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TV: HBO’s ‘Treme’ Continues to Disappoint

When a new HBO series is the brainchild of television royalty like David Simon and David Mills, features A-list directors, writers and actors, and the music is provided by some of New Orleans’ finest, I don’t think anyone can be blamed for raising their expectations pretty high, even if early reviews were lukewarm.

My expectations were high, and now I’m sorry.

"Treme" becomes more of a disappointment each week (I’m still watching), and I think the reason is found in the relentless name-dropping. Each week, famous or quasi-famous musicians are dragged into the show to play with either Antoine or Delmond or maybe just walk across a room so we can overhear whispers of, “That’s Stanley Crouch,” or “Hey, it’s Dr. John!”

This would be fine, if there were some dramatic point to it, but there never seems to be. The appearance itself is the point. The audience gets to go, “Oh my God, there’s Aaron Neville!” And so we know that the executive producers know who’s who in New Orleans.

And so what? I hate to say it, because it’s such a bone-headed move, but it looks like the desire to showcase New Orleans and its musicians came before an actual story. And the result is multiple incomplete characters and plotlines that wander into the bayou and get lost.

Antoine (the wonderful Wendell Pierce) blows his horn on stage after stage, week after week while fathering children all over southern Louisiana that he never sees again. He also stiffs a lot of cab drivers along the way. That’s his function on this show.

Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), who has been working non-stop on his elaborate, feathered Mardi Gras creation in the face of fiercely adverse conditions, incredibly -- and very matter-of-factly – spends Mardi Gras in jail.

This is not irony. This is not knowing what to do with him -- or running out of money to do it with. Albert’s problematic relationship with his son Delmond, a New York jazz musician, is being resolved by some deus ex-machina off-screen somewhere.

The on-going search for LaDonna’s (Khandi Alexander) younger brother David went on for weeks, but since the writers never contrived a way to reveal the hell David was in, it was hard to care.

The storyline for Annie and Sonny, two street musicians, is more developed than most in “Treme,” but we have no idea why smart, talented, classically-trained Annie is hanging around dark, derelict neighborhoods with needy, self-destructive Sonny in the first place.

On the plus side, Jeanette Desautel (Kim Dickens), who loses her popular restaurant when she can’t get a loan, is one character whose story we can root for. The free spirit and totally stoned city council candidate David McAlary (Steve Zahn) doesn’t really have a story, but that’s the point about him.

And recently LaDonna reported a lazy contractor to the authorities who then threatened her, and maybe something will come of that, but it’s a crap shoot.

Because I’ve enjoyed “The Wire,” “The Corner,” and “Homicide: Life on the Street,” David Simon’s previous and quite fabulous series, I will stick it out to the end.

But here’s hoping his next venture is a return to form. I don’t want to have to keep saying, “Who dat?”

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