I Can’t Watch “Treme” on HBO, But You Can Starting April 11 (w/Update)
UPDATE (4/11/10): Thanks to Your Right Hand Thief for the location of Back of Town, the blog that will cover David Simon’s Treme, and hopefully its discussions will help keep the show real. Bookmark it.
Where I live, there is only basic cable, and I also share the television with others. This is, after all, very low income housing at the Y. At night, the women are watching other brain trash: movies, reality shows, TV comedies or night time soaps on the supernatural or cop shows. But David Simon’s Treme is not brain trash; Treme could spark a lot of brain activity–about Nawlins. Unfortunately, I can’t watch it, but you can. You should.
People will, of course, choose whatever they wish from the show at first. Of course, it is not set in Baltimore like The Wire, which was the original output of the makers of Treme. The music, which is all good (Kermit Ruffins and the Rebirth Brass Band is playing “Do What You Wanna” in the background of this clip). The actors, some of whom have come from The Wire, like Wendell Pierce, a native of New Orleans himself; and Clarke Peters. The Crescent City itself. All of it, however, contributes to the meaning of the show. Says L.A. Times TV critic Mary McNamara:
If The Wire was about the inevitable, irreversible decay of the American urban center, Treme is about something else. The exact nature of that something is not immediately clear. Certainly, it is not as simplistic as resiliency or renewal — the mold that is consuming so many homes is not the only source of rot run wild. But in the wake of destruction, the natural order demands growth of one thing or another.
Compared with The Wire, which though gorgeously complex had the solid scaffolding of crime and punishment, Treme is based on something much more amorphous.
Simon has talked about how hard it was before Katrina to sell a series set in New Orleans, and there’s a reason for that. With all its cultural baggage, New Orleans is the ultimate scene stealer, ready to bog a drama down in glittery beads, crawdads and hot Big Easy sex.
Behind the bourbon-and-tourist-dollar-fueled madness of Mardi Gras has always lurked an off-putting Otherness, a messy tangle of race and class and faded gaudiness that made it feel too much of a set to be an actual set. Even The Princess and the Frog couldn’t quite lift its story out of the bayou of voodoo, jazz and beignets. Add to that the almost incomprehensible devastation of Katrina, the national failure it represents, and New Orleans, unlike the much lesser-known Baltimore, seems to have too much going on.
With all the documentaries, the helpful Hollywood stars and the incessant media reports of how the rebuilding is or is not progressing, how do you make enough room for a television show?
It appears that David Simon has made room for it all, succeeded in peeling away at the gaudiness and the mythology, and coming up with some of the stuff that I and many other people have known about the real New Orleans. And I’m sure he’ll be daring a lot of Americans to look really close and stop lying to themselves.
One actor to look out for is John Goodman, who is channeling the words and feelings of the late New Orleans blogger Ashley “Buy us back, Chirac” Morris (may he be reborn in New Orleans very soon) like a one-man Greek chorus. Morris, who died young two years ago of a heart attack, was also a big guy with a big heart and a big mouth who loved New Orleans. He became famous on the blogosphere for ripping new holes for outsiders who thought they knew everything about New Orleans underwater with a said-it-all screed called “Fck You, You Fcking Fcks.” Other Nawlins bloggers like oyster (aka Hana Morris, his widow) at Your Right Hand Thief are giving New Orleans resident Goodman props for his portrayal, and thinking of Morris throughout:
So I am watching the interview with David Simon about Treme. And watching the bit with John Goodman. Listening to him saying Ashley’s words.
And all I can think of is How fucked up this is. Thinking how much insecure Ash was, how he thought nobody took him seriously. Always doubting himself. Always trying to be better, smarter, more informed. Always thinking that his work does not really mean much to anybody.
And now he is a character in a movie! Movie by David Simon whom he admired tremendously.
Now the whole US will finally hear him. They will hear what he was saying 4 years ago. His work will finally have a meaning. To hundreds, maybe thousands.
And how fucked up is it that this happened after his death. I don’t know what he would do if he saw this. Being portrait (sic) by John Goodman. Him, a poor boy from Pensacola. A son of a used-cars (sic) salesman. I wonder if he would finally believe that he meant a lot to a lot of people. That he changed this world without knowing it.
As mad as I was about how New Orleans was used and abused, reading “FYYFFs” was refreshing. I hope Treme is just as refreshing to you and others, and I hope to see Treme one of these damn days.
Say a prayer for David Mills, too.