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Amid the ruins of an American city, ordinary people--musicians, chefs, residents--find themselves clinging to a unique culture and wondering if the city that gave birth to that culture still has a future. From the creators of The Wire comes a new series about adversity and the human spirit, set in New Orleans, in the aftermath of the greatest man-made disaster in American history. Welcome to Treme.
As Treme opens, a group of New Orleans residents are celebrating their first "second-line parade" since Hurricane Katrina blew through the city and across the Gulf Coast just three months earlier. Folks are strutting and dancing, a brass band is blowing a joyful noise--it's a celebration of "NOLA's" resilience and proud spirit "Won't bow--don't know how," as they say. But there's darkness just below this shiny surface, and anyone familiar with The Wire, cocreator-writer David Simon's last show, won't be a bit surprised to find that he and fellow Treme writer-producer Eric Overmyer aren't shy about going there. The New Orleans we see is a city barely starting to recover from what one character calls "a man-made catastrophe… of epic proportions and decades in the making." Many people's homes are gone, and insurance payments are a rumor. Other locals haven't come back, and still others are simply missing. The people have been betrayed by their own government, and New Orleans's reputation for corruption is hardly helped by the fact that the police force is in such disarray that the line between cop and criminal is sometimes so fine as to be nonexistent. Bad, but not all bad. NOLA still has its cuisine, its communities, and best of all its music, which permeates every chapter, from the Rebirth Brass Band's "I Feel Like Funkin' It Up" in episode 1 to Allen Toussaint and "Cha Dooky-Doo" in episode 10. There's Dixieland and zydeco, natch, but also hip-hop and rock; there are NOLA stalwarts like Dr. John, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, and the Meters as well as appearances by Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, and others, but plenty of younger, lesser knowns, too. Whether we hear it in the street, in a club or a recording studio, at home, or anywhere, music is the lifeblood of the city and this series, and it's handled brilliantly.
Treme has a lot of characters and their stories to keep up with. There's trombonist Antoine Batiste Wendell Pierce, a wonderful player but kind of a dog, especially to his current baby mama and his ex-wife, LaDonna Khandi Alexander, a bar owner who's desperately searching for her missing brother. There's Creighton Bernette John Goodman, a writer preoccupied with telling the world what's really going on in the city, and his wife Toni Melissa Leo, a lawyer and thorn in the side of the authorities. There's Davis McAlary Steve Zahn, a well-meaning but annoyingly clueless radio DJ, his occasional girlfriend Janette Kim Dickens, who's struggling to keep her restaurant open, and Albert Lambreaux Clarke Peters, who returns from Houston, finds his house in ruins, and sets about rebuilding it. You might not like all of them. Not all get through the series unscathed, or even alive. But that's part of the deal. The show feels authentic: dialogue natural, plain, and profane, story lines, locations, camera work, the utter lack of gloss and glamour--this is no Chamber of Commerce travelogue. It's not a documentary either, but there are moments when it's just down and dirty enough to pass for one. --Sam Graham