HBO’s ‘Treme’ portrays struggling New Orleans

By Vasant Joseph Staff Writer

The Mona Lisa of television series came and passed, yet hardly anyone even captured a glimpse of it. I am, of course, referring to The Wire, the critically acclaimed though commercially unsuccessful HBO series that enjoyed a five-season run before it was eventually cancelled due to low ratings. After a brief hiatus, The Wire creator David Simon has come back once again with a new series, Treme, that has the potential to be every bit as good as his previous work, so long as it receives the support it deserves from viewers.

Treme is a drama that, much like The Wire, captures the spirit of a city in its portrayal of everyday citizens making their way through life’s struggles. While The Wire’s primary focus was the impact of drugs on the Baltimore community, Treme takes a look at New Orleans residents who are trying to return to normal life in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. From festive jazz music to spicy Cajun cuisine, Treme, which is named after one of the oldest neighborhoods in New Orleans, delves deeply into the culture of the city as it weaves a story of people trying to piece their disjointed lives back together.

In the pilot episode, the show’s wide range of unique and dynamic characters reveals their emotional baggage as they adjust to life three months after Katrina. There are musicians who pour their hearts into their music while they remain mired in poverty; a bar owner searching for her missing brother; and a Mardi Gras Indian Chief who will do anything he can to return home from his retreat to Houston before the storm. These characters, along with a host of many others, struggle to make do, but the spirit of New Orleans enables them to hold on to hope. When musicians in the Second Line, a traditional New Orleans jazz parade, take to the streets to perform for the first time since the hurricane, the entire city is swept off its feet as its residents unite in celebration.

 Each of these characters has his own story to tell, and the stellar acting by the main characters breathes life into the show. Wire veteran Wendell Pierce plays trombonist Antoine Batista, an upbeat, likeable musician who does not have enough money to pay the cab fare to his music gigs. He is joined by former Wire co-star Clarke Peters, who plays Albert Lambreaux, the Mardi Gras Indian Chief who has an unbreakable bond to his city and such a burning desire to return home that his children are losing patience with him. Film stars Steve Zahn (Daddy Day Care) and John Goodman (Monsters, Inc.) also play characters with an edge as foul-mouthed disc jockey Davis McAlary and passionate New Orleans lover Creighton Bernette, respectively.

Simon has a knack for developing intricately detailed storylines among his characters, and if the first episode is any sign, he will likely be able to expose the lives of these characters and show how they intertwine.

What also separates Treme from other television shows on the air is its striking level of authenticity. Watching an episode of Treme is almost like being transported to New Orleans, and the viewer never doubts that the show’s writers have made painstaking efforts to fully learn about the culture and lifestyle of the people of New Orleans. With the show’s connection of jazz music to the heart of the city and its understanding look at the plights faced by New Orleans residents, Treme is a realistic and engaging story of the city’s people.

Although Treme is a highly engrossing new series that I would recommend all viewers to watch at least once, it should be noted that it is not for those with short attention spans. Like Simon’s other series, Treme is a show that is filled with details and nuances, and while this may come across as overwhelming to some viewers, it is ultimately rewarding. As the viewer pays attention to all the details and watches the story unfold, he or she will realize Simon’s talents as a storyteller and will only become more engrossed in this world that he has created for his audience.