David Simon created The Wire, and came back to HBO a few years later with Treme, a show about post-Katrina New Orleans with an emphasis on the culture, and specifically the music. I hadn’t even seen The Wire yet when I started watching Treme. I was drawn in by the subject matter. Being raised by a music loving father who particular had an affinity for jazz and blues made this show all the more intriguing from the get go. The backdrop of post-Katrina was also pretty great. For most people Treme was a disappointing second act for Simon, but for it was something else completely.
Having watched this show before I had see The Wire for the first time, I didn’t have that point of comparison that many people had. Having see The Wire multiple times now, I decided it was time to see how Treme held up on a second viewing.
This is a great character drama, with a well constructed backdrop of a city recovering from the largest natural disaster in U.S. history. It doesn’t have tons of cliffhangers, or plot hooks to keep people on the edge of their seat. It doesn’t have the great overall arc of something like The Wire, and in many people’s minds that was it’s downfall. But this was a great show about people and music, and the cast is talented enough to make up for whatever supposed “shortcomings” the plot has. In fact, in my mind this show, which ran from 2010 to 2013, was probably just a bit ahead of it’s time. Nowadays it seems like shows with solid characters can thrive a bit better without over the top plot hooks.
The cast is mostly void of big huge stars for the most part, but there are enough recognizable faces to make it interesting. John Goodman is there. A pre-Oscar winning Melissa Leo is married to him. Khandi Alexander is recognizable to some from NewsRadio and which CSI she was on. Everyone has seen Steve Zahn in something before (That Thing You Do would be my personal choice). Rob Brown has been in some major movies (Finding Forrester, Dark Knight Rises). Kim Dickens was on Friday Night Lights and now Fear the Walking Dead. For the The Wire fans, both Bunk (Wendell Pierce) and Lester Freeman (Clark Peters) have prominent roles, while Prez (Jim True Frost) shows up as well. Pre-Game of Thrones Daario Naharis plays a great character, and he and real-life violinist Lucia Micarelli steal the show at times. And last but not least, Chicago PD’s Jon Seda is great as a charismatic Texas businessman trying to capitalize on government handouts for construction work.
With as many people as are mentioned above, it would seem on paper like character overload. I have long lamented the fact that Game of Thrones has too many characters for it’s own good, but somehow that doesn’t feel like a problem with Treme. Maybe it’s because most of the stories don’t have that “dying to see what happens next” feeling to them. But I like to think it’s because the stories/characters on Treme are more evenly balanced. There is no Theon or Bran Stark storylines that take away from the rest of the show, and it’s paced well enough that no one ever really feels shorted.
If you watched The Wire and haven’t figured out by now that David Simon can write the crap out of a TV show, then you missed out. Treme is the same way. It is amazingly put together and structured to a point that it feels almost perfectly constructed. The way the characters cross paths and interact without it feeling the least bit forced is an absolute stroke of genius. There are preset relationships at the start of the series, like Kim Dickens and Steve Zahn’s characters being a couple, but none of the interactions later feel forced, and in most cases it’s so casual it makes it feel almost organic.
The backdrop is just great too. There is so much to be absorbed about New Orleans culture. The food, music, Indians, pride, the aftermath of Katrina, and the music (again because it’s freaking New Orleans!). Of course Mardi Gras is well represented, but not the way it’s portrayed in other TV shows and movies. Simon was able to make The Wire so authentic because that is where he was from and worked. But he spared no details in the Crescent City either. The show was lauded by locals for a fair and accurate portrayal of things. Of course it wouldn’t be a Simon venture if he didn’t take time to lament the poor vs. rich divide, or take shots at (real life) politicians along the way.
Most people gave up on this show early because it was “boring” to them. But Simon set the bar so high with The Wire that people had certain expectations that were probably unreasonable. Does this show get made if the The Wire hadn’t come before it? Probably not. But if it existed in a world where The Wire never existed it would have been more successful than it was. There is no Theon, Bran, AJ Soprano or any of the Brody family to drag this down. This show is definitely not for everyone, but anyone who loved The Wire, and didn’t like Treme is missing out on a great TV show. It’s not in that all-time top tier for me with The Wire, The Sopranos, Mad Men and Breaking Bad, but it’s right there at the top of that second tier of really, really good shows. And I can guarantee this won’t be the last time I watch it.