November 26, 2012



TREME thrives on its idiosyncracies–if “thrive” is the word for a show that hardly anyone watches–and one of those is its limited interest in engaging in a “season finale.”  Thus, tonight’s close of Season 3, written by series creators David Simon and Eric Overmeyer (from a story by Simon and Anthony Bourdain–yes, that one) and directed by Anthony Hemingway, had little in the way of major events or cliffhangers.  The show’s characters, like their city, absorb the blows of the day before and move on to the next.

A few things did happen in the episode.  Civil rights lawyer Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) and nice-guy cop Terry Colson (David Morse)–of whom there aren’t many on the show–at long last became a couple, to the astonishment but then acceptance of Toni’s daughter Sofia (India Ennenga), who spent much of the season banished to Florida to keep her safe from the rest of the police force.  Another long-brewing event was the break-up of Davis (Steve Zahn) and his rising musician/singer girlfriend Annie (Lucia Micarelli), who’s moved beyond Davis and his stubborn adherence to the old ways.  Also set in his ways is Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), who with his son Delmond (Rob Brown), pulled out of consulting for the burgeoning New Orleans Jazz Museum that we knew just had to be shady because one of its major builders is Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), the nicest, most personable poster boy for corruption you could ever hope to meet. At episode’s end, Sony (Michiel Huisman), having survived his backslide into drugs, married his sweet Vietnamese bride Linh (Hong Chau).

Mostly, though, things just continued.  Although The Nation published the article by L.P. Everett (Chris Coy) about police involvement in a Katrina death, there was little sign that anyone would be prosecuted.  The rape trial of the attackers of LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) ended inconclusively, and it was unclear whether she’d be able to reopen her burned-out bar, let alone have the arsonists arrested.  Terry got a little bit of payback against one of the corrupt cops in his unit, but now that it’s known that he spoke to the FBI about police crimes, he has to constantly be looking over his shoulder.  Janette (Kim Dickens) sold her soul to the devil, just a little bit, by opening a restaurant funded by smarmy Tim Feeny (Sam Robards), and now she has to live with the consequences.  The struggle of Desiree Batiste (Phyllis Montana LeBlanc) to cast light on the city’s tearing down of houses without the owners’ consent seems unlikely to affect much change.

Treme‘s lack of traditional dramatic peaks is one of the things that drives some people crazy about it (for some reason, Ryan Murphy seems particularly pissed off), along with what they perceive as its smugness and insularity.  Treme doesn’t stop to explain who its real-life participants are–and no scripted show mixes real people with fictional characters better– or for that matter, much of anything else, and it has no compunction about letting musical numbers play out at full length through the course of an episode just for the joy of the songs.  Its characters and stories only rarely intersect (although tonight’s episode, unusually, did include one big set-piece–a benefit for LaDonna’s bar–where much of the cast made an appearance), instead living separate existences that provide a portrait of the city in detail and depth.

For those of us who are fans, all of this gives Treme a loose, free-flowing quality unique to the show.  Watching Treme, moving from one story to the next along the surf of the ever-present music, feels like the experience of being in that place and experiencing that time.  It’s a show perfectly suited to pay-cable, not because of the profanity and occasional nudity, but because commercial breaks would feel like an intrusion–it’s just not geared to a stop-and-go rhythm.  Everything in the show feels real and lived-in, from the working lives of the show’s musicians, to the politics (and money) involved with cleaning up after Katrina, to the ins-and-outs of opening and running a restaurant (that’s where Bourdain comes in).  The acting by the huge cast is unerring, the kind of performances that seem as though they must go on after the cameras are switched off.

Treme has never really delivered for HBO.  Not only are its ratings fairly pitiful, but the Emmys and other awards bodies haven’t embraced it, and it doesn’t generate buzz in the way that a Girls or Boardwalk Empire does.  The network, after some consideration, has allowed Simon and Overmyer one last abbreviated 5-hour season to tie up whatever loose ends they choose to (don’t expect that to be all of them) and complete their depiction of New Orleans.  Television has been richer for having that portrait, and will be a little less weighty when it’s gone.

About the Author

Mitch Salem
MITCH SALEM has worked on the business side of the entertainment industry for 20 years, as a senior business affairs executive and attorney for such companies as NBC, ABC, USA, Syfy, Bravo, and BermanBraun Productions, and before that, at the NY law firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. During all that, he has more or less constantly been going to the movies and watching TV, and writing about both since the 1980s. His film reviews also currently appear on and In addition, he is co-writer of an episode of the television series "Felicity."