‘Treme’ Comes to Gratifying, Bittersweet End

The 85-minute season finale to HBO’s “Treme” carries an “in memoriam” to writer-producer David Mills, who died while working on the show — a few weeks before its April premiere — at the age of 48. It’s only one bittersweet aspect of David Simon and Eric Overmyer’s ambitious but sometimes frustrating series, which reaches such an appropriate conclusion that I frankly wish it would end there.

For those caught up on episodes in advance of Sunday’s closer (and SPOILER ALERT if you’re not), the fractured relationships, financial stresses and finally suicide associated with Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath don’t entirely wrap up in the finale. But the series goes a long way in capturing the spirit of those committed to the survival of New Orleans and its unique character, despite all the forces — including the recent Gulf oil spill — that have assailed the city.

Simon’s shows don’t exactly specialize in hopeful or tidy endings, but the 10th installment does bring several disjointed plot threads into a kind of harmony, with a few glimpses of hope peeking through. The show also flashes back fleetingly to the day of the hurricane, which proves especially poignant in light of all that’s transpired during the season.

For my money, “Treme” still qualifies as a near-miss — a series so enamored with the atmosphere of New Orleans that its dramatic storytelling suffered. If you’re not a genuine jazz aficionado, episodes ground to a halt so that the various musicians (real and imagined) featured in the show could play for what in TV are deadening stretches. The ratings have not surprisingly been mediocre, though that’s characteristic of Treme15 Simon’s work, which surely resides on TV’s art-house tier.

In one of those grand gestures that the pay services love to make, HBO went ahead and renewed “Treme” for a second season immediately after its premiere.

“This was a no-brainer for us,” HBO programming topper Michael Lombardo told Daily Variety at the time. “We say this about ourselves, ‘It’s not always about the ratings.’ If a show is this excellent and the audience so passionate, for us that’s enough.”

But in hindsight I’d say that endorsement was premature. And while Simon and company have such a splendid cast to work with, I can’t really imagine another flight of episodes holding much more than this initial run did.

Would the pay service rethink the order, or at least reduce it? There’s precedent for that, and if the decision were left to me, I’d consider it. Because after that initial tide of good reviews, “Treme” quickly became a pretty good metaphor for New Orleans itself: Worth admiring and wishing the best, but once out of sight, sadly, pretty well out of mind.

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  1. alynch says:

    Well that’s new. A critic advocating for the cancellation of a series not because he hates it, but because he kind of sort of dislikes parts of it, while liking other parts. I’d hate to hear what you’d wish upon shows that you actively despise.
    I like the show quite a bit. It’s a very good show – I’d give it a B at this stage and might upgrade it to a B+ if the finale knocks it out of the park – that has the potential to be great. I thought it steadily improved as the season went on and am optimistic that it’ll be able to continue on that track going forward.
    I think you’re overplaying how much music there really is on the show. They’re not playing whole songs or anything. It’s usually a verse at most. I haven’t been watching with a stopwatch or anything, but I’d bet there’s not any more than three or four minutes of live music in a typical 60 minute episode. That’s nothing I’m also not a jazz aficionado (I almost never listen to music), but the music’s not killing the drama for me. It’s just a few minutes of good listening scattered throughout an episode for texture.

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