Davis (Steve Zahn) is a fool, more profane than holy, not without talent, but a fool nonetheless. He loses good women the way others misplace good umbrellas – thoughtlessly if with the best of intentions of not doing so this time again.
In previous seasons, he lost Janette; this season, he’ll be discarded by Annie. The question is never why the women leave him. It’s what drew them to him in the first place.
One thing he does know is talent, be it culinary or musical.
Davis lives at the corner of fan-boy and artist; he’s a little too old for the former and a lot too much of an enthusiast to be the latter. (In this, his women are miles ahead of him – both Janette and Annie are artists who know how to take a tradition and rework it to original ends. Unlike Davis, they aren’t stuck, even when – as in Janette’s case in the current episode – her artistry is the last thing wanted on display.)
In episode six of “Treme” — teleplay by Chris Offutt; story by George Pelecanos & Chris Offutt – Davis is attempting his grand, post-Katrina opera.
It’s a little hard to know what to make of this project. On the one hand, Davis can be a little more than ridiculous, even when he’s right. (His walking tours of New Orleans’ real musical heritage locations are cringe-inducing if accurate.) On the other, he has impeccable taste.
Davis is the Jonathan Schwartz of New Orleans DJs – he only plays the good stuff. Yes, he blows up the show on a regular basis (and gets himself fired and rehired on just as regular a basis) just as he blows up his relationships. Yet there’s not a track he plays where we don’t want to hear more than the drama will allow.
The same is true of his opera. Bankrolled by his aunt Mimi (Elizabeth Ashley having a very good time), he goes to one great musician after another, recruiting them for his grand venture. (He even goes after Fats Domino this week in an attempt to give his project some aunt-demanded star power.)
Davis is the opposite of Nelson Hildago – where Hildago is the outsider who sorely wants into the power structure, Davis wants nothing more than to leave his rich, racist family behind. Of course, to do this, Davis needs his aunt and her money – a bargain that will prove every bit as fraught and perilous as Hildago’s bargain with the powers-that-be.
The problem with Davis’ story is that while we can appreciate his taste, we really can’t appreciate his magnum opus. We hear snatches of it – and what we hear is good. But whether there’s actually a whole – a real, damn, vernacular musical telling of the flood … well, even “Treme” doesn’t have the three or four hours that would entail.
Ever since “The Corner,” David Simon never made the mistake of writing a humorless show. While much of “Treme” has flashes of levity, Davis is the one character who screams comic relief.
This means that unlike Janette – whose food we can’t taste but who gets validated by everyone who comes in contact with it – Davis is never elevated by association. He could be onto something, but then again, he could be … well, Davis.