September 24, 2012



TREME:  Sunday 10PM on HBO


WHERE WE WERE:  New Orleans, of course, and hip-deep in the lives of a dozen struggling, striving, stubborn, idiosyncratic natives and recent arrivals.  These include the feckless trombonist Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce), who reluctantly supports himself and his family as a high school music teacher; radio DJ/composer/rapper/dreamer Davis (Steve Zahn); chef Janette (Kim Dickens); recently widowed lawyer Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) and her adolescent daughter Sofia (India Ennenga); violinist and now singer Annie (Lucia Micarelli); her former boyfriend, also a musician but now fisherman Sonny (Michael Huisman); bar-owner LaDonna (Khandi Alexander); contractor and Indian in good standing Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) and his jazzman son Delmond (Rob Brown); policeman Terry Colson (David Morse); and hustling builder Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda).

WHERE WE ARE:  25 months have now passed since Hurricane Katrina, putting us in September 2007.  People like Terry are still living in FEMA motor homes, while Albert Lambreaux toils to put his house back together and LaDonna and her husband try to find a new home (while uneasily living with her ex-husband and his new wife).  The characters are mostly where we left them last season, but there have been some developments:  Annie has a band!  And a kick-ass one, it seems, and since she’s currently Davis’ girlfriend (he’s trying to finance an R&B opera about Katrina), that may shift the dynamics between them.  Delmond’s experimental jazz/Indian CD featuring his dad has been released, to favorable if not unanimous reviews.  Sofia, who seems to be recovering from the suicide of her father, has a boyfriend.  A reporter is in town, trying to investigate the post-Katrina deaths that Toni has been pursuing for the past 2 seasons.

Pity poor TREME.  A ratings underperformer from the start, never a critics’ darling nor an awards magnet, it’s remained on the air mostly because its co-creator David Simon is the man who made The Wire, and The Wire (itself never a breakout hit) is an integral part of HBO mythology.  Now, on top of everything else, starting next week it will have to air directly opposite Homeland, poised for a leap in its 2d season after last night’s Emmy triumph.   The ratings may require a microscope to find, but luckily, the show has already been renewed by HBO for a 4th and final (albeit shortened) season.

The 3rd season premiere, written by Simon (from a story by him and chef Anthony Bourdain) and directed by Co-Executive Producer Anthony Hemingway, was completely of a piece with the series as a whole–which is to say, if it drove you crazy before, you’re not going to like it any better now.  Treme has a different feel from anything else on television, much more like a Robert Altman film than the TV version of MASH ever was.  It’s not that the show lacks plot or coherent narrative lines, just that it moves at its own deliberate pace.  Episodes often start and end with musical numbers instead of cliffhangers, nonprofessional actors (usually playing their real-life selves) mingle with the regular cast, and a sequence about a murder investigation is given no more weight than one about a mother and daughter getting their hair done, or a gathering of chefs for a fabulous dinner in New York (where Janette currently lives).  It’s all part of the daily life of the city, and if you’re not all that absorbed by one story, a few minutes’ wait will bring another.

Somehow Simon and his writers and cast manage to make of all this a gumbo and not a mess.  If you just relax and go with the flow of Treme, it’s one of the most sensuously enjoyable shows on the air, a series attuned to the constant delights of music, food, romance and sheer orneriness.  There isn’t a moment that doesn’t feel authentic and true to its authors’ vision, and while it’s great that the show will have survived 3 1/2 seasons on the air, it’s too bad that more haven’t fallen under its spell.  True, if DVRs and multiple airings didn’t exist, and only one show could be watched on Sundays at 10PM, Treme is no Homeland.  But the joy of modern TV is that we can have our beignets and eat them too.

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."