Treme, “Do You Know What It Means”: We all got gigs.

I think there are a fair share of people out there who are breathing a sigh of relief now that Treme has premiered. Ever since it started airing original programming, there’s always been television on HBO. Whether it was Oz, which made us sure that if we ever set foot inside a prison, we’d end up bent over someone’s knee having a swastika tattooed on our ass, or Deadwood, which finally brought the word “hooplehead” into the mainstream vernacular.

But ever since Deadwood was yanked away from us in 2006 and The Sopranos went off the air a year later, it seemed as if HBO had been spinning its wheels, or perhaps biding its time. Now that isn’t to say that its original shows were bad. Generation Kill and John Adams were gems, and lord knows people love True Blood. But with Treme we’re seeing the first in a string of very promising shows that the network will be premiering through this year and into next. Others include Boardwalk Empire, the much-ballyhooed Game of Thrones and David Milch’s Luck. So why are people breathing a sigh of relief? It looks like after a few years away, HBO is finally taking its place back on top.

So…Treme. Before I get into the nitty-gritty, I should probably make mention of the fact that while I saw and loved Generation Kill, I have yet to watch a single episode of The Wire. So while it may be impossible for some to not draw comparisons between the two shows, I don’t have that luxury (crutch?). But give it a while. When I finally do watch it, I’ll wonder why it’s so much more violent than Treme. Anyway, onto the show.

I thought it was a good move for the show to just throw us into the middle of things, even though it didn’t really throw us into the middle of things. The culture is New Orleans is obviously very rich and I enjoyed just trying to make sense of everything as it came up, rather than having every little thing explained to me. Some things I’m still trying to figure out, like Clarke Peters’ fire monster suit or whatever that was. And forgive me, but when I saw him taking it out of its bag, for a second I had this horrible feeling that his character was going to turn out to be a transvestite. Glad I called that one wrong.

I say that we weren’t really thrown into the middle of things because honestly, not a whole lot happened in the show’s 90-minute pilot. And that’s understandable and okay, depending on how you look at it. It’s the first episode, so we spent most of the time getting to know the characters, watching them in their element and seeing what they were all about. And because the show is set in New Orleans, we got a healthy dose of jazz music, which I liked a lot and gelled a lot more than I thought it would. The musical interludes probably won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, but what are you going to do? And as for the lack of a central narrative, it seems like a lot of that is David Simon’s style. We’re going to see a lot of these characters just doing what they do. It worked in Generation Kill, it seems to have worked in The Wire and I don’t see why it wouldn’t work here.

I didn’t realize this until after I had watched it, but almost every character in the show is in a relationship, with their significant other as another main character. John Goodman and Melissa Leo. Kim Dickens and Steve Zahn. Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexandar. I’m not sure if this will have some sort of thematic significance later in the show, or if it’s just the way things turned out. As with many things, we’ll have to wait and see. That aside, I think the show has a very strong cast, which I felt was mostly held up by Wendell Pierce as struggling trombonist Antoine Batiste. But while I enjoyed him the most, everyone here is really pulling their own weight. It’s hard say anything bad about an actress like Kim Dickens, whose characters all seem to lead lives of quiet desperation.

I know Steve Zahn’s character has taken a lot of flak for being over-the-top or too stupid or whatever it is you’re reading is saying. I understand that he brings in a little comedic relief, and I thought that was okay. He doesn’t seem like a very over-the-top character, so I thought he brought some good balance to the weightier themes that the show is dealing with.

Because I’m a big, stupid American who often can’t see past my own television screen, I realize that I’ve never really grasped the exact scope of Katrina and the effect it’s had on the people who lived through it, so for me one of the most powerful images in the entire pilot weren’t things like Clarke Peters coming back to his home to find it completely ruined, but the pictures of the bridge full of convicts Melissa Leo is searching through while trying to help Khandi Alexandar look for a lost relative. I felt those images did the best job of conveying the fact that during the disaster, society had almost completely broken down. And when you take other things into account, like the fact that even three months later there are still bodies waiting to be cleared out of the abandoned houses, it gives you an idea of how difficult piecing all of that back together is going to be for these characters.

Not even a full hour and a half and Treme’s showed us a world more vibrant than other shows are able to convey after several episodes. It really looks like HBO’s got another winner here and I’m looking forward to seeing how things play out over the season.

Stuff I liked:

  • I don’t think I could ever get tired of listening to John Goodman yell at people.
  • Another John Goodman moment. It was a nice beat, watching him laugh when his wife started screaming and throwing things after dealing with the sheriff’s office.
  • Elvis Costello.
  • How long until the season 1 soundtrack comes out?
  • No, seriously. How long?

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