‘Treme’ Marches to Own Drummer (& Trumpeters)

HBO sent critics all 10
episodes for the current season of “Treme,” which premieres Sept. 23. If only
watching them didn’t feel like homework – easily the least-distinguished effort among “The Wire”
producer David Simon’s stellar body of work for the pay service.

Treme12_01Although I wasn’t a huge
fan of the program’s first season, its final episode – recounting what happened
before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans – felt like a rather elegant and
appropriate ending. Since then, the series has yielded moments of interest, but
has too often struggled from an uneven array of characters amid its dizzying
assortment of plots.

Admittedly, the show
loses me in one key respect: I’m not enough of a jazz aficionado to fully
appreciate the bountiful outpouring of live music featured each week. Yet part
of that also involves incorporating a number of non-actors – both musicians and
restaurateurs – intended to heighten the show’s sense of authenticity. They
accomplish that, yes, but having them around also has a way of diluting
the dramatic impact, given the stilted nature of the performances.

Of course, as with any
Simon show, there’s some wonderful writing – I particular enjoyed a discussion
of the difference between vice and sin, as filtered through the prism of New
Orleans – and a sobering look at failed institutions. In that regard, some of
this season’s major themes echo “The Wire,” as it layered them on: A corrupt,
broken system, including (here) government and the police; ineffective schools;
and a primer on journalistic legwork, reflecting Simon’s days as a reporter.

There’s also some
terrific acting, with an expanded role for David Morse as a principled
detective that’s especially welcome, as well as interesting storylines for both
Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce.

Despite low ratings, HBO
has kept renewing “Treme,” presumably under its theory a show that inflames
passion – even among a small audience – is worth having around. Moreover, the
most recent hurricane to strike the gulf made the region’s continuing struggles
feel especially timely.

For a hardy few, this is no doubt one of
those series that will keep them subscribing as long as its on. Yet as much as
I’ve admired Simon’s work in the past – including “Generation Kill” and “The
Corner” – this one is just too narrow for me. And frankly, I’ve got enough
homework.

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