Down in the Tremé

Not heard of Treme? Don’t worry, you’re probably not the only one. David Simon’s new show doesn’t seem to have garnered as much attention and praise as his earlier show The Wire, at least not yet.

If you haven’t already seen The Wire, well, what are you waiting for? It’s a little difficult to describe as the scope of the show is pretty ambitious. It’s set in Baltimore, Maryland with each season focussing on different issues- drugs; the ports; government; schools and newspapers in turn. It builds up an intricate, complicated world which examines the relationship between individuals and institutions with amazing acting and writing. It’s been described as the greatest television show of all time repeatedly, even by The Telegraph.

I’d definitely recommend that everyone watch it, but I would admit that it is heavy-duty stuff. The subject matter is intense and the episodes long, when I was marathoning it I didn’t like to watch too many episodes in a row. It’s not really the kind of thing you can watch an entire season of in a day.

Treme on the other hand feels a bit lighter. That may sound like an odd thing to say about a show set in post-Katrina New Orleans (Tremé being a district of the city) but it’s true. Of course it’s not all hugs and puppies, far from it. Various characters return to their homes and face all kinds of problems- ruined houses, missing family members, and a lack of basic facilities and infrastructure which impinges on their ability to live their lives and run their businesses, for example. The show certainly doesn’t shy away from this, or from other issues like government corruption, police brutality and the public housing controversy, nor from more personal problems such as drug abuse or suicide.

But all of this is tempered by an unabashed joie de vivre. The characters, and the city, are  in the process of rebuilding- it’s very much not a tale of disaster. They may have problems, they may have problems with the place, but their love of New Orleans is a constant theme. Watching these people overcome obstacles and achieve new things is incredibly watchable. And of course this positivity is aided a lot by the soundtrack. The idea of a show about New Orleans without music is anathema, and for good reason. The name “New Orleans” conjures up the sound of jazz and images of Carnival, but Treme is careful to steer away from cliché. The soundtrack is amazing, and also forms an integral part of the storyline as many of the characters are musicians.

Check out the theme tune by John Boutté, who also appeared as himself in the first season finale:
Treme has a large ensemble cast which can be a little difficult to juggle, especially as the season starts with several disparate stories which then begin to be interwoven as these characters connect with each other. It rarely feels awkward however, and there’s some stunning talent amongst the cast including John Goodman as English professor Creighton Bernette and Lucia Micarelli as violinist Annie. I’ve also been having lots of fun playing spot the Wire actor, starting with two of the major cast members- Wendell Pierce as trombonist Antoine Batiste (Bunk in The Wire) and Clarke Peters as a Mardi Gras Indian chief (The Wire‘s incomparable Lester Freamon).

Only one season of Treme has aired so far, with the second season due to begin this spring. It may not yet seem quite on par with The Wire (and it’s five seasons) but I anticipate that it’s world will grow and incorporate more politicised issues. I think it’s a bit more immediately accessible than The Wire too- in much the same way that Terence Winter’s Boardwalk Empire– another new HBO show- seems like a slightly gentler version of The Sopranos (for which Winter was also a writer and executive producer).

Treme is just a bit more relaxed than The Wire, and may attract viewers scared off by drugs, violence and intense story lines. Similarly I think the fact that it focuses on the aftermath of such a high-profile disaster makes it interesting to people across the board. I’m glad, though not surprised, that it doesn’t shy away from highlighting the issues surrounding the police and government behaviour during and after Katrina. In particular the storyline about LaDonna Batiste-Williams’ (played by the fantastic Khandi Alexander) brother being lost in the system really reminded me of the Dave Eggers’ nonfiction book Zeitoun. Zeitoun is the story of a Syrian-American man who decides to stay at his home in New Orleans during Katrina, rather than flee with his family, in order to help people- and what happens after his arrest. It’s a compelling, if disturbing read, that I’m sure would appeal to Treme fans- and vice-versa.

2 thoughts on “Down in the Tremé

  1. I think you’ve converted me! I don’t want to properly dive into a new series until I’ve completed my John Waters film festival (god I’m a dork), but I’m going to try this out next. You know how much I love N’Orleans… maybe we’ll even get to go this year :).

  2. Yay! Careful though, it could be your gateway drug to The Wire- and then a large chunk of time will disappear somewhere.

    How goes the Waters film fest?

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