Treme: Après Le Deluge
So, and I seem to be doing this a lot more than I intended to, I’ve technically already written about Treme as part of my Postmodern Idiosyncrasies Post One-Hundred Challenge… But that was then and this is now and since the second series has just wound down here in the UK, an unforgivable four months after it aired in the States, and given that my last word on Treme for that came only nine words after the first, I think it’s past time to sing its praises in a more expansive form. Albeit in a critical and enlightening rather than a fawning manner, ideally. Plus it’s either that or review Frank Miller’s Holy Terror, a new comic pitting superheroes against terrorists, and I’m bored of talking about fear and hate and jingoism and I can’t be bothered to review something so-patently and unrelentingly terrible. So I’m going to talk about Treme instead, which is much, much better.
Helmed and written by David Simon of The Wire and Eric Overmyer, less but-still-somewhat of The Wire, the first series of Treme picked up three months after Hurricane Katrina had devastated New Orleans, dropping in and out of the stories of people struggling to rebuild their lives and their city in the face of economic hardship and the political apathy of the W. Bush administration. In some ways the story strands for every character or group of characters could almost have been separated into a few discrete story arcs, each spread over an episode or three, but to disentangle the lives of the inhabitants of New Orleans in the programme would be to separate the sense of community, of shared experience that Simon and Overmyer have brought to the fore. This life, the background for some and all there is for others, is played out in the clubs and bars and on the radio as the city’s music revivifies, commemorates and commiserates the heritage of New Orleans by turns.
Not that this programme is a glorified musical showcase; as was the case with The Wire, Treme is both a character-lead drama as much as it is a paean to the place it calls home, casting a critical eye over the troubles, both those inflicted from within and without, of New Orleans. Drawing several actors from previous David Simon shows, including Wendell Pierce, Clark Peters and Khandi Alexander, Treme also stars a number of musicians, such as violinist Lucia Micarelli, with more well-known names like Steve Earle and Elvis Costello dropping in for cameos too. There are also a few appearances by chefs, since the food of New Orleans is shown as second only to the food in binding its denizens together, a unique amalgamation of borrowed cuisines to suit the palate of the city’s many cultural influences. Nonetheless, even in a show whose drama is all incredibly personal and where the closest thing to a deus ex machina is the passage of time, the quality of the ensemble’s acting is uniformly excellent.
It might be fair to say that if you have an antipathy or active dislike for the music and culture of New Orleans then the ratio of drama to musical performance might leave you feeling a little underwhelmed despite the fact that each episode runs to an hour, though if that’s your reason for not watching Treme then I question both your taste and your motivations. Frankly the biggest barrier to Treme’s success is its pacing, tending more often than not to a gentility and a mannered delivery that a modern audience has largely been trained to see as almost glacial. It’s hard to give this programme an unqualified recommendation, since it lacks the relative immediacy of Generation Kill or the tension of The Wire, but in terms of the scope of television for building characters, building a message around the shared overcoming of strife, it’s a piece of work that exceeds even the often lofty standards of some of David Simon’s more famous writing.