Thoughts on Treme, so far

posted: 14 April, 2010

Once again, it is possible to immerse oneself into the magical synthesis of language, people and artifice that is the David Simon city-fiction.  What worried me, before seeing the 80 minute pilot of Treme, is that Simon would stray from the “write what you know” rule — it’s inarguable that he is a master of all things Baltimore, but tackling post-Katrina New Orleans?

I have never been to New Orleans myself, so I can’t even guess at its accuracy.  Simon has already defended his factual errors and makes a pretty good case for the liberties he and co-writer Eric Overmyer have taken.  It only took me a few minutes into the episode - probably at the sight of Wendell Pierce raising his trombone to his lips - before I realised that I didn’t care about how realistic the city’s portrayal might be.  


See, there’s something immediately recognisable about the style of Treme, maybe in the angles or the cuts, that instantly recalled the thrills of discovering The Wire.  No amount of hyperbole is enough for how much of an accomplishment that series was, and if the first episode is to be any indication, Treme is going to be (perhaps equally) amazing of a ride.
This is not going to be a retread; Treme is about New Orleans, and Simon is far too careful to graft any Baltimorean predilections onto these characters.  What strikes me the most about the pilot - besides the absolute beauty of the images and music, stylistically - is how different of a beast we have here.


The Wire is a show about structures and systems, where organisations, hierarchies and power dynamics infect every minute detail.  Treme seems to behave in a much more organic manner. As the opening march shows, there is order in its chaos; what is a seemingly messy street party contains a fluid organisational structure, with negotiations and roles, but none explicitly manifested.  But this is a stylistic choice, not a philosophical change.  The conscience of this show, like The Wire, is still the death-spiral of the American city.  It may be articulated much more blatantly here, but its the underlying shadow to every shot, and every word of dialogue.  And really, is any other American entertainment dealing with this topic?

So we’re exploring decay and chaos again, but from a different direction.  There are human beings at the core of both shows, but Treme is going to focus (in a gloriously dynamic way), on the plurality of viewpoints and relations that construct this city-fiction.  Yes, The Wire did this too, but the rigidity of systems was inescapable there.  It is perhaps only in the ravaged New Orleans that Simon finds a canvas to look beyond power structures and envision a right-brain celebration of American urban culture that wasn’t present in his Baltimore.  There are many fingers pointed in The Wire, but Treme starts beyond the point of accusation (despite John Goodman’s character’s best attempts) - in a world where hopelessness is the starting proposition. 

I am very, very excited to see this unfold.