music friday: yes, it’s still bruce
what i watched last week

treme, season three finale

And only a few episodes to go in a future, shortened fourth season. Since this episode was made before Treme got its extension, it plays a bit like a series finale, although it’s good to know we’ll get another season, even a truncated one.

Music has always been at the center of Treme, and I’m not exactly certain why it seemed even more important tonight. Perhaps because, in the benefit for LaDonna’s bar, we got to see so many musicians come together to entertain so many of the show’s regular characters. In the end, there’s always the music. Not everyone’s life turns out as they had hoped, but people keep trying, even when it seems futile. For the non-musicians, music is the background of their daily lives, and the focus of their breaks from the routine. For the musicians, music is their lives, to a greater or lesser extent. Two different characters tonight realized they couldn’t completely abandon their love of making music. And for us in the audience, the music provides a break, yes, and joy, yes, but also something deeper. Even an outsider to New Orleans can feel the sense of community where it seems like someone is playing music at any time of the day.

That communal feel is aided by the judicious use of real musicians in cameos (and more). It could seem like stunt casting, but in fact, when Treme’s characters interact with musicians we know, it feels right, because that’s what those characters would be doing if they were “real”, too.

Meanwhile, there’s the expected brilliance of the ensemble acting that comes with every David Simon series. It’s unfair to single anyone out, but Khandi Alexander is always going to get our attention. The biggest imports from The Wire, Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters, do something I would never have thought possible, making us think of them not simply as Bunk and Lester, but also as Antoine and Big Chief. (And a special shout out to the way honorifics are used in Treme. People get called “Chef” or “Chief” because they have earned those titles.) I’ve always loved Kim Dickens. And a couple of non-actors have done quite well here: violinist Lucia Micarelli is a natural, and Phyllis Montana-LeBlanc, whose only prior experience on film was in Spike Lee’s two documentaries about New Orleans, goes beyond “natural” … you could say she’s just playing herself, but no one else could do it better.

There are shows on Sunday nights that get better ratings and more attention … The Walking Dead, Boardwalk Empire, and Homeland are all currently running, for instance. I like them all, especially Homeland. But if I could only watch one, it would be Treme. Grade for season finale: A. Grade for Season Three: A.