tongue-tied lightning

Blogging Treme: Episode 1 “Do You Know What It Means”
April 12, 2010, 5:15 PM
Filed under: misc | Tags: , , ,

I’ve read plenty of press for Treme over the past month or so and have been actively anticipating it since it was announced in 2008.  Despite all that, I wasn’t sure about it.  The premise seemed thin.  All that was apparent was that it was about New Orleans and it’s music.  Music being one of my primary passions, being a lover of jazz, it probably owes more to my short-sightedness than anything else that I doubted there was enough in Treme to hang a series on.

Thankfully, breadth of vision has never been something David Simon has lacked.  An oft reprinted quote by Jacob Weisberg of Slate praised The Wire as television’s greatest show because it “portray[ed] the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature.”  It’s a position I agree with wholeheartedly and that sensibility is on display again with Treme.  Over two years since the final episode of The Wire aired, watching Treme kind of felt like coming home.

Sure, the focus is different, but Simon’s aesthetic is unmistakable.  The effortless transitions from character to character across an Altmanesque tableau.  The verite cinematography, which is far more impressive here than it was in The Wire.  The versimilitude; Simon again employs his tactic of stealing life, John Goodman borrows the words of the late blogger Ashley Morris, Steve Zahn is playing a thinly cloaked version of DJ Davis Rogan; again he casts New Orleans natives as themselves and as characters (Kermit Ruffins is a highlight of the premiere).  And, probably Simon’s greatest and least lauded asset, the humanity.  Sure The Wire villified postmodern institutions and the anger behind that grabbed the headlines, “The Angriest Man in Television” Simon was called, but the show never would’ve worked without the nuanced depictions of fully rounded characters.  He’s establishing himself as one of the preeminent American auteurs.

If The Wire taught us anything it’s that you can’t judge a David Simon show by it’s first episode.  At first you can feel like a fish out of water, trying to get a grasp on the characters, the lingo, the setting.  But if you go with the flow and trust the guiding hand you know you will end up downstream.  I’m interested to see how Treme plays to those who haven’t seen The Wire or aren’t familiar with New Orleans.  Did Clarke Peters’ Mardi Gras Indian confuse them?  Are they wondering what John Goodman does for a living?  Are they going to get all the Musical references?  And most importantly, will they tune in next week?

I hope so, because Treme seems to possess even more potential than The Wire did after it’s premiere.  Part of this could be the music lover in me captivated with how music is the lifeblood of the show, but more than that I care about the characters:  I want to see what’s going on with John Goodman, what Steve Zahn will get up to next, if Melissa Leo is going to find this missing prisoner, how Wendell Pierce is going to wrangle together the cab fare to get to his next gig and how Clarke Peters is going to work himself back into the city.  I can’t wait to go back to New Orleans next Sunday and see what David Simon has in store for me.  Treme is better than church.


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