Monday, September 6, 2010

TV Review: Treme

It's rare that a show's opening credits can accurately portray what a TV show is about.  I've watched the first three episodes of the HBO series Treme (pronounced Treh-may).  The Treme is a neighborhood in New Orleans that borders the famous French Quarter, but is made up of several races, and is reputed to be the place where the roots of Jazz were planted and grew.  The show begins about 4 months after hurricane Katrina ravaged so much of New Orleans, driving people out of the city, giving everyone a story of survival or loss, and now a story of return.
John Goodman is an English professor at Tulane irate about the way the hurricane was covered in the news and then forgotten.  He rages against the destruction of the levees and the fault of the government.  He's married to Melissa Leo, an attorney trying to help find a man who was arrested just before Katrina, and thus completely lost in the penal system as prisoners (even those not yet arraigned) were farmed out to other precincts until things could get back to normal.  He's the brother of bar-owner Khandi Alexander.  Leo also defends two of our other stars -  Wendall Pierce and Steve Zahn, both of whom get in trouble in Episode 3 by cops so wound up by all the lack of order that they beat-down first and ask questions later.

Pierce is a trombone-playing hound dog who has children with several women and kind of hops between them trying to find a place to sleep, have sex, and then play his 'bone.  Zahn is a sort of bum who has righteous indignation about anyone who dares to see New Orleans as a cliche rather than the source of all great music.  He's a DJ, hotel worker, bum, who sleeps with restaurant owner Kim Dickens (Matt's mom from Friday Night Lights) who is trying to get off the ground again with her fancy restaurant.  The other main cast member is Clarke Peters (the other The Wire veteran with Pierce) who plays one of the old guard of the Treme, who leads one of the group of parade marchers, with full costume, creole music, etc.  He's quiet, but angry, and a few things evertually set him off - mostly the lack of dignity and respect that has happened since the hurricane - robbery, violence, and indecency.  You can see he's going to bring back the traditions lost during the hurricane when Mardi Gras comes around again, but that it might be a herculean effort.
It's a gritty show that will make you feel guilty for not doing more and feel overwhelmed that there is way too much for one person to do.  It will also make you realize that no matter what happens, real life WILL continue.  The music is terrific, along the lines of the opening credits, but new every time.  Elvis Costello is a recurring character (playing himself I think) along with lots of other music legends I can only identify because they show up in the credits, but if you love this kind of music, you can see your favorites perform I'm sure.  Never having been to New Orleans, I can vouch for it's authenticity, but I can say that the performances, the dialogue, and the settings feel authentic.  It definitely makes me want to go to New Orleans and see it for myself, even if as a tourist I should stick to the French Quarter.

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