After HBO's "The Wire," creator David Simon had a tall order on his hands when it came to following up what many regard (including me) as the best drama ever produced for television. "Treme" is nowhere near as brilliant, but it's no failure either, and like its predecessor manages to (almost) tell a compelling and very political story without resorting to the divisive, heavy-handed, and partisan approach we've come to expect from Hollywood.
Treme is a mostly Black New Orleans' neighborhood, one rich in the culture and music the city is most famous for. Set about a year after the devastating flood brought on by Katrina and feckless local and state Democrats, "Treme" is the story of the people of that region and how they cope, rebuild, and attempt to hang on to a way of life the water and the change that follows (developers, carpet baggers, government bureaucracies, and crime) threatens to take away.
It would take a thousand words to even begin to delve into the patch-quilt of characters, plots, and subplots the series somehow manages to keep track of. Almost everything, though, revolves around music, food, politics, and corruption. Story highlights include The Great Underused David Morse as an honest cop in a corrupt system; Melissa Leo as one of those obnoxious civil rights attorneys that aren’t so obnoxious when they have a legitimate cause to fight; the hilarious Steve Zahn as a hapless white-boy, social justice revolutionary; The Great Wendell Pierce as a trombonist trying to avoid real life through the forming of a band; and The Amazing Clarke Peters as a sanctimonious Mardi Gras Indian Chief incapable of gratitude towards the pretty amazing son he raised.
A special mention, though, is required for Khandi Alexander, whose shattering performance and heartbreaking story grabs hold of so many of the series' themes. Alexander's performance should've won every award available to her.
Some of these characters intertwine, others don’t but probably will in subsequent seasons, but everyone is connected through a shared love of who they are and where they came from; even if that love sometimes finds them on different sides of the same fight.
By definition, the story is politically correct. You can't imagine HBO offering an artistic genius like Simon the opportunity to spend millions to explore and share and advocate for a way of life in the American suburbs or a part of the Deep South home only to Caucasians. But the actual presentation is frequently more complicated than the subject matter and mostly manages to avoid politically correct traps. As he did with "The Wire," Simon doesn’t shy away from the sad fact that young Black men are the ones turning New Orleans into a post-Hurricane war zone or that government bureaucracies often do more damage than good in stifling the innovation and ability of individuals to pick themselves up.
In fact, through most of the season, the execrable Mayor Ray "chocolate city" Nagin is portrayed as the arch-villain through his race-baiting, incompetence, and the punitive fees he places on parade-goers as revenue enhancements.
Surprisingly, Republicans are portrayed sympathetically. Nelson Hidalgo plays the aforementioned carpet bagger, a politically-connected Hispanic Republican from Dallas who sees financial and political opportunity in the devastation, but not in a villainous way. Furthermore, the corruption he eventually finds himself involved in is through the city's Democrat-driven machine.
Like the city, the show is easy-going, flavorful, filled with all kinds of terrific music (that gets a little repetitive after a while). But as the season came to an end, it was unfortunate that the politics moved from the characters (which is fine) to the show itself doing the editorializing. One of the biggest job creators in that region is offshore oil, which is portrayed as an evil "taking something away" from the people, and a heavy-handed close up of Bush-Cheney portraits after a foreshadowing of how much better "the next administration" will be for "civil rights," was a real low-point.
Overall, though, I liked the characters and I was invested in their stories and relationships. Season three is set to premiere this fall, and I look forward to seeing what everyone's been up to.
'Treme: The Complete Second Season' is available at Amazon.com.