I remember an interview with David Simon earlier this decade, probably about Treme, in which he articulated a principle that underlies every piece of television work he has been involved with: “Fuck the ordinary viewer.”
Now you may think that a mean-spirited and unsympathetic attitude to take, and if you were the head of a major television network, an intolerable one, because network television is all about the ordinary viewer and attracting him/her in mammoth numbers.
But what Simon is about is the other kind of television, the one that doesn’t impose classic dramatic structures upon its stories but instead presents them as a rolling tide of event, reaction and result, that, in short, presents the world we inhabit, with all its messy, arguable, inconclusive naturalism, without wrap-ups, neat introductions and its never-ending lack of conclusions. We have to work the world out for ourselves, and we have to work David Simon shows out for ourselves.
Treme episode 2 demonstrated that. If you wanted a formal ‘plot’ breakdown, I would have to tell you that little happened. LaDonna went home to her family in Baton Rouge for a couple of days but when she returned, the contractor who’d bummed more money off her for shingles still hadn’t repaired the bar’s use. But Toni was there with news that they’d found her missing brother, except that when they took her mother to the jail he was in, it turned out to be Dave Brooks, but not their Dave Brooks.
Antoine drifted around, being Antoine. LaDonna brought a papier-mache elephant made by their younger son to his door,discovered he has a baby girl with his new wife, muttered something about ‘another one’ and buggered off.
David lost his gig at the Radio Station and, in order to get a loan from his wealthy parents, took a job as a Check-in Clerk at a hotel. He didn’t even last twenty-four hours, directing three young Christians (one boy, two girls) to an unrecommended night spot, from which they didn’t return all night. Cue panic, police manhunts, Church franticness, parents flying in from Wisconsin, and Davis being, shall we say, released? That they were safe, having had the time of their lives and effervescently cheerful was irrelevant.
We meet street musicians Sonnyand Annie, played by Michiel Heusman and Lucia Micarelli respectively, credited as cast last week, but only now being introduced, and he looks set to be a junior league asshole like Davis.
Delmond Lambreaux did a recording session with Allen Toussaint, Elvis Costello sitting in, and got busted for smoking a ‘roach. Creighton’s got his novel out again: they’re cutting back at the University. Practically the only thing pertaining to an orthodox plot is Chief Albert Lambreaux. Whilst still trying to get the tribe back, Albert’s tools are stolen. Because he’s who he is, they are returned, but Albert’s set on finding the thief. He comes across him at night, stripping out new house fittings. Albert tries to reason with him, make him see the error of his ways, but the kid’s having none of it. Abruptly, it turns into a fight, or rather a beatdown. The kid ends up flat on his back. Albert has blood on his shirt, and is hands, which he washes off. Is that kid still breathing? That’s going to be important to know.
Incidentally, speaking of blood, do you want to know why Davis got fired from the Radio Station? He’s got in a local musician, Coco Robicheaux, doing a set in the studio. They spitball about the station’s new home, how it’s soulless and plastic. Coco’s setting up a voodoo ritual as they speak, get some soul, some ancestors in here. Davis is into it, but you can see his enthusiasm for the authentic start to take a turn for the worse as Coco produces first a live chicken, than a very large and sharp-looking knife…
Cue credits, but as Davis leaves with his things in a box, we see this big red stain on the wall. That’s what he couldn’t scrub off…
No, it’s a great wave of people’s lives,what we ;earned last week advancing like tide along the beach, some pushing forward, some dragged back, with no particular plot. It has the thickness and solidity of good gumbo from the pot, and those moments of out and out hilarity that people produce, with a cynical comment, or even an exchange of looks, and I haven’t got a lock on these people yet but the more time I spend with them, the more I’ll know.
As for the ordinary viewer, who resents being fucked, well, maybe this type of television programme just isn’t for you. Don’t be greedy, practically everything else is, and there’s already more of it that you can watch anyway. Diversification is paramount, there must be different things, and that includes the series where you actually do have to watch.