TV Review: ‘Treme’

Treme

Let’s face it: HBO doesn’t expect many people to watch the final mini-season of “Treme,” which explains its sentencing to scheduling Siberia — five consecutive Sundays in December. Yet co-creator David Simon (“The Wire”) has earned the right to finish his story, even if it’s one of limited dramatic heft. In a way, what Simon has said about the show is telling: Despite its efforts to dramatize the plight of New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina, the more enduring legacy might be simply pumping money into the city via the show’s lavish showcasing of the area’s music and cuisine.

From that perspective, “Treme” might be classified as much as a heartfelt public-service announcement as a fully satisfying drama. And while the show boasted a gaudy array of talent, its commentary on the Crescent City and national indifference to its struggles seemed to dissipate as the seasons progressed, moving farther away from the fresh wound of the disaster.

It’s easy, of course, to admire Simon (who co-created the show with Eric Overmyer) for sticking to his artistic guns, which included adopting a slice-of-life approach that largely eschewed big dramatic flourishes. A season-one suicide that, oddly, felt almost like a fitting climax, and the rape of a key character in season three, played wrenchingly by Khandi Alexander, would be rare exceptions.

In keeping with its tone throughout, this last flight of “Treme” doesn’t exactly race around tying up loose ends, although it does provide elements of closure, or at least advancement, for most key participants. While the premiere opens with the enthusiasm surrounding the election of Barack Obama in 2008, it’s clear what ails New Orleans won’t be cured by a few buoyant chants of “Yes We Can.”

By now it’s 38 months after Katrina, and the web of relationships has shifted, sometimes in unexpected ways. Albert (Clarke Peters) is dealing with his cancer. Antoine (Wendell Pierce) is still trying to mentor kids as a music teacher, while Terry (David Morse) continues to push back against the police bureaucracy. And so on.

Yet even with the occasional ray of hope, Simon’s general outlook is too bleak to provide much consolation, either for his characters or for the show’s small but loyal audience.

Having watched all of “Treme,” it’s possible to admire the vision — and the performances by Alexander, Pierce, Peters, Morse, Kim Dickens, and Lucia Micarelli, among others — without feeling like the enterprise was a success.

Admittedly, part of that has to do, personally speaking, with modest appreciation of New Orleans jazz — or for that matter, the intricacies of creole cooking — that left the extended and abundant performance sequences feeling frequently like they brought the story to a halt. Ditto for stiff cameos by renowned musicians and chefs, generally demonstrating that not everyone is cut out to act.

Simon set the creative bar extraordinarily high for himself with “The Wire” and “Generation Kill,” and HBO has provided him and his collaborators the latitude to continue to do so.

Occasionally beautiful and emotional, but also bleak and frustrating, “Treme” certainly hasn’t sullied that reputation. Yet despite the writer’s contention that it’s his best show, for all but those few who savored every note, this rumination on a beleaguered The Big Easy doesn’t belong in the august company of those earlier gems.

TV Review: 'Treme'

(Series; HBO, Sun. Dec. 1, 9 p.m.)

Production

Filmed in New Orleans by Blown Deadline Prods.

Crew

Executive producers, David Simon, Eric Overmyer, Nina Kostroff Noble, George Pelecanos, Carolyn Strauss; producer, Joseph Incaprera; director, Anthony Hemingway; writer, Simon; story by Simon, Overmyer, Pelecanos. 60 MIN.

Cast

Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Clarke Peters, Rob Brown, Steve Zahn, Kim Dickens, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, Michiel Huisman, David Morse, Jon Seda, Nelson Hidalgo, India Ennenga, Chris Coy.

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  1. Myriah Pazereckas Roy says:

    I just finished watching Treme in its entirety and I feel it is one of the best series I have ever watched. I am grieving that it is finished! I have learned so much about the culture of New Orleans…music, food, the reality of what happened in that city and to its people post-Katrina. Thank you so much, David Simon and your “co-creator” for such an amazing television experience. Excellent in every way!

  2. Joseph says:

    Treme’s legacy is its financial gift to a post-Katrina New Orleans. I found work on the set in 2009 and witnessed many local friends that benefited financially from the show. As a story, it was largely boring. I from Louisiana and lived in New Orkeans for many years. The facts were right but the story was sort of empty. Also, they never explored the fascinating ninth ward weirdos that is a significant aspect of the city’s identity. Anyway, I was happy for the paycheck but would gladly have exchanged that money for a meaningful story about New Orleans. Great article.

  3. Fiona says:

    I did not even know that this final “season” was on until I happened to catch a repeat of the first episode last night. I loved the show from the beginning, but its almost a relief that its ending. The quick 1 minute scenes drive me insane. I just wanted a storyline, ANY of the story lines to be given a full, oh, 7 minutes to play out and move along. But…I’ll stay till the end and watch this last season.

  4. Elizabeth Page says:

    I agree w/ Simon – this is by far his best show. When have you seen a narrative television show that focused on the lives of musicians and folk artists and social workers and teachers and chefs? That showcased world class music? That followed the unraveling of an historic criminal case – the Danziger Bridge murders? That featured brilliant performances and exquisite cinematography? Every show was a treat.

  5. Christina Oliver says:

    Treme has been a treat for anyone who loves and misses New Orleans whenever they can’t be there. Both look forward to and dread Treme coming to a lose.

  6. Jorge Lima says:

    Generation Kill. The Corner. The Wire. Treme. DAVID SIMON IS GREAT!

  7. dreamlife613 says:

    I have loved Treme from the beginning. The characters are so warm and likable, even when they made decisions that broke your heart. The production values were very good and made you feel like you were right there with the characters. I guess it was too slow paced for mainstream viewers who expect violence, sex, or laughs on a regular basis. The Wire wasn’t very popular when it was on air, so maybe people will discover Treme after it ends and realize what a great show they were missing.

  8. Mark Isenberg says:

    Treme was very special and therefore had limited appeal as lots of folks don’t listen to traditional Jazz or eat gumbo.But,HBO did not publicize this final mini-season ending well and that is not how you treat David Simon who gave them the Wire which did good ratings and even better on DVDs.David Simon did so much good in this short multi-story saga of Katrina’s aftermath that it does not matter this reviewer did not get the point. And by the way,since when do musicians have to act great? Let’s hope some other writer-producer finds a way to tell more stories of music,food and the multicultural rainbow of metro New Orleans in years ahead.

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