The Emmy awards were announce yesterday and it was exciting to see some fresh blood in the nominations, including Girls, the much talked about comedy series on HBO, and Game of Thrones, the epic fantasy drama that only got better in its second season. However, there were two glaring omissions as far as I’m concerned, two shows that stand among the finest of all television shows.
Treme, the hour long ensemble drama from David Simon and Eric Overmyer, studies the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in a devastated and rebuilding New Orleans. The series features a stellar cast, among them Steve Zahn, Melissa Leo, David Morse, Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens and Clarke Peters. In its second season, which is available on Blu-ray, Treme gelled as the large number of characters came into their own and became more defined that the show’s first season. In season one, Treme had a lot of ground to cover and it seemed like it ran out of time once the first ten episodes came to an end. I’ll admit, I found my mind drifting during season one. However, in season two, with the addition of veteran actor, Morse, and Jon Seda, as a back door businessman trying to clean up by cleaning up NO, Treme shined.
Much like my beloved Friday Night Lights, Treme isn’t so much plot-driven as it is about the characters that occupy a struggling city trying to pull itself out of the wreckage. And how do they do that? Simple: by relying on each other and, most important for this city founded on the arts, through music. Perhaps that’s why I love Treme so much and watched all ten episodes of season two in just a few nights when the Blu-ray was released. The love of music and the love of creating music and the way creating, playing and listening to music not only soothes the soul, but actually heals it is a theme that runs through Treme. I was moved me to tears in multiple episodes throughout season two. In particular, how the directors allowed us to see violinist, Lucia Micarelli (in the role of Annie) perform and have the music flow from her heart. Those scenes made me recall why I wanted to be a drummer and why I spent hours in my basement during my teens, learning the drum parts to my favorite songs. It’s not just the sense of accomplishment that comes from saying, ”Yeah, I figured out how to play Red Barchetta,’ but also the way playing intricate and passionate music opens the mind and releases stress.
Treme does have a dark side, though. Morse’s role as a police captain unveils the corruption in the police force and the ineffective way crime was deterred during the aftermath of Katrina. Seda’s character works city hall for deals that give him prime real estate, and Sonny (Michiel Huisman) struggles with heroin addiction. The most devastating storyline involves Alexander’s Ladonna, a proud New Orleans native who refuses to give up her family bar. When she’s brutally gang raped she must decide whether to finally leave her hometown or give it one more try. As always, Alexander is one of the finest overlooked actresses on television. Like the best shows you’ll see on TV, Treme offers hope, even when things take shocking, tragic turns, there is always some hope. And I believe that comes from the heart of New Orleans. It comes from the music.
Simon and Overmyer are no strangers to Emmy shuns. Both were producers on The Wire (which Simon co-created), arguably the best drama in the past ten years that nobody watched. Simon was also a writer and producer on Homicide: Life on the Streets (based on the nonfiction book he wrote), another neglected yet brilliant series that was overshadowed in the 90’s by hits like ER and NYPD Blue. Simon claims that they only have four seasons in store for Treme. Rush out and get season two of the show, get caught up, and then start watching it when it returns in the fall. For those of you with HBOGo, both season one and two are streaming.
On the comedy front, I could only shake my head when I read that 30 Rock received a nomination for best comedy after its weakest season, while Louie, the best show on television, comedy or otherwise, was overlooked. Oddly, the series was nominated for best actor, director and writing. Apparently everything about the show is worthy of being called the best… except the show itself! Louis CK, the creator of this series on FX, not only stars, but writes, directs and, until the recent season, edited every episode himself. Numerous accolades have been tossed in the popular comedian’s direction this past year and they’re all deserving. I can think of no other show that can make you bust gut laughing, shock you, make you twitch in your seat due to the uncomfortable subject matter addressed on screen, and sometimes make you break down in tears. Other series may have one or two of these traits, but Louie encompasses them all, sometimes in the same scene.
The series follows the life story of a stand-up comedian named Louie, a divorced father of two. Besides his regular gigs as one of the best comics on the circuit, Louie does his best to be a good dad to two precocious girls (his youngest, Jane, played by Ursula Parker, often steals every scene she’s in) and find love. He also pursues getting laid whenever some woman will let him into her bed, and if that doesn’t work he’s prone to jack off. And even when he does break even by pleasing his girls or even scoring with a woman, the end results aren’t always the happiest of endings.
Season Two, now available on Blu-ray, features guest appearances by Pamela Adlon (CK’s former co-star of his late HBO series, Lucky Louie), Joan Rivers (who caps off her episode in hilarious fashion) and Dane Cook. The Cook episode is particularly interesting because there was a long standing feud between CK and Cook regarding plagiarism on Cook’s part for stealing some of CK’s material. In the episode, CK actually has to approach Cook to try and get concert tickets. True to CK’s acerbic style, he doesn’t shy away from the controversy and the two men discuss the allegations. Kudos to both men for having the balls to address the issue… and make it part of the show! Other highlights include Louie dreaming of buying a house so that his daughters have a better home, and a road trip episode with Louie and his daughters to visit his great grandmother. As always, what starts off as a nice gesture on Louie’s part becomes uncomfortable very fast when the old woman offers the girls a Brazilian nut.
While it was nice that one episode of Louie was chosen for best writing, the goofs at the Academy chose the wrong one. Episodes 11 and 12, “Duckling,” one of the finest half hours of television you will ever see… ever. This remarkable episode follows CK as he takes part in a USO tour of Afghanistan to entertain the troops. When you think USO, images of Bob Hope, large stages and rapt soldiers cheering comedians and showgirls immediately come to mind. In fact, perhaps Louie even thinks that himself. What CK shows us in that episode is men and women- civilians- donning ill-fitting helmets and bullet proof vests, riding in open air helicopters to war torn, desert hills, performing in tents for ten to twenty soldiers at a time. Not only has warfare changed throughout the last fifty years, but so has the way the troops are given just a brief respite from the horrors of war.
In the episode, we watch through Louie’s eyes how just a small dose of home can lift the spirits of the troops. Not only are they moved, but s is he, and you will be, too. Not many television shows, comedy or drama, are willing to show us the war- it’s too depressing. But CK had the balls and the heart to go there with an exceptional episode that was more than deserving of a nomination.
Some of you might be thinking, ”Jeez, Malchus, the Emmy nominations were really diverse this year. Lighten up.” I agree that the Best Drama category was pretty tight and Treme’s chances in that category were slim, but in the acting categories, these voters have to fins a way to start including the actors on these shows. As for Louie, I’m sorry, while all of those comedies are excellent; none of them quite match the quality of FX’s critical hit. CK is our generation’s Charlie Chaplin and the man, and his show, should be recognized accordingly.