Hurray for Treme

“Do Watcha Wanna,” the season finale of Treme, had everything I watch the series for: 

  • Compelling characters embodied by terrific actors; 
  • plausible and suspenseful quick-cutting across and interweaving of plot strands;
  • confident command of realities afflicting post-Katrina/pre-Gulf oil spill New Orleans, and
  • the extraordinary depiction of living, breathing, hugely enjoyable music as a central factor in peoples’ lives, whether or not they’re professionally involved.


Of course the soundtrack, much of it shown as live performance, was dynamite, and seemingly non-stop. Highlights included several scenes of the Rebirth Brass Band; the character Delmond Lambreaux (actor Rob Brown mimes to Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown‘s trumpet playing) in collaboration with saxophonist Donald Harrison and Mardi Gras Indians at Jazz Fest; hot trad-style soprano saxophonist Aurora Nealand and the Royal Roses in a chic supper-club (the clip below is not from the program, but has Nealand soloing) –

– weathered Lucinda Williams onstage, splintery Kidd Jordan on WWOZ and the complete recording of Louis Armstrong’s “Wrap Your Troubles In Dreams” as a benediction to a montage of shots of the damaged but resilient Big Easy.
As I wrote last year at this time, when Season One had just ended, Treme sets a new standard for celebrating American roots music where that celebration should take place — tv — and also integrates music with story as nothing has really done before, serving simultaneously to launch. embody and resolve the series’ themes. Produced by David (long interview) Simon, Nina K. Noble, Eric Overmeyer, Carolyn Strauss, James Yoshimuri, David Mills and Anthony Hemingway; written by Simon, Overmyer, crime novelist George Pelicanos, music critic Tom Piazza and chef-author Anthony Bourdain, among several others, Treme presents both a convincing, vast panorama and believable personal stories of people in crisis, carrying magnificently on.
In Season Two, the immediate aftermath of the devastating storm has receded but the lasting affects are felt all the more painfully, new wounds opened as older ones scar over. In a manner that’s akin to both Hollywood cliché and clever television marketing, all’s well that ends well (enough to give viewers the happy feeling of seeing characters we root for reconciled and rewarded) but the outcomes of the heaviest problems (resulting from vicious crimes, police malfeasance and political corruption) remain very much in question — tune in next time (yes, Treme will have a Season Three). 
It seems to me there’s something for everyone of adult American sensibilities in each individual episode — not only new music as it’s being born but also scenes centering on sex, food, drugs, murder, real estate, politics, parent-child relations and social relations. I s’pose the right wing might accuse it of promoting a liberal agenda; the show admires adults indulging in good times, living and loving across racial/ethnic lines, doubting authority but winking at repeated misdemeanors by principals. The entire cast, staff and crew’s presidential voting pasts seemed telegraphed by a shot in the finale during which the official portraits of George W. Bush and Dick Cheney grinned down on an FBI meeting that appeared to quell pursuit of an unpalatable investigation. Still, forbearance is a prime virtue and individual entrepreneurship is the word of the day. 
All the male actors are impressive — Steve Zahn as born-to-privilege funkster-by-choice Davis become less of an ass, Wendell Pierce giving his loose-goosey trombonist the gumption to work hard and seriously, David Morse emerging as a particularly sensitive and honorable cop, Jon Seda so comfortable with his cynical charm, Clarke Peters a grand mix of dignity and parochialism, Michiel Huisman sympathetic in his attempt to get straight — but it’s the womenfolk who really carry Treme. I haven’t seen a clinker performance from anyone; the standouts, however, are certainly Melissa Leo as a savvy civil liberties lawyer and care-ridden mom and Lucia Micarelli as the luminous violinist willing and able to try any repertoire (Micarelli performs her own musical features and swings like mad). 
Then there’s Khandi Alexander, the burning presence at the moral center of this show. Her character, the deep-dyed, hard-boiled New Orleansian determined to maintain her neighborhood bar, a family heritage, despite 

khandi alexander.jpeg

the dangers and suffering around her, in the middle of Season Two suffered a horrendously brutal (offscreen) attack. Her scenes of remaining trauma and painful recovery in the episodes that followed were fiercely etched, and in the season’s last show she grabbed at the vengeance due her with a remarkable show of co-mingled rage, aching vulnerability and determined self-possession. Great writing gave Alexander wonderful opportunities to act, but her acting, being so indisputably real, made the writing disappear. Everything could be cut from Treme so that Alexander’s story stood alone, and the show would measure tall as an artistic triumph.
Ok, I’m a fan. I love New Orleans music, I dig long-form crime-ridden narrative, I’m a boomer by birth with core social precepts influenced by the Civil Rights struggle, anti-Vietnam War protest and urban American life with special reference to our arts and culture. Treme was made for me. And I’m so glad I get to watch it, and even more that it exists to be discovered, enlighten, entertain and (I bet) inspire for decades to come. If only it gives a message now, to an immediate audience, that New Orleans is a crucible which the U.S. should protect and invest in if our country means to survive. 

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Comments

  1. sandra says

    perfectly put…you hit all the grace notes. i’ve watched the full finale three times since last night. something new each time….
    wish seasons didn’t last for 11 episodes. and i agree completely about how beautifully the women’s roles are written and performed.
    by the way, lucinda does look weathered in a lucinda way!
    thanks.