The day after its debut episode aired, HBO picked up the new series “Treme” for a second season. That should give you a decent idea of how much confidence the network has in the show. And it’s not at all misplaced.
“Treme” is the work of Eric Overmyer and David Simon, who gave us the groundbreaking series “The Wire.” Like “The Wire,” “Treme” is less interested in rapid-fire storytelling and more interested in building a sense of time and place—something it does expertly.
Treme is the name of a well-known neighborhood in New Orleans. In the mid-1800s, it was a diverse, flourishing place full of freed slaves, wealthy African-American business owners and integrated schools. Unfortunately, rampant racism in post-Civil War America and the advent of Jim Crow laws dealt a blow to the unique neighborhood. Nonetheless, Treme remained a storied place filled with musicians, artists and other colorful figures.
“Treme” is set three months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans and deals with a city and a people in the process of rebirth. The show follows a wide ensemble cast of characters. There’s a money-hustling trombone player (Wendell Pierce from “The Wire”). There’s a determined restaurateur (Kim Dickens from “Deadwood”) trying to keep her business afloat with few supplies and fewer employees. There’s a bitter saloon owner (Khandi Alexander from “The Corner”) searching for her missing brother and fending off the charms of her two-timing ex-hubby (the aforementioned trombone player). There’s a mouthy, egotistical disc jockey (Steve Zahn, Sahara), actively pissing off everyone within earshot (including our restaurateur, who made the mistake of sleeping with him). There’s an obsessive senior (Clarke Peters, also from “The Wire”) who refuses to give up his dream of leading a parade krewe in the city’s first post-disaster Mardis Gras. Finally, there’s a well-to-do community activist (the always welcome John Goodman) who rails against the government, the Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA to anyone who will listen.
It’s a lot of characters to keep track of, but “Treme” drifts confidently among them, establishing the community threads that tie them all together. Impatient viewers might miss action or crime drama that occasionally perked up “The Wire.” But the characters and setting are so vivid here, it’s hard not to be riveted. The show doesn’t coddle viewers with exposition, essentially dropping the audience on a street corner in New Orleans and letting us fend for ourselves. This isn’t some guided tour though the French Quarter. This is microcosmic, real-life drama. Throw the characters, the stories, the food and the music of New Orleans into a pot, set on a slow simmer, and you’ve got a tasty meal a-brewing. Stop in Sunday nights for a taste.