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Season 1: I'm a huge fan of The Wire, but I wasn't expecting Simon & Mills to retread that kind of ground in Treme, their love letter to post-Katrina New Orleans, and in particular its music scene. Though it's clear that "systems will fail us" is just as much a theme here as in The Wire, this isn't a police drama. Rather, it asks how a community can rebuild its culture after a disaster of epic proportions, and does so by cross-weaving the lives of various New Orleanians, much as Robert Altman did in many of his films. The pace is unusual, juggling all the stories admirably - an "Indian Chief" rebuilding his crew, a frustrated writer finding a voice on You-Tube, a trombone player trying to find work, a DJ getting into trouble and into an election, a chef losing her restaurant, a woman looking for her brother lost in the system during the storm, jealousy springing between a couple of street performers, and more - but also takes breaks for music performances. It seems slow at first, but one you get into the rhythm of it, it becomes part of the series' punctuation and its point. As you can expect from makers of The Wire, Treme is naturalistic to a fault, with incredible performances from actors, and plenty of of the city's natives just being themselves. I wasn't sure after a single episode, but after 2 or 3, I'm hooked and care about these people.
Season 2: As in the real New Orleans in the era pictured, Treme Season 2 is beset by a rising crime rate, and I'm afraid that means your favorite characters may not be safe. It's not just random violence, but corruption too, and in both cases, I was surprised to discover (from the commentary tracks) non-actors bravely reliving events from their own lives, blurring the line between fiction and documentary (in the best Wire fashion). I like where the characters' personal journeys are taking them (especially Antoine's hilarious attempts at running his own band), but was all juiced to see David Morse's character graduate to main character status. He's awesome. Great music too, that goes without saying. Took me half of Season 1 to get used to the show's rhythm, but by this point, it wasn't even an issue.
Season 3: Treme's third season continues the good work of the first two, with an ever-growing focus on systemic corruption (showrunner David Simon's real talent), and with all due respect to the music scene subplots, that's what keeps the viewer coming back for more. The police force is completely out of control this season, reconstruction efforts are being leeched of their federal funding, and Chef Jeannette starts a new restaurant with the wrong partner. And yet, we also care about Antoine becoming a fatherly music teacher, the Lambreaux dealing with illness, and DJ Davis trying to get an R&B opera off the ground. These characters all live and breathe and it probably doesn't matter what they're up to, we want to watch them.
Season 4: Treme got a half-sized season (5 episodes) to finish its story lines, but Season 4 as a whole feels more like ending on a whimper than a bang. Such is life, and this show did purport to show real life unfolding in post-Katrina New Orleans, but even one episode that sags, when you get so few, is a disappointment. The season starts with hope in the wake of Obama's election, but quickly disabuses the characters of any such notion, and in some ways, it's the darkest season yet. When I thought it would go the way of The Wire, it managed a final grace note thanks to a perfectly chosen song, and an even more perfect final speech from DJ Davis (Steve Zahn), who, we realize, has been our guide all this time. Life continues in the Treme, whether we are privy to it or not, and the last episode does manage to find finality without really bringing things to a close.
Typical David Simon Amazingness
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