The Music Makes Treme Great
Unlike The Wire: A City To Root For
What shows pop to mind that the dialogue or plot isn't what instantly grabs you? Not many, right? What intros to an episode can you remember where barely a word is spoken but it leaves you exceedingly excited for the rest to come? How can a place as desolate and ruined as post Katrina New Orleans skyrocket to the top of my vacation list? The music, pure and simple.
It took me awhile to get into HBO's Treme situated in post hurricane New Orleans, I will admit. Not til my third try did I make it past the first three episodes. Having been an avid The Wire watcher the overarching plot was lacking. Of course the point of the show, the scope, is much larger and meaningful than the everyday police workings in broken Baltimore. But as an entertainment show, the plot wasn't there for me.
The opening scene of the Second Line parading through NOLA for the first time since Katrina was powerful and grabbing, without a doubt. The scenes of a city utterly destroyed were hard to watch and the citizens of this wasteland even more broken than the city themselves was heartbreaking.
See, The Wire had a way of ensnaring you in its plot. It made you like characters on both sides of the law, giving you a hard time when you had to choose who to root for. Barksdale or McNulty? I was an Omar guy myself, but I could get on board with them Barksdale boys.
Treme however doesn't follow the same formula. It doesn't pit two likeable sets of opposing characters against each other and make you choose. It throws you smack dab into the lives of a group of people you pity who are all going through the same thing and that makes it real. Unlike Baltimore, New Orleans is destroyed but it is beautiful. The way the city is portrayed through music and food and culture, makes me think the line of the song, "This city won't never wash away, this city will never drown" is right.
Now, I don't know what the critical reception to the show is or the kind of ratings it draws in. Let's remember though, The Wire was never a powerhouse in the ratings category either. In fact, they had to fight each season the keep "The Greatest Show Ever Made" on television for its five seasons.
The real beauty of the show is its authenticity. I read recently that the citizens of New Orleans were initially against the show. David Simon, both shows creator, didn't do Baltimore any favors in its portrayal. But after the show premiered they jumped on board because it is real New Orleans. The city isn't rich, high tech or modern. New Orleans is what it has always been, a hotbed of culture.
If David Simon was going to make a show about New Orleans he needed to show three things: music, food and real people struggling. I think he succeeded on all three. The show is centered around musicians, chefs, activists and culturally significant minorities.
The best part of David Simon shows is the fact that you feel as if you know the city he portrays. In these ensemble casts the true main character is the city itself. On The Wire they casted actually B-more citizens to play pivotal roles.
Treme takes it a step further, the musicians on the show are all real New Orleans players. I thought the eccentric, one eye open trumpet player Kermit Ruffins was a greatly written character until a found out he's a real trumpet player located right in New Orleans. The restaurants featured are real, locations shown real and people referenced real.
If you can get into the show you have to appreciate it for what it is, a real look at a city broken by a natural disaster but also being held back from restoring itself by politicians and crime. It is an ugly sight at first but give it time and see the true beauty shine through.
Music is featured in every aspect of the show, from the musicians themselves to great montage scenes featuring funky jazz. It infiltrates you as you watch and can't help but want to get down to The Spotted Cat and listen to Mr. Ruffins blow that horn.
The scary thing is that the show references that outside of New Orleans, the music they make is dead. It was a thing that made that city great once but hasn't evolved with the times, much as the city hasn't.
Hopefully this show can shine a light back on this great town and remind people that life should be about the little pleasures. Good food, good music and great people no matter how bad the times get.