'Treme': Tough Times in Post-Katrina New Orleans

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HBO

The natives are restless this week on Treme, and they're angry. Money's tight, and help isn't coming through. "How do you get to sleep at night, man?" Albert challenges an insurance rep after being told that his hurricane insurance doesn't cover floods caused by hurricanes. "I drink," the rep replies.

Poor Jeanette can't keep the gas lines in her restaurant kitchen lit, despite repeated calls to Entergy, and Davis is also furious at the power company after driving into a massive pothole left behind by an Entergy crew. ("New Orleans Cave of Mystery," reads a warning sign.) His music gear is stolen from his wrecked car even though a neighbor offered to watch it for him. "Lagniappe doesn't mean what it used to," Ceighton commiserates.

Still marveling at his discovery of YouTube—this is 2005, after all—Ceighton uploads a profanity-filled rant against those questioning if New Orleans should be rebuilt, complaining that after 9/11 "federal money rained down like rose petals" on New York, but New Orleans is left out in the cold. "Give'em hell, big man," his fans on the street tell him after the video goes viral.

Everyone's feeling some pain. The show opens on Antoine, still unable to play after last week's encounter with the NOPD, sitting alone and impatient in ER waiting room. He begins singing "St. James Infirmary Blues," garnering some smiles and a bit of a chorus. (One old man starts beating time on a trash can.) Luckily, he's got an ex-wife with a dentist for a new husband—LaDonna sends Antoine to Baton Rouge to have Larry fix his mouth, and to see his sons. While there, Antoine makes some fatherly efforts, but he's awkward around his boys, who think "TGI Fridays is da bomb!" and shrug at Antoine's gift of a Saints jersey. It's telling that neither of the boys seems to play music.

Sonny also hits the road with some friends for a show in Houston, telling Annie, "You can work the Square but don't get with any piano player; it would be like cheating." In Texas, he invites himself on stage for a song, only be replaced at the keyboard for the next number. (Increasingly, one starts to cringe before Sonny does or says something, anticipating his mistake, and feeling pained by his earnestness.) Here, he and his NOLA friends get to be the cliché-espousing tourists for a change. "I thought everything was bigger in Texas," he observes, before hitting up a friend for some dope.

But Sonny is a newcomer, too—from Amsterdam, in fact. He met Annie when she was backpacking in Europe, and they moved to NOLA from New York only a couple years ago—surprising (or not) given his vehement defense of the city in past episodes. Back in New Orleans, Annie's playing gigs with Steve Earle (who covered "Way Down in the Hole" for The Wire's season five credits) and Joe Braun of the New Orleans Jazz Vipers. "Baby, he couldn't carry your bow," Joe tells Annie when she protests that she shouldn't play without Sonny.

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Rachael Brown is a writer and analyst for Bellwether Education Partners, a nonprofit organization working to improve educational outcomes for low-income students. A former Atlantic editor, she has written for The Guardian and Smithsonian.com, among other outlets. She is also a former public high school teacher.

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