May 252011

Kermit Ruffins in HBO's Treme

I don’t have cable, but if I did, I’d have HBO.  And if I had HBO I’d watch Treme.  No questions.  What I do have is 4 kids and a subscription to Netflix.  The former keep me pretty busy, and the latter keeps them pretty busy.  And until we get some streaming action from any Treme episode a la Netflix I’ll remain somewhat informed of what’s what on Treme per the awesome and some might say over-the-top Monday-morning analysis of the previous evening’s episode on  I mean, have you read this?  It’s like a molecular breakdown of every facet of those few minutes, from who recorded what song and why it was playing to why so-and-so said such-and-such.  It’s a little over the top for my taste but allows me to live vicariously through it so I may almost experience each episode.  And from everything I’ve read, not just on, my latest epiphany is this: because Kermit Ruffins is the only character to play himself, Treme is a nice reflection of post-Katrina New Orleans, but it’s moreso the writer’s version of events, not always wholly a true retelling of actual events.  Kind of like Tom Petty in The Postman.  Tom Petty actually played himself in Kevin Costner’s 1997 forgettable and so-so pseudo-futuristic tale.  And Kermit, well, he’s the only cast member to do likewise thereby bending the allowable laws of storytelling.  Wouldn’t you want everyone to play themselves?  Or not at all?  Having one “as himself” changes the whole dynamic.  Steve Zahn is Steve Zahn.  But he plays Davis Rogan.  I mean if Davis played himself – and he could – wouldn’t the dynamic of the show be closer to what’s really real?

Jean-Paul Villere

So far this second season Treme has brought the audience up to 2007, yes?  And Treme started production of the first season in 2009, correct?  So my query is this: what is going to happen when the linear storyline of the show catches up with the linear history of itself creating and shooting the show?  Will Treme write itself into the post Katrina storyline it’s weaving?  Basically, no, it doesn’t have to, but shouldn’t it?  Who would play Steve Zahn playing Davis Rogan?  In my lay understanding nowhere near each Monday’s comprehensive encyclopedic breakdown Treme must Treme itself.  Why?  Because the whole point of the show is to tell New Orleans’ story post Katrina, and whether you want to admit it or not the diurnal tedium of our lives will forever be impacted by the concept and execution of this show  paralleling and in effect documenting the fabric of our culture.  Does Treme always get it right?  I don’t know.  I don’t watch the show.  And I don’t have to to tell you in the event Treme decides not to Treme itself it will wholly get it wrong.  Completely.  They’ve written themselves into our recovery.  Period.  The concept of this of course can get all Escape from Planet of the Apes on you in terms of Davis potentially watching Davis then watching Davis, but don’t overthink it.  It is what it is, and it is the self documentarian’s dilemma.  How much of you do you put into the thing you are creating without over-you-ing it?

This week Treme will wrap filming of its second season, just in time for summer and the inevitable beginning of hurricane season.  Coincidence?  Hell no.  Like many productions running the risk of interrupting cinema in progress remains last on the list.  Beyond that it was announced recently that Treme has been thankfully renewed and will have a third season which is what originally got me to thinking about the documenting self.  A third season brings a linear storyline pretty darn close to when season one began shooting.  I think at the very least they should somehow craft it to where Kermit plays Kermit playing Kermit.  Or not.  I don’t write for the show.  And again, I don’t even watch it.  Treme isn’t science fiction of course and we aren’t talking about time travel here.  But if Treme decides not to even mention itself in its future storylines one may go ahead and scratch one’s head and then ask “Why not?”  Just as red beans are on Monday and Hubig’s pies will shorten your life, Treme plays on Sunday and actively shoots its episodes in the streets and neighborhoods we call home.  They shoot when you least expect it, and often they shoot when you’d rather them not.  The cast members are in line ahead of you in the coffeeshop or outbidding you at a school auction.  They are us, and we are them.  However it gets done, step lightly, Treme.  From what I’ve read, you’ve gotten it mostly right so far.  It’d be a damn shame if you suddenly got all K-Ville, Grisham or TMZ – or worse – all three.  Yikes.

Gumbo party with Julia Roberts, anyone?

Jean-Paul Villere is the owner of Villere Realty and the Du Mois gallery on Freret Street and father of four girls. In addition to his Wednesday column at, he also writes an occasional real-estate blog at and shares his family’s adventures via pedicab on Facebook and Twitter.

  9 Responses to “Jean-Paul Villere: Treme and The Self-Documentarian’s Dilemma”

  1. They filmed here in the East last night and it was as annoying as Uptown. I personally would love for Treme to get super meta. Maybe we could volunteer as extras playing people angry that their parking and streets are blocked off.

  2. Eh. If you watched you’d know that the action on the show started in 2006. As long as they stick to one year per season, they’ll never catch up. And plenty (maybe even most?) folks appearing on the show play themselves. The main characters are played by professional actors. I have no complaints. I think you’re way over-thinking this for a show you haven’t seen. Though, as a viewer, I am interested to see how long they can maintain a cohesive and compelling show as they continue to distance themselves from the event of Katrina.

  3. Actually now that I think about it, it did start at the very end of 2005, but it was a couple months after the storm. My point is it was one year of action throughout the season.

  4. while i doubt the outward-reflex of the internal dynamic in the show would allow the meta to explode, especially since when characters almost always denote (sometimes under breath, sometimes outright) the actual people they are portraying. John Goodman’s character was based on a very real man i knew not very well, but he was an incredible beast of new orleanian fury (RIP ashley morris) and in that second when his name was spoken i wept, like TREME makes me do almost every damn episode.

    The second season ramps up its efforts in authenticity, it gets even more painful for different reasons (crime, fear, and change) than the post-storm ethos in the 1st, and even (we suspect from locals harping on the producers) Davis is beginning become the douche that the real Rogan really is. That’s not a dig. Talk to any bar manager on Frenchman. DR is a douche.

    On the other hand, to both exemplify and defeat your softened point, the chef storyline, as i’m sure you know written by tony bourdain (a nola sycophant in his own right) and if you’ve read and 3 pages of KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL or watched any of his shows, you know is incapable of holding back the wax. Where the rest of the show tread subtly, softly, painfully leading into the hard reality of our social shift post storm, TB is taking his avatar and making her destroy the scenery, the plates, and the hearts of (the also very real and playing themselves) glowing and rising stars of her NYC culinary world.

    Watch the show. I know you’ll feel it. I don’t read the NOLA blog because the one time i did while i appreciated the wiki, i find that my pathos for the work is waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay WAAAAAAAAY waaaaaaaaaaAAAAAAaaAaAaAAAYYYY more important, wonderful, and (believe it or not, somehow) filled with grace than a history of those emotions could ever be properly denoted with annotation and fact. I know there’s artistic freedom at play, we know that it takes more than one onion to make gravy, but it’s still one hell of a meal. And i’m Thanksgiving.

  5. how can you comment about a show you have never even seen. You are an idiot! I’ll make sure to tell the production people I know with Treme to stay the hell out of your gallery. I am sure they would not want to inconvenience you.

    • Linda, if Jean-Paul’s argument here was along the lines of “Treme sux,” I’d probably agree that a column about a show he hadn’t seen would be inappropriate. But instead, he’s raised a pretty interesting question about it as a New Orleanian that I think is perfectly valid.

      Even within the general narrative of the show, Jean-Paul’s idea bears some fruit. How has Treme affected the lives of the people playing themselves? It’s especially relevant, considering that the show is about the challenges facing musicians. Has John Boutte’s life gotten easier since his music began appearing on HBO every week? Is it easier for Kermit Ruffins to find gigs? Even Oliver Thomas – if we’re working toward his downfall, does his willingness to explore it so publicly on HBO become part of the story of his redemption?

      Even from a broader standpoint, there’s a question I would love to be explored. I always wonder why the music of Rebirth and even younger brass bands, when it sounds to me so close to hip hop, fails to find a mainstream national audience. I’d rather be at the Maple Leaf on Tuesday night or Le Bon Temps Roule on Thursday over anything they’ll ever book at UNO Lakefront, but from a national point of view I’m in a decided minority on that – all these musicians I see as heroes are kind of written off as regional acts. Before Treme, I would have guess lack of exposure or the right venue, but the show’s been on a for a year and I haven’t noticed popular music tilting towards New Orleans brass. And I think that continuing national apathy toward New Orleans culture (seen in a meta way by the show’s low ratings) fits right into most of Treme’s central storylines.

    • Linda – I love your comment. Yes, please tell the production people to stay away. I’m sure they will listen to you.

  6. As Brenda said…lots of people play themselves on Treme…from musicians to politicians (Oliver Thomas!) That would be pretty insane if Season 5 comes around and we get a show within a show though…

  7. I understand others play themselves and still others are amalgamations. Too I understand in real life the real people may be less than ideal to be in front of the camera for primary storytelling (read: when one may be considered a douche). This article was a notion only. I never once professed authority on the subject – quite the opposite. If my self-professed ignorance on the subject isn’t enough to entertain the self-documentarian dilemma, forgive my trespassing where the storyline will surely go.

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