“You got to. This is America, man”.
These were the words that opened David Simon’s show The Wire. A phrase that is just as relevant to his new HBO series, Treme.
Treme is a neighbourhood in New Orleans and the location of the show. Set three months after Hurricane Katrina devastated the city, Treme doesn’t seek to explore what happens to the people after the hurricane, rather it looks at how people live their lives after the hurricane. The distinction is subtle, but it is in full force with this series.
The Baltimore depicted in The Wire was a city that was missing its soul. Treme depicts a city that has lost its physicality, but its soul remains intact. There’s a vibrancy to the characters of Treme. They are surrounded by the passion and culture that surrounds the city of New Orleans. Sure, for many of the characters their circumstances have been changed brutally, but they haven’t changed as people. Their essence remains.
Like The Wire, the world of Treme is not an easy one to embrace immediately. The characters are not laid out for us to immediately understand their nature and motivations. Instead the viewer is kept almost at an arms length. It’s only by commiting yourself to the show that it really starts to pay off. The Wire was exactly the same in this regard. It took 5-6 episodes before the world of Baltimore was accessible for most viewers of the show and I’m anticipating a similar viewing experience for this.
The performances on the show are absolutely top notch, with familiar faces like John Goodman, Khandi Alexander, Melissa Leo, and Steve Zahn playing promient roles. Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters from The Wire are also on screen in lead roles within the ensemble cast.
Polish film Director Agnieszka Holland, who filmed three installments of The Wire, has shot the pilot episode for Treme. The visual look of the show is arresting, highlighting both the destruction that has faced New Orleans, as well as the exciting, passionate energy that surrounds the architecture, fashion, and swagger of its residents. The visual look of the show is not entirely dissimilar to the gritty realistic look of The Wire, but it exudes a warmth that we never saw within that show. This goes a long way to showing that despite the ruin that has faced many of the characters of the show, their embrace of life remains strong.
And the music? God, the music is wonderful.
Despite just one episode going to air and the general confusion associated with trying to find an entry point in a David Simon show, Treme has already established itself as one of the finest television offerings of 2010. For those that are willing to put in the effort, Treme is well worth it.
Treme premiered in the US on Sunday 04 April, 2010. It is unknown when it will premiere on Australian television.