Generation Kill


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The brilliant David Simon, who we all have much to thank for, because of all of the outstanding television he has brought us, and continues to bring us (The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, Treme), and for his vocal and intelligent stance as an opponent of the war on drugs and really, as a gleaming light post for contemporary reform, says the following in the forward of the director’s cut from season 1, episode 11, “The Hunt”:

So, you have to look at what the Baltimore Police Department was doing in the war on drugs.  They were consumed by the idea of statistics.  Of dope on the table.  To this day, when a police department puts dope on the table or guns on the table, you know, ‘we did a raid yesterday and we seized these drugs and these guns’ and they call a press conference.  The city is awash in heroin, cocaine, and guns.  Any street cop can go out and make a gun case or certainly a drug case.  It’s like the entire city is swimming and they’ve literally put a beeker of water on the table and gone, look, we’ve done police work.  But dope on the table works.  The cameras always come.  The cameras always say ‘ah, they’re fighting the war on drugs’ and what they’re not doing is anything meaningful in the way of  police work.  They were locking up more people for drugs than ever before, the rates of violence went up, and their ability to solve those crimes of violence went down, because they had taught a whole generation of cops not how to do police work.  They taught them how to go up on the corner and jack a guy up, go in his pockets, get a vial here, a vial there.  To actually solve a string of robberies on your post, to actually solve a murder, to actually solve a string of rapes?  That requires police work.”

While Simon’s words do ring especially true, his depiction of the above through the paradigm of West Baltimore that he created, probably made for the best television ever in the realism genre.  Are you asking if I’m really going to do this?  Am I really going to review a show that had it’s original air date in August of 2002?

No.  I’m going to review parts of two Wire episodes (s1, e10, “The Cost”, s1, e11, “The Hunt”) because the masterful sequence in specific I’d like to discuss cuts off at the end of episode 10 and picks back up at the beginning of episode 11. 

In “The Cost”, the episode is framed around a buy and bust.  The police higher-ups, impatient that the bust-for-show they have demanded hasn’t come off yet, order Lieutenant Daniels (Lance Reddick), whose unit is up on a wire on West Baltimore’s most dangerous and successful drug gang, to arrange for a quick bust that they feel will make them look good.  The squad concocts a plausible scenario–to them.  Orlando (Clayon LeBouef), who has already been busted, is looking to buy weight from Avon’s (Wood Harris) crew, and will have his girlfriend along for the ride–Detective Greggs (Sonja Sohn) undercover.

Is that a good plan?  Orlando already got busted, and is out.  Any street person would be suspicious of that.  You get busted, you don’t make bail in those parts.  But Orlando is out, so obviously, he’s been snitching.  If Orlando was going to make bail, it would have been Avon’s crew who bailed him out.  But Avon only needed Orlando’s name on the liquor license at the strip joint he owned, and once his name got dirty, he no longer needed him.  So this crew that owns West Baltimore is supposed to believe that Orlando, who got busted in the first place because he tried to step out and sell a package because he needed money, somehow got his bail arranged in some way that didn’t involve cooperating with the police.

They don’t believe it for a second.  The police keep trying to convince themselves that it’s a good plan because they think it’s plausible that Orlando needs to go buy weight to make money to pay his legal fees.  And they convince themselves that it’s also plausible that Kima be there too, playing the girlfriend that Savino (Chris Clanton), the dealer they are procuring from, doesn’t know and has never heard of, despite knowing Orlando very well.  As a viewer, you are sitting there saying “I can’t believe the police are stupid enough to try this.”

But they are.  And that’s the foundation for The Wire’s chilling platform of realism.  The bureaucracies do not work well, and function nowhere near as effectively as the criminals.  Over the course of The Wire’s full run, Simon and Ed Burns would expose the failings of Baltimore’s city government, courts, educational system, prisons, and newspapers as well.   But for perhaps television’s best show ever, there were few moments that better illustrated the stark contrast between the effectiveness of the criminals and the ineptitude of the law.

From the moment that Kima gets in Orlando’s car, Simon plunges us into this vacuum of chaos that gets exponentially more intense with each second.  Though there are detectives in cars just a few blocks away, they are unable to locate Orlando’s car because the drug dealers have turned all the street signs in order to “fuck with the cops.”  Kima, who’s wired, is trying to give her location by rattling off street names from the back seat of Orlando’s car, but she doesn’t really have any idea where she really is, and even “foxtrot”, the B.P.D.’s helicopter unit can not locate them, as Savino has now made off with their money, and while Orlando and Greggs sit helplessly in the car waiting for their drugs like sitting ducks.

Gunmen take over from there.  Orlando the snitch is dead, and Kima is officer down.  Her squad, who were desperately and helplessly trying to find her, still can’t find her, and are all screaming “OFFICER DOWN!” into their radios frantically.  These are cops–for all their faults–who operate essentially as rogues who are always looking to circumvent the chain of command, but who are all extremely dedicated to their detail and to each other.  Incredible acting performances are turned in by Lance Reddick (Brooklyn holler!) , John Doman (Brooklyn holler!), Dominic West, Seth Gilliam, Clarke Peters (Treme), Dominick Lombardozzi, and Corey Parker Robinson.

Carver (Seth Gilliam) brings the news to Kima’s partner, and then brings her to the hospital, and asks D.C.O. Burrell (Frankie Faison) and Lt. Daniels if someone will say a word to her.  The entire force was galvanized when one of their own went down, for sure, and Greggs’ heroism was appreciated.  We know this because in a gripping exchange between Rawls (Doman) and McNulty (West), Rawls implores McNulty not to blame himself for the situation, that he “didn’t do one thing to get a police shot” and that the “only moral here is that she took 2 for the unit.”  But when Burrell informs the commissioner, and the commissioner sees that Greggs has a lesbian partner, he declines to offer her his support. 

After the shooting, it’s fascinating to hear the chatter over the wire regarding the shooting–clearly the police’s best resource, and maybe only real resource, when it comes to doing real police work, despite objections from the very top of the force over the wire’s expense and slow and deliberate way of delivering information.

I have zero interest in cop shows.  The Wire has always been so much more than that.  The Wire is by far the greatest show of its kind and has brought a much higher standard to realism in television and film.  I know a lot of you missed it the first time around, and that’s shameful.  But having forever missed it would be unforgiveable.  Try to catch it.  Season 1 is airing frequently on Directv’s channel 101, with episode 12 to come Sunday night.

Unless for some crazy reason, that’s not how you carry it.

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Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com, www.crackbillionair.com)

A grieving Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) above.

My brother’s gone.  Lotta people gone.  The people left have to worry about the day to day.

                                                                                                                                                                     –LaDonna

In Treme’s s1 e9, entitled “I Wish Someone Would Care”, David Simon did the unthinkable, killing off Creighton Bernette, played by John Goodman, who, if he wasn’t the show’s biggest star, then certainly a strong case could be made for him as its most pivotal character and most ardent advocate for the beleaguered city.  Bernette, disgusted by events in New Orleans post Katrina, jumped off of a New Orleans’ ferry boat in “I Wish Someone Would Care” in a defining moment for the young Treme, David Simon’s and Eric Overmanyer’s latest masterpiece in television realism, which comes on the heels of HBO’s Generation Kill and the cult classic and our favorite television show ever, The Wire.

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We have lampooned Treme a bit early on for being too dependent on obscure jazz terminology, and New Orleans, for as a city as dire as it is post Katrina, would still make Simon’s and Burn’s depiction of Baltimore look like the demolished city and the crescent one look like a washed out cradle of culture populated by a few displaced musicians.  But Treme distinguished itself as master reality television in its own right with a tremendous first season, who by the weight of characters and action, now have us hanging on the fate of new Orleans’ great displaced community.  Treme  built to the Bernette suicide with deft foreshadowing, and went back to it’s most pressing storyline as it opened s1 e10, “I’ll Fly Away” with detectives talking to Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo), Creighton’s wife, and relaying to her the story of the ferry operator, who a fellow rider told shared a smoke with Creighton Bernette, saw the “big guy” walk over to the edge, looked back a minute later, and that man was gone.

Toni Bernette, a pit bull of an attorney and perhaps the only character besides the musicians who has gotten anything done professionally in Simon’s post Katrina Treme, tells the officers that the man could have easily gone inside the boat and may have been taking a ferry “joy ride” when they tell her the big guy did not get off the boat in Algiers, and proceed to ask her if Bernette was under any pressure or whether he was on any medications.  The next time we see Toni Bernette, she is crying hysterically on her couch when her daughter, Sophia (India Ennenga) comes home looking for word of her father.  Toni just shakes her head in the negative, and the two embrace each other on the couch.

The news is read in the local paper by Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) and Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens, Deadwood), together at a breakfast cafe, and both recognize that they know the man from the ferry–McAlary teaches piano to his daughter and Bernette’s wife is McAlary’s attorney, and Desautel recognizes him too, from her closed up restaurant, and says “that’s Cray.”

Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), the chief, readies his band of Indians to march, as they are hunkered down in the throes of the final preparations on their magnificent costumes when he is paid a visit by a police commander, who tells him he is worried that he will not be able to keep the peace between his forces and the tribe during the march.  The chief has developed a high profile politically by publicly squatting at a housing complex, shut since Katrina, which is one of many that still have power and are inhabitable, yet the federal government has kept shuttered, because they do not want the residents of such low income housing developments returning to their homes, in what was the poorest city in the nation per capita before Katrina hit.  The chief exacerbated his problems with the police by forcefully resisting arrest when the police came to remove him from the complex.

Toni Bernette refuses to stop and mourn for her husband, and arranges for his body to be cremated, over suggestions that she might want to give him a proper New Orleans funeral, with a band, that it might be best for her daughter.  Bernette bristles at the notion, and says that everyone else was doing their best every day, and that her husband just gave up.  Instead, she will be there for LaDonna’s (Khandi Alexander) family, as David Brooks, LaDonna’s brother, lost in the system since being arrested on the night of the flood, is finally being laid to rest.

Davis, granted a day by Janette to convince her of the virtues of New Orleans in attempt to stop her from moving to New York, having failed in the New Orleans restaurant business, gives it his best shot, starting early at her door, a singer in toe who serenades her when she greets them, and then takes Janette on a day of New Orleans filled activities.  That night they find themselves in front of a live band, of course, that Antoine Battiste (Wendell Pierce, The Wire) is playing with in a bar, where they dance to Drink a Little Poison Before You Die, before one last romantic interlude with Janette leaving town the next morning.

The talented violinst Annie (Lucia Miccarelli), who had left Sonny (Michiel Huisman), her piano playing street performing boyfriend hooked on heroin, finds the transient lifestyle very difficult, and returns to Sonny’s place, to find another woman there, and then quickly flees again.  It sends Sonny out to a bar to score heroin, which he snorts off a dirty sink in the bar’s bathroom (below) and leaves Annie, the sweet character clearly at a crossroads, who came to New Orleans with Sonny, firmly entrenched in doubt about her future.

The chief’s tribe, late in its march, runs into a another tribe, whose rival chief, adorned in yellow feathers, seems to have Albert beaten, costume wise.  The two men come to loggerheads, then shake hands.  Delmond (Rob Brown), Albert’s son, explains to a younger tribesman that the two chiefs embraced out of respect, and that it was “respect for respect.” 

When police cars screech out to the scene of their march, lights blazing, we see more “respect for respect”, when a senior officer commands some angry cops who are mad at Albert for swinging on a cop during his public stand on housing to get back in their cars.  “Get back in your damn car.  Now God damn it!” 

The next morning, we see Delmond, who also happens to be a successful New York jazz musician, at the airport, waiting for a flight in a seat near Janette, also on her way to New York.  We see Annie on Davis’s stoop holding his party invite as he returns home from his last day with Janette, a fitting end of the season for 2 characters who seemed to bond well, impromptu, during the Fat Tuesday celebration.  Also, a deserving end for Annie, who has all along deserved better circumstances.

Then, artfully done, the season ends with the funeral of David Brooks, juxtaposed with the night of the storm, showing vignettes of all the main characters and where they were right before and during the storm–all seemingly pretty happy before and some during–notably, Creighton alive and well with his family, Annie and Sonny dancing and kissing in the streets, and giving a face to David Brooks, who had until then, been just a name who LaDonna and her mother pined for, and who Toni Bernette tried so hard to see justice for.  It was an excellent way to show the contrast between pre and post Katrina Treme, before showing us something that would have been an injustice had we gone the year without seeing: a proper New Orleans funeral march.

And the recently widowed Toni Bernette marched, and smiled as LaDonna danced.

–Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

 

The most vocal and esteemed advocate for post Katrina in David Simon’s and Eric Overmayer’s Treme, writer/professor/youtuber Creighton Bernett took the plunge off of a New Orleans’ ferry boat in last week’s episode, s1 e9, “I wish Someone Would Care.”

The apparent suicide has already sent shockwaves through Treme’s fanbase, though from our perspective, the plot point is crucial to Treme’s developing identity, even if it came at the expense of one of the show’s best actors, John Goodman, who played Creighton Bernett.  The affable and sometimes ornery Bernett, frustrated by the ruination of his beloved New Orleans, and by his inability to get a novel finished that his agent pushed him to try to make a more contemporary story of New Orleans than the 1920’s flood which was the novel’s subject, had spent many a night of late, up late, staring at his word program, deleting things he had just written, and ripping up whole pages he had typed, in disgust.

Then Fat Tuesday came, and Bernett, who was looking forward to the celebration, seemed to lose his taste for it almost immediately when it began, and went home early and got drunk.  Famous for youtubing a diatribe in which his salutation to the world was, “Fuck you, you fucking fucks!”, Bernett went back to youtube and lamented the destruction of New Orleans, which he said, “had a good run” and “will never be the same.”  Bernette also took his daughter Sophia on a somber tour of the city, narrated by Bernette, also a historian.

Sunday night, it would seem that Bernett checked out of the new New Orleans, one he just couldn’t bare, despite a good marriage, an intelligent, beautiful  daughter, a writing career, and job teaching at the University.  His suicide was  foreshadowed  in his english class, where he taught The Awakening by Chopin, which ends with lead character, Edna Pontellier, fed up by societal norms and her place as a late 19th century woman, drowning herself. 

For Treme, Bernett’s suicide marks the second and most resounding plot point, that let’s you know how broken New Orleans is, despite the people who go on partying, and playing their music, full of spirit.  A few weeks back, we learned that David Brooks, LaDonna’s (Khandi Alexander) brother, who had been arrested on the night of Katrina and who was then lost by the system, was dead.  For Brooks and for Treme, there could be no other fate, on a show whose point is depicting a broken city.

But Brooks was a character without a face, or personality.  Bernett’s zest for life, and for his city, may quite well have been the most notable hallmark of the young show.  And in s1 e10, this year’s Treme finale, “I’ll Fly Away”, the excellent ensemble cast will begin to reconfigure itself around the hole Goodman leaves.  It also stamps a new hallmark on Treme, which has so far dealt with death in a superficial way, but which now will have to look death straight in the face, in a Wire-esque turn of events, that, though foreshadowed, sends the message loud and clear, that like on any great HBO drama, almost anyone can die at any time.

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So Bernette kissed his wife (Toni, Melissa Leo) and daughter (India Ennenga) in the morning, and gave them messages of encouragement in his last words to them, and then headed to school, where he explained to students who struggled to understand The Awakening and who thought it depressing, that the end of the book and Edna’s suicide was not the end, just a transition.  He no doubt believed that his own suicide would represent the same, and we believe that the sad death will represent a bit of a transition for the show, which has had a season to find the right pace.  Goodman’s Bernett’s passing also represents the firm establishment of an excellent tone for the show, which we now know, will not just gloss over death with funeral bands.

That doesn’t mean the bands won’t be in step and ready to go, no matter who happens to be in the coffin.

–Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)

With long anticipation I awaited David Simon’s new HBO series, Treme (Trem-may), about the historic New Orleans section steeped in Jazz history and oozing with culture, and how this section of the city deals with the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.  David Simon, who brought HBO The Corner and Generation Kill, made television magic for 5 seasons with the cult classic television masterpiece, The Wire, about his home town, Baltimore, Maryland, or as we prefer from the shows credits and The Wire’s gritty, soulful theme song, Way Down in the Hole (written by Tom Waits), “Bodymore Murdaland.”  I thought Harlem was gritty.  I have friends who live there though, in beautiful apartments with huge gardens–in the borough of Manhattan.  Well, after seing a little of David Simon’s and Ed Burns’s The Wire, I understood poverty, civic mismanagement, the heroin trade, corrupt police, and life in the ghetto in a whole new light.  New York is candyland compared to Baltimore.  Fifty years worth of television shows about New York did not equal one episode of The Wire’s gritty brand of realism.

I am quite convinced that nobody does television better than David Simon.  And I was very excited to see that he was doing a show about a subject dear to me–New Orleans, on HBO.  Generation Kill, the HBO series about the current war in Iraq was realistic to the laymen’s eye, if not exactly compelling.  It established Alexander Skarsgard in my mind as an excellent actor (Vampire Eric, True Blood), and brought James Ransone (Ziggy, The Wire) and Lee Tergesen (Beacher, Oz) back to prominent roles on HBO.  Perhaps Generation Kill was too realistic for me.  I didn’t like seeing our boys under-staffed and under-equipped, struggling in the Iraqi desert fighting George Bush’s oil war.

I have been to New Orleans.  I have family there.  I have vacationed there with 7 of my best friends on this planet and had one of the best times in my life.  New Orleans is a warm city, a real city, a historic city with French flavor, and the only place I’ve been where people own the streets, and not cars.  It is also an impoverished city–last I checked, the most impoverished, where the people had a per capita income of less than $10,000 a year.

And then Katrina came.  I’m not going to pretend I know enough about the storm or the George Bush fly by or the way in which our nation turned its back on one of our finest cities–the finest, aside from New York, of course, and maybe Las Vegas, which is great for totally different reasons.  That’s fine and good, because I’d rather have David Simon tell it to me anyway.  Finally equipped with some budget by HBO, Simon and Eric Overmayer have cast some notable stars.  Steve Zahn, in his first television series, plays Deejay Davis McAlary, a musician and advocate for the people, and an unlikely political candidate who wants to sell cannabis to create revenue for the city.  John Goodman plays author and New Orleans spokesperson, Creighton Bernette, now famous for a youtube rant capped off by “Fuck you, you fucking fucks!”  His wife, Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo), is a lawyer on a mission to find a boy lost in the system in the wake of the flood, and while she finds a little more evidence every week despite the hurdles put up by the courts and the police, the mystery of what happened to David Brooks is probably the most compelling storyline Treme has established so far, though it is sure to end predictably.  Wendell Pierce (Bunk, The Wire), plays Antoine Battiste, a legendary musician struggling in post Katrina Treme, and Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon, The Wire), plays Albert Lambreaux, or “the chief”, a Mardi Gras high priest with native blood who returns to the city, but realizes that the federal government won’t allow many of his people to do the same.  Kim Dickens (Joannie, Deadwood) plays a chef at a fine Treme restaurant who can cook the lights out, but who struggles to keep the lights on in her establishment, despite wowing a bunch of fancy New York chefs.  And she also plays Davis McAlary’s love interest.

Khandi Alexander (The Corner, News Radio), plays Antoine Batiste’s ex.  She owns a Treme bar and is the sister of the lost boy, David Brooks.  The very talented actress and violinist Luicia Micarelli plays “Annie”, a fine musician stuck in an odd, abusive relationship with Jazz pianist Sonny (Michiel Huisman), struggling with heroin addiction.

Sonny and Annie (above).

There has not been one bad performance from a stellar cast that’s still gelling, and knowing David Simon, I expect every episode to be better than the last.  But while New Orleans is a far better city than Baltimore, it doesn’t make for better drama.  They can flood the cast with recognizable talent, no pun intended, but I’d take a bunch of nobodies with glocks and Navigators, over struggling musicians and their obscure musical terminology, even if they bring to life a city I so fondly connect with.

New Orleans deserves a show.  They deserve a show about post Katrina, and they deserve that David Simon be the man to deliver it, on HBO.  They deserve a second season too, which Treme has already had greenlit by HBO.  Simply put though, the bar has been set too high. 

Treme is one of the best shows on television right now and I’m glad to have it.  Even if the production is more proof that The Wire is gone forever, and will not even be replicated by the same minds and similar faces, airlifted to a different locale.

Treme, 10 PM, Sundays on HBO.  It may not be what you want, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a show worth your time.

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Be A Critic,

Crack (https://crackbillionair.wordpress.com)