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TV: HBO’s ‘Treme’ Continues to Disappoint

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Above: "Treme's" Annie and Sonny, played by Lucia Micarelli and Michiel Huisman.

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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Avatar for user 'Trisha Richter'

Trisha Richter, KPBS Staff | June 14, 2010 at 3:27 p.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

And all this time I thought it was me! I've been trying so hard to get into this show. Yes my expectations were high but I do feel like I've given it more of a shot than I usually would. The music is fabulous and it was nice at first to be re-united with some of the stars of The Wire but I'm finding it difficult to put much effort into being loyal to David Simon for much longer. The disappearance of John Goodman's character will have me watching the finale but we'll see if I'm dedicated enough to the cause to watch next season.

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Avatar for user 'Skittles'

Skittles | June 15, 2010 at 10:40 a.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

Are you from here (NOLA)? If you're not from here there's no way you can understand the reality of what Treme' is about.

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Avatar for user 'Angela Carone'

Angela Carone | June 15, 2010 at 10:57 a.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

@Skittles. I'm not the author of this post - I'm the editor of the blog - but I'm curious about what you mean.

So you think the show accurately reflects NOLA? In what ways does it get it right? thanks for you comments

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | June 15, 2010 at 1:40 p.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

Au contraire, Skittles. I'm not quarreling with the reality of New Orleans. I'm just sayin' that if someone wants to produce an HBO drama series set in NOLA, it would be nice if there were actually some drama in it. Instead, this show seems to be about the producers being cool.

Pat Finn

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Avatar for user 'aarynb'

aarynb | June 15, 2010 at 2:54 p.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

Hey! It's Cassandra Wilson! (I sort of dug that moment.)

I have been watching Treme, remaining hopeful, feeling like I'm being presented with a very literal post-Katrina New Orleans. The show is heartbreaking at times, maddening at others. It makes me want to visit while simultaneously making it clear I'm an unwelcome outsider (shout out to Skittles!). The story lines are scattered and the acting is, with exceptions, lukewarm. I hate to say it but, Treme seems to be getting weaker with each successive episode. I couldn't figure out if the Mardi Gras episode was well done and depressing, or really awful and depressing. Either way, the result of that episode was that I completely forgot to watch it on Sunday night. Not a good sign.

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Avatar for user 'drea123'

drea123 | June 15, 2010 at 3:02 p.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

Thanks for this article; it echoes what I've been thinking for the past three episodes or so. My slight disagreement is that Kim Dickens (as Jeanette) has succeeded in making her character likable and sympathetic, but that's about it. She seems to hang on mainly to be Davis' opportunity to show that he can act like a grown-up and be an equal partner in a relationship. And when Davis squired Annie around Mardi Gras two episodes ago, there was nothing for poor Jeanette to do but dance on the streets in her angel costume. Mainly the stories are incomplete and disappointing. If the stories were better, I don't think anyone would be bothered by the pointless appearances of the local celebrities so much.

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Avatar for user 'Elvisfan62'

Elvisfan62 | June 17, 2010 at 12:06 p.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

I like Treme, I'm not from NOLA, but I get it. The music is awesome.

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Avatar for user 'NightTrain28'

NightTrain28 | June 18, 2010 at 9:38 a.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

Do we want reality or entertainment? In the hypothetical Pat supposes - that the viewer be entertained more than be informed about the reality of post-Katrina existence - is a sad comment to make. The plot line's go nowhere? LIFE WENT NOWHERE! It was minutia, struggle for little advancement, dead-end reality as insurance policies were not honored and the property of lawful, honest property owners were usurped by the red tape and extensions of time they could not afford. The desperation in the air was only buoyed by the inordinate amount of artists - musicians, chefs, Black Indians - who persevered against the odds and often lost vast amounts of personal money to remain a part of the NOLA landscape. THAT'S what TREME is about, save the fact that, if you HAVE been there like many of us have, it is about the reality of a funky neighborhood that has been doing what we see in the HBO drama TREME since 1870... they just are using 2005 as the current backdrop for the "back of town". It was the same in 1930, 1950 , 1970.... music beams from there. And the drop ins.. "famous" people as you all think.. are humorously processed by the media-gulping, outside-of-New-orleans types... if you live there, that's normal. You see these people as part of the woodwork... they aren't walking around like "ooo, look at me, I'm famous" like you purport... if you're at a party, you see Elvis Costello, Taj Mahal, Paul McCartney.. living there 10 yrs, I bumped into a who's who of FAMOUS people.. Dick Cavett, Bill Murray, Levon Helm, etc... all off the cuff kinds of bumpings into. It happens, and it seems they really get how to display the reality of that.

Back to the orig point... when reality is skirted for this kind of ENTERTAIN ME OR I WILL PAN YOU type of critique, we just take another chip out of a beautifully produced piece of truely genuine work, something that really reflects life there at a specific, volatile time. Stuff happened.. that's it. They are NAILING it.. I give them a 75% reality rating... All in the Family was the previous all-time winner for me at like 60% reality. It is it's own reward to GET this series, and I feel for anyone who more wants to be ENTERTAINED by people going through what these characters go through than actually see there real plights.

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Avatar for user 'Pat Finn'

Pat Finn, KPBS Staff | June 21, 2010 at 10:57 a.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

Sorry, Night Train. All the capital letters in the world will not convince me that the producers could not have told a coherent story(ies) that would encompass the reality of present-day New Orleans. In fact, I imagine that's exactly what they were paid to do. I am glad you are so passionate about "Treme," though. As for me, I just enjoy the moments that are special, like the Indians on St. Joseph's Night and LaDonna in the second line at her brother's funeral, shake my head at the rest, and hope that next season will see story and place come together a little better.

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Avatar for user 'sjwpgh'

sjwpgh | June 21, 2010 at 12:16 p.m. ― 6 years, 9 months ago

I think the obstacle may be that New Orleans is so unique. What they are showing on Treme, although not everything, is all part of everyday life in New Orleans. Heck, I've masked at mardi gras, been to those parties, marched in second lines and jazz funerals and all the rest. It used to be a vibrant unique culture (and is becoming whole again). When Katrina hit, the storm did relatively little damage - but the failure of the defective levees destroyed and dislocated 80 % of the city. When I went back for that first mardi gras, (5 months later) the waitress at my favorite breakfast place was commuting two hours each way because her house was destroyed. My cousin couldnt get his car repaired because the dealership was destroyed. The guesthouse friends owned couldnt get baked goods because the bakery had been flooded out. Restaurants closed early even in the unflooded parts since they couldnt get supplies or help. There were curfews at dusk and limited hours for the remaining supermarkets..and there werent many of those. People's dentists, doctors and lawyers were gone and their offices flooded. 80% of the businesses were not operating and the mortgage companies still wanted paid on the flooded houses - which the insurance wouldnt cover since the levee breach and not the hurricane did the damage. And on and on..every simple little item you take for granted was an epic problem. I drove for miles through lakeview past nothing but ruined houses and flooded shopping malls. It was like nothing i have ever seen. What Treme is showing is how ordinary people, each in their own way, tried to cope with and rebound from something inconceivable. That first mardi gras was about proving that New Orleans and the things that make it so unique were still there and by God, would recover in spite of it all. I think Treme does a good job of showing some of this, and is a very accurate look at parts of New Orleans. As for the musicians, as someone else said, thats the way it actually is. New Orleans lives and moves to music. Kids there dream of being musicians. Come down sometime to Frenchman Street or Jazz Fest or French Quarter Fest (there are 271 Festivals a year in and around New Orleans) and see how much great music you can hear or, if you are a celebrity groupie, how many famous musicians you can hear in a week. I bet you'd be shocked.

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Avatar for user 'ydrpmg'

ydrpmg | July 10, 2010 at 1:02 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

Get a grip with all this nostalgia! My husband and I grew up in New Orleans. Yes, it is an interesting place. And it has lots of charm, but to say that what Treme portrays is daily life in New Orleans is laughable. Impromptu parades may arise occasionally, but I can assure you that daily events they were not! The spirit that is embraced by Treme is born of a romanticism that was kindled more after Katrina than before that horrible event. I can understand creative license, but the show cannot keep its viewers unless there are better story lines and less name dropping. The acting is first rate.... let the story carry the show and use the charm of New Orleans be used as a rich backdrop, not the other way around.

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Avatar for user 'tremefan'

tremefan | July 15, 2010 at 4:22 p.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

I can't believe all you people who don't like this show! It's beautifully shot, wonderfully acted, heartbreaking in its content, and has me glued to the TV each week as I watch each episode several times. I cried when John Goodman's character disappeared off the ferry, cringe at the police brutality and the, hello, ACCURATE portrayal of musicians' and restaurateurs lives after the storm. I can't wait to see the second season!

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Avatar for user 'armtx'

armtx | July 16, 2010 at 7:23 a.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

I am a transplant to NOLA, getting here in Sept. 2005. Treme is a wondefully shot show that gives people a cross section of what NOLA is like...Seedy, charming, social...etc.
The main issue that I have withthe show is that unles you have spent the time to understand what NOLA is about, Treme is way out in right feild for 98% of the population of this country.
The people who live in Chicago have no idea what a second line is all about. They dont understand the music scene or the food.
What happend after Katrina was a slow, very slow porcess that is still happening today and the show, although a bit scattered in the direction it is going, does give you a feel of what has made this city what it is and that is the social neighborhoods like Treme and the Marginany Triangle on the east end of the Qtr.
Let not forgt that the executive producer/write of the show passes away during filming and there has to be some effect to the story line with his passing.

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Avatar for user 'GeorgeLee'

GeorgeLee | July 23, 2010 at 2:21 a.m. ― 6 years, 8 months ago

I love Treme. The series really reminds me (in structure at least) to Altman's Nashville - multiple storylines threaded throughout. I know little about Jazz so the name dropping did not bother me a jot. I was enormously relieved when John Goodman jumped off that ferry as I thought his character a self important indulgent windbag - constantly moaning about post-hurricane New Orleans, while doing little or nothing to actually help out or make a change (except for dying his hair that unrealistc shade of light brown). I am looking forward to the new series.

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