MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, Md., December 8, 2012 – The HBO series “Treme” is unique, even by HBO standards. It includes raw violence, sex, music, police corruption, government graft, great food, and just about anything that could make a TV audience gasp in astonishment. I would rate this series as the best available on television today.
Preparation for this series was begun soon after the creators of “The Wire” finished work on that widely-acclaimed series. “Treme” has a similar feel, as the two series share direction, sub-plots and personnel. For those who have watched “Homicide: Life in the Streets” and “The Wire” there is an instant sense of recognition. The same sense holds true of the actors, many of whom were participants in one or both of the older series.
The newer series is an overall homage to New Orleans and its people. It is not presented as a tourist video, but rather as a virtual tour of the music, food, culture and the uniqueness of the city. Mardi Gras Indians share episodes with traditional New Orleans musicians, crooked real estate operators, whistle blowing police officers, immigrant Vietnamese, activist reporters, gourmet chefs and more modern New Orleans music. Sometimes the action doesn’t appear to make sense; but then, these sometimes mystifying juxtapositions are what make the show so great.
The series takes place mostly in the New Orleans’ neighborhood of Tremé. It gives a multifaceted view of life in the city after Katrina. The city is trying to recover from that disaster, and most of the neighborhood’s inhabitants are having problems returning to a normal life. The two things that make the show uncommonly intriguing are the “real” and unapologetic portrait of the city it presents and the multithreaded plot structure that’s managed so brilliantly by the people behind the cameras.
The “real” New Orleans
It is not possible to show a completely accurate picture of a city, but the composite presented in “Treme” is both amazing and amusing. The easy relationships among the residents of the Tremé appear authentic as does the mutual respect between the haves and have-nots. Crime and corruption are presented without subterfuge, but not graphically. While there are very few street scenes, the flavor of restaurants and music halls is realistic. The series doesn’t have anything to fear artistically, even when compared to a great movie like “The Big Easy” in this regard. In short, the city appears to be shown as it is, naked, warts and all.
(Below: Recap clip, Episode 28 of “Treme.”)
Watching just one episode in this series may prove overwhelming to some viewers, at least at first. Some of the primary characters and story threads that appear in an episode are:
LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander) is the owner of a bar and the wife of a dentist from a well-known family. She is having problems with violent criminals that threatened her life and property and is due to testify on one of them that raped her;
Delmont Lambreaux (Rob Brown) is a modern jazz musician trying to further his career and help his dad Albert (Clarke Peters) who is a famous Mardi Gras Chief suffering from cancer;
Jannette Desautel (Kim Dickens) is a chef who sees her creativity limited by her decision to accept backing from a corporate partner;
Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is a lawyer helping to investigate the wrongful death of an innocent during the Katrina floods and its subsequent cover up by a corrupted cop. Her daughter Annie (India Ennega) receives threats and is harassed by the police because of her mother’s work;
Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) is a musician who has taken a job as the director of a High School marching band. He has trouble multitasking and keeping his wife happy;
Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) is a DJ trying to create an album that incorporates old and new New Orleans musicians. His relationship with talented violinist Annie (Lucia Micarelli) is threatened by their different careers and multiple interests;
Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda) is a wheeler dealer and modern day carpetbagger who has been able to insert himself into the local and federal decision-making process for his financial benefit. He is also a playboy and bon vivant who truly enjoys all that New Orleans has to offer;
Linh (Hong Chau) is the daughter of a Vietnamese immigrant who owns a fishing boat. She is dating a Caucasian musician who sometimes falls off the wagon. This makes their relationship somewhat rocky and it contrasts the strict moral standards of a first generation immigrant family with the seeming lack of standards represented by the more lenient New Orleans culture;
Terry Colson (David Morse) is a police lieutenant who, after recognizing the corruption in his department, decides to collaborate with the Feds. He is ostracized by his fellow police officers and is set up for a drug arrest. He is also having a relationship with Toni Bernette.
In addition to the show’s central characters, real life musical legends like Fats Domino play themselves in “Treme.” In addition, numerous real-life street musicians and marching bands may be featured in any given episode, adding yet another layer to this series’ already convincing reality. At any given time, there may be additional multiple subplots that in combination make the ongoing series episodes complex, fascinating, and rich in human interest.
This is not a show for younger viewers. There are no car chases, martial arts encounters and gory violence. Drug consumption, adult situations and nudity are also on display. It’s reality TV in the best and most realistic sense, and is highly worth a look by viewers in search of TV fare that’s both challenging and rewarding.
Mario Salazar, the 21st Century Pacifist, is a bleeding heart liberal, agnostic, exercise fanatic, Redskin fan, technophile, civil engineer, combat infantry veteran, jewelry maker, amateur computer programmer, Environmental engineer, Colombian-born, free thinker, and, not surprisingly, pacifist. You can find his articles - ranging from politics to cooking a mean brisket - in 21st Century Pacifist <http://communities.washingtontimes.com/neighborhood/21st-century-pacifist/> at The Washington Times Communities. Follow Mario on Twitter @chibcharus #TWTC and Facebook at Mario Salazar.
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