Tag Archives: Wendell Pierce

New on Blu-ray: ‘Treme: The Complete Third Season’

Wendell Pierce stars as trombonist Antoine Batiste in a new Blu-ray release of 'Treme' Season Three.

Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) tries to help a special-needs student among his band members in Season Three of ‘Treme,’ available today on DVD and Blu-ray.

Strictly in terms of ratings and media buzz, Treme is the red-headed stepchild among HBO’s dramatic series. This complex and compelling ensemble drama from The Wire colleagues David Simon and Eric Overmyer is a love letter to the city of New Orleans, warts and all, in the months and years following the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. Like The Wire, Treme addresses complicated issues of ethnic identity, political corruption and moral relativism in powerful, character-driven scenes performed by a dazzling cast.
In other words, don’t expect any dragons or sexy vampires.
So maybe it’s not surprising that Treme has flown under the radar of many HBO subscribers, despite a 2011 George Foster Peabody Award, with the judges applauding how “the storylines snake and swoop like an unhurried jazz jam in this rich drama.” Treme likewise has received scant attention from Emmy voters, netting only two nominations (no wins) to date.
I didn’t catch up with Treme until HBO aired its third season, which HBO Home Entertainment releases today on Blu-ray and DVD in an extras-rich four-disc set. Although the impact of this series is cumulative and relies in large part on your familiarity with the characters, I had little trouble jumping in and following the stories and relationships, although I simultaneously was playing catch-up on Seasons One and Two. Those first two seasons, which included the suicide of one beloved main character and the sexual assault on another, were always engrossing yet sometimes grueling to endure.
Season Three, which opens two years after Hurricane Katrina’s devastation, is more upbeat in tone, although stories of widespread police corruption and corporate fraud still have the power to boost your blood pressure by several points.
In the 10 episodes of this set, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) becomes deeply invested in helping a special-needs student among his middle-school band members, while his ex-wife, LaDonna (Khandi Alexander), tries to cope with terrifying threats as she awaits the trial of her assailant. Crusading attorney Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) and New Orleans homicide Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse) both face steep uphill battles as they try to expose the rot within the local police department, and chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) returns to New Orleans when an entrepreneur offers her a restaurant gig that seems too good to be true (spoiler alert: It is). Elsewhere, erstwhile DJ David McAlary (Steve Zahn) and his girlfriend, Annie Tee (Lucia Micarelli), start to drift apart when she takes her band, Bayou Cadillac, on tour and he becomes obsessed with writing a rhythm-and-blues opera about Katrina.
Even if you caught Season Three when it aired on HBO last fall, this new home video set is crammed with so many special features that any Treme fan will want to add it to his collection. Audio commentaries from the creative team include Simon, director Tim Robbins (who helmed this season’s stunning plus-sized Mardi Gras episode), and cast members Pierce, Alexander, Rob Brown and Clarke Peters, among several others.
There are also three “Behind Treme” featurettes spotlighting the fantastic culinary dishes featured in the show, a short profile of the Neville Brothers and a revelatory 10-minute interview with Simon, a former journalist who freely admits that in Treme, as well as his previous fact-based HBO dramas The Wire and Generation Kill, his primary goal isn’t simple entertainment.
“That doesn’t mean I believe the shows aren’t responsible for being entertaining on some level,” he explains. “But it’s not what I got into the writing business for. I was more interested in the real. I was more interested in conveying the arguments and debates and discussions about what the world is.”
The set also includes multiple features focusing on the extraordinary music showcased in Treme, including music commentaries on each episode from Patrick Jarenwattananon of NPR Music and Josh Jackson of WBGO, a public radio station with a heavy jazz emphasis.
In short, HBO Home Entertainment clearly has lavished a lot of love and respect on this video set, and if you sample it, you’re likely to find yourself never wanting to leave the troubled yet beautiful world Treme evokes with such aching perfection. It also will have you jonesing for the fourth and final season of Treme, which begins Dec. 1.
Kim Dickens stars as visionary chef Janette Desautel in Season Three of 'Treme.'

Visionary chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) returns to New Orleans to open her own restaurant in Season Three of ‘Treme,’ available today on Blu-ray and DVD.

Mike vs. Mork

Tonight’s TV lineup is packed with the return of such hits as The Big Bang Theory, Grey’s Anatomy, Parks and Recreation and Elementary, but it’s the return to series TV of two A-list stars, Michael J. Fox and Robin Williams, that’s the most noteworthy. Their respective sitcoms, NBC’s The Michael J. Fox Show and The Crazy Ones on CBS, both show a lot of promise, but NBC’s decision to launch Fox’s series with two back-to-back episodes means that, tonight only, the two shows are time-slot rivals at 9 p.m. Eastern/Pacific.
CBS is giving The Crazy Ones a dream lead-in with a double episode of The Big Bang Theory, but even so, I suspect The Michael J. Fox Show may very well win tonight’s face-off. While a lot of people probably assumed Fox’s career was pretty much over when he went public with his status as a Parkinson’s disease sufferer in 1999, he has rebounded in recent years via his very popular (and Emmy-nominated) recurring comic role on The Good Wife as Louis Canning, a Parkinson’s-afflicted attorney who aggressively exploits his disability to score courtroom points.
Fox and the creators of his NBC sitcom have taken a page from that same playbook for his role as Mike Henry, who was a beloved presence on the New York TV news scene before a Parkinson’s diagnosis led him to retire five years ago to spend more time with his schoolteacher wife, Annie (Betsy Brandt, Breaking Bad), and their three kids.
Since Mike left, ratings at his old station have steadily fallen, and his former boss, Harris (Wendell Pierce, Treme) is begging him to return to work. Mike’s understandably reluctant, however.
“I don’t want a pity job,” he tells Harris. “We both know that if I come back, NBC is going to milk it by showing me in slow motion with lame, uplifting music in the background.”
Eventually, of course, Mike decides to accept Harris’ offer, setting up the show’s split focus between family life and workplace. It’s a solid set-up. I just wish it were funnier.
You can’t blame the cast for that. Mike and Annie’s three kids may be standard sitcom issue, but in addition to Brandt and Pierce, clearly relishing this chance to show off their comedy chops after years of intensity on their respective drama projects, the show also co-stars two-time Tony Award winner Katie Finneran as Leigh, Mike’s comically neurotic younger sister, with recurring roles for Candice Bergen and Charles Grodin (as Mike’s parents) and Anne Heche as Susan, Mike’s bitchy anchor rival at the station.
Nope, the problem, as usual, is the writing. Fox and Brandt have a wonderful, sexy chemistry together, so they can make even underwritten moments seem funny just because they feel so true. Otherwise, though, the story lines seem sitcom-stale. Mike develops a crush on a pretty upstairs neighbor (guest star Tracy Pollan, Fox’s real-life wife and former Family Ties co-star). Teenage daughter Eve (Juliette Goglia) tries to up her hipness by befriending a lesbian. Hypersensitive Leigh pressures Annie for her opinion on Mane Attraction, a ghastly teen novel Leigh has written about a boy who turns into a horse at night. (OK, that last one is pretty funny.)
The writers compound the problem by falling back on the tired mockumentary device of making Eve a vlogger, so she’s constantly taping the other characters, allowing them to talk directly to the camera. What once seemed fresh in a single-camera sitcom like this one now just feels more like lazy writing.
Despite that, The Michael J. Fox Show has done so many things right that it’s impossible not to hope the show will grow into a bona fide comedy hit. NBC certainly could use one, but then, so could we.
The Crazy Ones, on the other hand, is a much harder show to call. The sitcom, from executive producer David E. Kelley, stars Emmy and Oscar winner Williams as Simon Roberts, a former advertising wunderkind who is starting to doubt himself now that he’s reached AARP member status. His no-nonsense daughter and creative director, Sydney (Sarah Michelle Gellar), worries about him, and, in tonight’s premiere, the future of their company: McDonald’s, which represents 60 percent of their business, is leaning toward going to another agency.
Simon’s only hope is to land a major talent to star in a series of new ads, but when he and his handsome protégé, Zach (James Wolk, Mad Men), pitch singer Kelly Clarkson on the prospect, she agrees to consider it only if they’ll tailor it to the sexy new image she’s trying to cultivate.
“So we just need to come up with a meat-related sex song,” Zach sums up.
“…for a family restaurant,” Simon adds. “How hard could that be, really? It almost writes itself!”
The two men then launch into what such a song might sound like. This heavily improvised scene is comedy gold, with Wolk (who knew this guy could be so funny?) and Williams riffing seamlessly like longtime improv partners.
Given that each episode will feature a different real-world client (and, presumably, a name guest star playing himself), it’s hard to imagine what this show will look and feel like on a week-to-week basis, especially because Clarkson, I have to say, absolutely throws herself into her guest role, scoring her own big laughs and, I suspect, launching a credible acting career, if she chooses.
Then again, Simon’s motto, often referenced in tonight’s pilot, is “Leap and the net shall appear.” After years of watching him work without a net, I’m inclined to give Williams the benefit of the doubt, but mark my words, if this show becomes a hit, it’s Wolk who’s going to be red-hot and superstar-ready.
The Crazy Ones may take a ratings hit on its first outing tonight, if The Michael J. Fox Show opens as strongly as I expect it to, but next week Crazy will be up against the premiere of Sean Hayes’ weaker new sitcom, Sean Saves the World. It’ll be interesting to see how this Thursday-night network rivalry eventually shakes out.
James wolk
James Wolk