Thursday, 22 April 2010

Play it for that motherf***ing money, boys: First thoughts on Treme

TREME, the new  HBO show from The Wire's creator David Simon has all the hall marks of one he intends to run and run.
Produced by Simon and Eric Overmyer it is set three months after Hurricane Katrina in the predominantly black neighbourhood of Treme which sits behind the French Quarter in New Orleans, a traditional home for the musicians and Creole community.
After the first couple of episodes those of us familiar with the greatest TV show ever will notice similar narrative and character hints being dropped slowly into a heady gumbo of a drama. Not much of major dramatic impact has happened in the first two episodes, but another large cast of characters has been introduced and plots and themes are emerging tentatively.
Signed up for at least two series by HBO, the experienced among us will know it may take all that time for everything to be tied up, by which stage series three will be taking on another set of injustices.
I'd say this series is going to deal with the institutionally racist neglect of flood victims, the deadly stasis brought on by Federal bureaucracy and the inherently corrupt political systems which allowed the huge humanitarian disaster to unfold down in N'awlins.
One thing already apparent is there's a tremendous cast working their socks off. The Corner and CSI Miami's Khandi Alexander is stressed bar owner LaDonna Batiste-Williams looking for her brother missing in the prison system, Clarke 'Lester Freamon' Peters is the Indian chief Albert Lambreaux looking to get his carnival gang back together, Wendell 'Bunk Moreland' Pierce (above) LaDonna's gifted but priapic trombonist ex-husband Antoine Batiste hustling for work while Steve Zahn plays the middle class white musician and DJ Davis McAlary in love with black music, its musicians and culture.
However, the stand-out character, and perhaps the moral barometer of the show, is English Literature professor Creighton Bernette played by  John Goodman, a man leading a crusade to get the truth about Katrina known. It's not a natural disaster he says, 'but a federal fuck-up of epic proportions, decades in the making.'
The music is incredible, in what has to be one of the best opening sequences of any TV show, a panorama of the city's heritage from ragtime to revival, be bop, rock and dirty south hip hop all comes together before concluding with a full New Orleans jazz band marching the streets of Treme.
British and Irish gobshites, content yourself with this trailer and others like it on YouTube - as yet there are no dates for either a  screening or DVD release in these parts.


  1. I'm pleased with that I've seen so far. Episode one was a rife cacophony of intricate threads, that will no doubt over time weave themselves into an epic tapestry as stunning as The Wire.

  2. Looks interesting. A great shame David Mills (who worked on the real best TV show ever, NYPD Blue) won't be there to see it through. I am somewhat surprised that the moral centre of the show seems to be a member of the white bourgeoisie. Simon putting something of himself in perhaps?

  3. Garibaldi, I think the point being made is that the black community had been stripped of many of its leaders who were in Baton Rouge or further afield, so it's left to the bourgeoisie, such as it is, to fight that battle.
    The black leaders who do appear are too busy trying to rebuild their lives and communities.
    I think Simon is always there anyway - Ed Burns and Simon always argue who McNulty is based on, each says the other. But McNulty's revulsion with the structures appear to mirror Simon's anyway.

  4. I see your point Paddy. I'm still dubious about it to be honest. Have you read the Homocide book? Did so recently. Really enjoyed it, and amazed to find out the thing with the photocopier was real.

  5. Garibaldi,
    If you like Homicide read The Corner, it's beautiful if very bleak book. As a subject close to both our hearts, it's better than any amount of social sciences research into the effects of drugs on an small area of a big city.
    Many critics of Series 5 of The Wire pointed to the fact that slingers and corner boys in 2008 wouldn't have fallen for the photocopier trick. That's because it was 1988 when Simon saw it done. The Wire really is the result of 20 years research. That's why I respect Simon, that he really does hold to his principles.
    Simon does divide opinion, I'll may be do a post on those who have attacked him (most famously described as the most angry man in TV by The Atlantic).
    At the end of the day the premise of Treme is tremendous: America says it is exporting democracy and WASP values but what it really is exporting is the African American culture it so undervalues and in the most extreme form, tries to exterminate as it did in New Orleans.

  6. The Corner is on the to do list alright. As for the photocopier trick, I realise it was years ago but still astounded people could ever have been that stupid.

    As for Simon, he's certainly an important progressive voice in American TV. Generation Kill was an excellent piece of work, although I wasn't sure about the attempt to mark the Recon Marines off from the other yanks who blasted everything in sight, civilian or not.

    I like your summary of Treme's premise. I'll definitely watch it when it turns up on FX or wherever.

  7. Sorry for spelling your name wrong repeatedly Garibaldy, despite reading your work all over the place