Treme, "Do You Know What It Means": a city marches on

Quick Take: Treme, "Do You Know What It Means"
A show to prove worthy of the exquisitely unique city of New Orleans herself?

treme

Review: Treme, "Do You Know What It Means"
(S0101) I'll state up front that this episode was my favorite series premiere that I've seen in a long, long time. I really enjoyed the hell out of the Justified pilot, but Treme takes things to a whole new level. A David Simon/The Wire level, I dare say.

I had The Wire on my mind going into Treme, of course, as David Simon is the executive producer behind both shows. My expectations for Treme were high, and I was worried they would not be met. Let's face it: on paper, a show about musicians in post-Katrina New Orleans has the potential to be depressing, boring, or both.

Treme is neither of those things while embracing its own languid, lived in pace within an exotic world all its own. While The Wire is both an entertaining cops and drug dealers show and an indictment of how entrenched institutions breed entrenched failure in the inner city, Treme seems poised to explore a very different vision: it's about how a people and a culture and a city might thrive after taking all that nature and man can hurl at them.

After 90 minutes, at the least, it achieves all of that, and it also introduces us to a kaleidoscope of rich and fully developed characters. What's probably most astonishing about this show is how well the pacing works. I thought about how different ambitious shows are today than even 20 years ago (maybe we'd consider a show like Thirtysomething to be ambitious for its time?). While The Wire sets up as a long haul investigation on Avon Barksdale and crew by the Baltimore PD, Treme lets us live and breathe with a bunch of eclectic folk. And the amazing part is how cool it was to simply spend time with these people, without caring about what comes next overly much. Maybe that's part of The Big Easy's spirit infusing its way into the show from the jump.

There's a number of faces that most people will recognize on Treme, and some most won't, but the acting all told is natural and unforced and pretty terrific. Speaking of The Wire, a few of our favorites from that show are back with meaty roles: Clark Peters (Lester Freamon on The Wire) plays Albert Lambreaux, a man determined to reclaim his devastated neighborhood, and Wendell Pierce (Bunk Moreland on The Wire) is Antoine Batiste, a musician scrambling to make a buck, half-conning cab drivers all over town as he's ferried from gig to gig. Both Peters and Pierce sink so easily and well into their new roles that I was hardly missing their Homicide division banter a few minutes in.

John Goodman, who seems to get stronger as the years go by, is singularly great as Creighton Bernette, a hyper opinionated man on a mission to tell the world what happened in New Orleans, and what should happen next. He's also warm and quirky and explosively curse-y, alternatively, and the scene in which he grabs an obnoxious British reporter's camera so that he can throw it into the gulf and "take it on a swim" is probably the funniest moment of the episode. His wife Toni is played Melissa Leo, and she's damned good herself as a crusading attorney and caring mom.

Steve Zahn, playing Davis McAlary, a stoner/musician/quasi-intellectual/DJ, is an inspired casting choice. Zahn is always fun to watch, even in bad movies (Happy, Texas) and I must admit that he's featured in one of my favorite lowbrow comedies of all time (Saving Silverman). There's a number of others that I should point out – Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Batiste-Williams, Antoine's sassy ex-husband and bar owner, Kim Dickens as Janette Desautel, struggling restaurant owner and Davis' kind of-sort of girlfriend – but I'm sure there will be plenty of time to sort them out and give credit where due in the weeks ahead.

Like The Wire, we can be sure that as an overarching narrative this show will be the portrait of an American city. And thus far Treme is proving worthy of the exquisitely unique city of New Orleans herself.

More thoughts on the Treme series premiere:

  • There's a brilliant and lengthy marching band scene at the beginning of the show, another at the end, and music punctuating much of the episode. The music brings a celebratory spirit to the show and its inhabitants, and helps to convey an incredible resilience: even during a funeral through a neighborhood wrecked by the storm.
  • Davis' multiple attempts to chat up (the real live) Elvis Costello at a music gig is highly hilarious and relatable both to anyone who can't not introduce themselves to a VIP of some sort.
  •  

    Video: Treme, "Do You Know What It Means"
    Here's a recap of the episode, from HBO:

     

    Recap: Treme, "Do You Know What It Means"
    A New Orleans neighborhood celebrates its first second-line “parade” since Katrina, reuniting many of its musicians and residents, though many more have yet to return.

    From Around the Web: Treme, "Do You Know What It Means"

  • Cultural Learnings: While I was really happy to see Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters, I think that I was most pleased to see Kim Dickens – she was really enjoyable on Deadwood, a great presence on Friday Night Lights, and the kind of actress that just “fits” into a world like this.
  • TV with Alan Sepinwall: Just as he did with the pilot for "The Wire," David Simon (there with Ed Burns, here with Eric Overmyer) has no problem plunking his audience down into the middle of what's a foreign country to many of us and assuming we'll pick up the language as we go.
  • By Eric - TV Geek Army "Revered Leader"

    About the author

    Eric is the publisher and revered leader of TV Geek Army… at least in his own mind. TV Geek Army is a place for serious TV reviews and news for serious fans of great television. Contact: eric-[at]-tvgeekarmy.com 

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