowl? That’d be good viewing.Report

  8. Avatar Shelley
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    I never heard of this show?Report

  9. Avatar Andrew
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    More seemed to happen in the final montage than in the show itself. That was a real cop-put IMO.
    There doesn’t seem to be much of an overarching plot, the characters are forever stuck in the same situation, suffering the same problems. It’s like Seinfeld without the funny.Report

  10. Avatar Jeremy Weiland
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    I’ve really enjoyed reading everybody’s thoughts, agree or disagree.

    One thing: I thought Annie got boring, too, but you have to remember that the entire reason her story happens in S3 (at least in my mind) is to show how the music of New Orleans transcends the musicians, how New Orleans incubated her. Remember: she is the Paul to Harley Watt (Steve Earle)’s Jesus and her being inspired by him–even to the point of piggybacking on his work–is a great portrait of how art socially functions. Davis also provided an incubator for her transition from the hyperlocal to broader musical scene, serving as her last tie to the city as she branches out.

    The thing is: Annie is talented (we’re supposed to think, although I don’t like her voice nor the music she wrote), but so are a great, great many of the street musicians in New Orleans. The point of her story, to my mind, is not that she *MADE* it, but that *SHE* made it, that any one of those street musicians could do what she’s doing, because the musical community of New Orleans looks like a mecca compared to everyplace else. The only difference is that she got inspired to run with it, and unfortunately that run (recording, gigging, etc.) is just not that interesting on TV. I can’t see it being interesting in a long-form novel, either. I’ve recorded an album and I can tell you it’s the most boring fucking thing in the world.Report

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