Ken Tucker
May 10, 2010 AT 01:53 PM EDT

Lots happened on Treme last night. Lots happens every week on Treme — the series’ carefully modulated rhythms, meant to echo that of the music that engulfs the show, can often lull you into thinking the drama is meandering when in fact it’s coursing along with vigor.

Guest stars and cameos were notable for being a cut above the usual oh-look-there’s-a-famous-face. Tim Reid played a tough but fair-minded judge. Reid, best known as Venus Flytrap on WKRP in Cincinnati, was the co-creator (with Hugh Wilson) of the 1987-88 dramedy Frank’s Place, a beautiful mood-piece set in New Orleans that never got the audience it deserved. It makes complete sense that Treme‘s David Simon might have admired that show, and invited Reid on to allow us to make connections between two rare New Orleans shows that play against cultural stereotypes.

Tom Colicchio and a passel of other celebrity-chef palls strolled into Janette’s (Kim Dickens) troubled restaurant. (Was Eric Ripert getting a little flirty with Janette there, exaggerating his French accent for effect?) In a quick scene that had all the suspense of a full-fledged Top Chef quick-fire challenge, Janette and her crew whipped up a fine meal for the visiting culinary dignitaries.

The first-rate writer and humorist Roy Blount Jr., showed up in a separate restaurant scene to bestow a compliment upon John Goodman’s Creighton Bernette. Blount, who’s written frequently about the complexities and pleasures of language, particularly common speech, played himself, praising Creighton for his profane, increasingly viral YouTube rants. In a nice touch, Creighton walks away from the encounter to tell his wife Toni (Melissa Leo) that he thinks Blount just insulted him, because he feels that no one of Blount’s stature would be impressed by a man yelling “f—” in a YouTube video. We, however, knew Blount was being sincere, because the camera slipped back to eavesdrop on Blount’s conversation with his tablemates, and we overheard him say that sometimes obscenity is the only way to express a forceful opinion.

I’ll narrow the numerous regular-cast subplots to one of the most important, and most troublesome (more on Ladonna’s brother and Antoine’s trombone next week, I promise):

Steve Zahn’s Davis McAlary was so central to the night’s hour that the episode was named after the song we saw him recording, “Shame, Shame, Shame.” No, not the great 1974 Shirley and Company disco hit, but a political-campaign screed that might more fully be titled by its choral phrase, “Shame, Shame, Shame On You Now Dubya.” It’s part of Davis’ nascent political campaign, making explicit his politics.

For me and I’ll bet some of you, Zahn’s character is the weak link in Treme. Zahn is playing him as an ultra-Zahn character — a self-absorbed speed-rapper whom we’re supposed to find funny and endearing, but on Treme he’s frequently crossed over into mere irritation. I’ve liked Zahn’s work well enough in movies such as Joy Ride and Shattered Glass, but he can also aloow himself to be used as facile comic relief, as he was in 2005’s Sahara and, increasingly, in Treme. We’re supposed to think that, in Treme, Davis’ hopped-up disc jockey — a guy who truly loves the music and culture but gets side-tracked by dope-smoking and horniness — is a well-intentioned fellow. But Zahn’s in danger of becoming a one-note actor whose mannerisms bury his talent: the Michael J. Pollard of his generation.

The hour ended this week with a remarkable, intricately filmed recreation of the “ReNew Orleans” second-line parade that carried us out on a wave of rich, loamy music whose joyous mood was marred by gunshots. As always on Treme, it seems, pleasure will mix with pain.

Did you watch? What do you think about the episode in general, and about Zahn’s Davis in particular?

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