Monday, April 19, 2010
REINTRODUCING NEW ORLEANS
Why did New Orleans natives want to go back so badly, after Hurricane Katrina? What happened to the millions of dollars in donations and government funds that poured into the city shortly after one of America’s worst natural disasters? Is the criminal justice system in Louisiana really as shady as rumored?
Why is it taking so long for the Big Easy to make a respectable comeback? Is it even worth rebuilding or investing in a city where levees are still reportedly not up to withstanding another Katrina? Why do New Orleans natives publicly mourn the dead with a street parade?
With more than 1.4 million people tuned-in to its premiere, HBO’s Treme (pronounced treh-May) hinted at its unspoken promise to answer all those pestering questions about New Orleans post and pre-Katrina. The show and its substance were so impressive that HBO execs did not wait long for hard numbers to come out before renewing its brand new series for a second season.
The premium cable network’s early salute to David Simon and Eric Overmyer is a move many believe is bold. The duo best known for their work on the HBO series “The Wire,” which lasted five seasons and peeled away layers of corruption, chaos and cruelty in Baltimore, seems likely to do the same and get even more in-depth in New Orleans with “Treme.”
Treme’s characters are complex and comical. John Goodman’s character is a Tulane University professor, who’s fed up with misconceptions about the city and its residents. He routinely disgorges media outlets a verbal gumbo full of spicy and confrontational language. Clarke Peters, a cast member many may remember from “The Wire,” plays a local Indian chief. His return to the Lower 9th Ward neighborhood brings him heartbreak, hope and happiness, despite the obvious obstacles he faces personally and professionally. Steve Zahn’s character is a local eclectic down-on-his-luck radio DJ. He lives in the Treme neighborhood, is obsessed with New Orleans music and moves through life dancing to his interesting, innovative beat.
To keep true to the sound of the city, Simon and Overmyer tapped several local musicians and bands. Kermit Ruffins, a former member of the world-renowned Rebirth Brass Band, plays himself in the drama. Ruffins, with his amazing talent, raspy voice, Southern accent and New Orleans drawl, adds a necessary revealing twist on the significance of the city’s authentic music. New Orleans native Wendell Pierce, whose resume is extensive in film and television, plays a struggling musician whose professional and personal life is unraveling into an emotional and financial cesspool.
The city’s unique jazz funerals, with a brass band playing the type of music full a flavor distinctly New Orleans opens a book that’s been rather confusing for some, regarding the way African-Americans in The Big Easy traditionally bury their loved ones.
The elements of the show are compelling and give viewers a healthy balance of intriguing storytelling, drama and facts. While the setting, plot and cast are all crucial components to making “Treme” a top-rated show, as much as “The Wire,” Simon and Overmyer intentionally make New Orleans the center of attention. Writers creatively zoom- in and wrap the show around the city’s rough edges. Every bit of New Orleans that is entertaining, informative and saddening is on full display.
At its core, the drama fills a void for those who still call New Orleans home, even though their zip code is different post-Katrina. For skeptics and tourists wondering if New Orleans is worth the time, effort and resources needed to recover; “Treme” dishes the answer, one episode at a time. There are eight episodes left in this first season of “Treme.” What do you think about “Treme?” “What do you think HBO is getting right or wrong?
Please forward all comments to Maniko Barthelemy at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can post your comment directly.