December 30, 2013

THE SKED Series Finale Review: “Treme”


TV is a little poorer for the loss of TREME, a series that never fully received the appreciation–from viewers or critics–that it deserved.  Even a bit watered down from its usual density in a last season of only 5 hours (well, 5 1/3 with tonight’s supersized finale), it was a unique mix of New Orleans music, atmosphere, food, social comment, and characters as sharply written and performed as any on the air.

The early seasons of Treme, which picked up with the city’s attempt to claw its way back from Hurricane Katrina, were often sharply angry, particularly at inefficient and corrupt government officials.  The tone of this valedictory season, though, has been more elegiac, and that was true of the finale as well.  Written by series creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer, and directed by Agnieszka Holland (who directed the original pilot, as well as a few other episodes over the years), the episode was mostly concerned with characters getting on with their lives, and coming to terms with their own limitations and those of the city they love, epitomized by a huge pothole that was never filled in, but became decorated by residents with increasingly festive Mardi Gras garb.

One of the disconnects that led to critical resistance toward Treme was that unlike co-creator Simon’s celebrated The Wire, the series was never particularly tightly plotted.  There was no central mystery, no mythology, and many of the characters only ever interacted with a few of the others.  It had a sprawling quality (some would say scattered) and a relaxed, if smooth, pacing that was unlike anything else, even on cable–it felt more like an indie movie, or an Altman film from the 1970s.  (ABC’s somewhat schizophrenic, and definitely non-Altman related, Nashville at times–but only sometimes–seems to be inspired by it.)  The show rarely relied on high melodrama.

Stories weren’t so much wrapped up in the finale as put on pause.  Davis (Steve Zahn), having turned 40, entertained the notion of settling down, perhaps with chef Janette (Kim Dickens), but by the end of the episode he was back to brainstorming (after a few tokes) about a song–no, a concept album–pitting Godzilla against Martin Luther King.  Janette, for her part, won back the right to use her own name on her new restaurant–thanks to the surprise intervention of hustling Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), who before his own exit to Galveston maneuvered her former boss into giving up his contractual rights by promising the man, as he put it, 100% of nothing, i.e., a new restaurant in a complex that would never be built.  LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) and Delmond (Rob Brown) mourned the death of his father Albert (Clarke Peters) in the previous episode, Delmond by marching in the Mardi Gras, but not in his father’s place as Chief, and LaDonna with a photo of Albert over her re-opened bar.   Toni (Melissa Leo) finally got a measure of satisfaction in her investigations against the N.O.P.D. about the deaths of prisoners in custody; however, in what was probably the episode’s most dramatic event, Terry (David Morse), the cop who lived with Toni, ruined his own career by testifying to a false report he’d written and moved out of town.  Annie (Lucia Micarelli) tried to balance her love for authentic local music with a desire to have some success, agreeing to let herself be packaged and marketed as a Nashville commodity as long as she retained control of her songs.  Annie’s old boyfriend Sonny (Michiel Huisman), now married and off drugs, started performing again, just a bit.  Antoine (Wendell Pierce) took his teenaged boys with LaDonna into his house, and coped with the end of the afterschool music program he’d taught.  With the possible exception of Terry, none of the arcs of these people’s lives were resolved, and they didn’t need to be.

All of Treme‘s characters were rich and worthwhile, portrayed by a wonderful ensemble, and their stories developed in a pleasing manner, once you adjusted to the show’s particular rhythms.  The action would not infrequently stop for a few minutes at a time to feature musical performances that weren’t being performed by any of the main characters, playing out at length instead of the usual TV (and movie) style of having a few bars of the song at full volume, then either cutting away or dropping the sound down so characters could perform dialogue with the music as a background.  On Treme, the music was as important as the plot.  There were also criticisms that the show was somehow “smug,” even holier-than-thou, and non-inclusive, for reasons that were never clear–if anything it seemed to be offering viewers an entry into a world that non-New Orleans residents would never otherwise get to see.

There’s a great deal of terrific TV available these days, and no show lasts forever.  Treme, though, played a tune that was different from all the rest, and it’s a sound that won’t easily be replaced.



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."