Review: HBO's 'Treme'

It’s hard to describe New Orleans to someone
who’s never been there.
Even some of the tourists who’ve survived a drunken
revelry down Bourbon Street on Fat Tuesday can’t truly
appreciate the depth of the city’s soul beyond the
French Quarter. After Hurricane Katrina, it’s even harder
to describe what the city is and was. Treme comes close.
The 10-episode, one-hour drama from HBO, written
by executive producers David Simon (The Wire, Generation
) and Eric Overmyer (Homicide, The Wire), follows a
cast of distinctive characters, mostly musicians, as they try
to rebuild their lives after the 2005 flooding of the city. The series
takes its title from the traditionally African-American
New Orleans neighborhood Tremé (pronounced truh-may).
Fans expecting a version of The Wire set in New
Orleans will be disappointed. Instead of focusing on
crime or politics, the stories resonate with individual
attempts to reassemble families, bands and lives amid
one of the greatest man-made calamities to befall an
American city.
The characters in Treme range from a Mardis Gras Indian
chief to a local chef, and each offers a unique view
on a city caked in mud and mold but definitely still
alive. It is that gritty resilience that Treme celebrates,
along with the rich cultural traditions that have nurtured
natives there forever: food, music and family. The
soundtrack is so good, it could outsell the DVD.
The cast is a gumbo of accomplished actors, musicians
and actual New Orleans residents. One of the
more appealing characters, played by Wire alumnus
Wendell Pierce, is Antoine Batiste, a charming but
chronically broke trombonist who runs from gig to gig
to make ends meet. Khandi Alexander plays his sassy
but sincere ex-wife, and John Goodman plays a local
professor who embodies the residents’ rage at the
government’s inadequate response.
If all this sounds like a downer, it’s not. Dialogue
crackles, the plot is nuanced, and the accents are authentic.
While critics may say Treme lacks the heat or
intensity of The Wire, everybody knows that too much
Tabasco ruins a good gumbo; what makes it appetizing
is the fusion of so many flavors and spices.