Monday, April 12, 2010

Treme!

Seeing as how The Wire was one of the best shows ever on television, I figured I'd give Treme a chance.  It's another creation of David Simon, who did The Wire.   It has even has Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters from The Wire (Bunk and Freamon), and lot of other incandescent talent (Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Khandi Alexander, more) and New Orleans music.   It debuted on HBO tonight.  I loved it.

The story starts in New Orleans, three months after Katrina.   What The Wire did for Baltimore, Treme does for New Orleans, more specifically, one particular part of it, Treme.  The details, the colors, and, most of all, the musical performances, are true and stunning.

Pierce plays Antoine Batiste, a trombone player.   He's constantly short-changing cabbies - promising to pay them someday, in one case, leaving his "bone" as collateral (in that case, he gets a gig from Kermit Ruffins, playing himself, the real musician, and pays the cabbie back right away).   The music he's part of, ranging from clubs to funeral processions, is just the thing.

Treme is as much about the music as New Orleans, which is only right, since New Orleans is so much about the music.   One of the best scenes, near the close of the first day, has dj Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) playing Louis Prima's "Buona Sera" under all kinds of action.   The song plays pretty much in its entirety - the kind of thing you might see and hear in a movie, not usually on television.  Prima was born and lived the first part of his career in the 1930s in New Orleans, so his music was especially apt.

McAlary is a wannabe musician as well as a disc jockey.  He breaks into Tower Records, which is pulling out of New Orleans, to get copies of his band's CD, which he left there on consignment.  While he's there, he helps himself to a CD in which he was playing guitar, as well as a CD he says was stolen from his car  (so he's "karmicly" entitled to it).   He's sleeping with restaurant owner Janette Desautel - played by Kim Dickens - seen in Lost, FlashForward, and, most memorably so far as Matt's mother in Friday Night Lights.    But she could be even more memorable in Treme.

Even Elvis Costello's in Treme.   Kermit seems not to know of him, but McAlary certainly does, and is determined to get to better know Costello -  certainly can't hurt McAlary's musical  aspirations.

Goodman's a college prof, married to Melissa Leo, a civil rights attorney.   Each in their own way is fighting for New Orleans - against the media's misreporting, and various official misconduct in the wake of Katrina.

The Wire's realism had strong rays of optimism, but was mostly about the soul-lacerating, dead-end life of Baltimore's drug culture.   Treme's realism is about a city determined to survive what Goodman aptly insists is a "man-made disaster" - a levee system not up to the task.   The people and the music will make this story one of triumph.

And I'll be back here next week with my review of the next episode.


8-min podcast review of Treme
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