Treme: A Gut Reaction

April 11, 2010

New Orleans was always a city I’d wanted to visit. Beyond the simple appeal of Mardi Gras, I’d always been fascinated with the vibrant culture associated with the gulf city. The food, the music, the history; it all seemed so spectacular and so wildly different from my Southern California suburban upbringing. But, then a few years ago, Hurricane Katrina hit and I selfishly lamented the fact that I’d never get to experience the city the way so many had before the levees broke.

But, tonight, watching Treme on HBO, I couldn’t help but think that maybe I want to see the city even more now. The show, created by David Simon (The Wire), is shot on location and takes place three months after the flooding. The city and the its inhabitants are beginning to rebuild and that indomitable New Orleans spirit is strong as it ever was. People are searching for family members, trying to salvage business’s and homes; and yet, a sense of celebration permeates throughout, as if the city is singing “We’re still here! It’s gonna take more than this!”

Which isn’t to say that the show diminishes the devastation. No, there is still a very palpable sense of loss and frustration, a layer that is hidden directly beneath the celebratory skin. But, these are a resilient people.

The show itself is terrific. While it would have been foolish to expect anything less, considering its pedigree, Treme does not disappoint. The writing is superb, incredibly naturalistic and authentic. With a subject matter that could have easily led to political showboating and righteous indignation, Simon and his team eschew this for a more pared down focus.

The cast is brilliant, with three TV favorites back on our screen. Khandi Alexander is poised to be a revelation, finally unshackled from the prison that was CSI: Miami; this is a woman who can act and deserves this sort of material. John Goodman, a personal favorite of mine long since the days of Roseanne, plays the only character who speaks on a political level, but he handles it with his typical humor, so as to make it palatable to even those who don’t agree with him (though, for the record, I echo all of his character’s sentiments). And, finally, Kim Dickens, late of Deadwood, is back in the HBO wheelhouse, where she firmly belongs.

A show about a culture and a community that can’t be stopped, with some really outstanding musical performances, Treme looks to be a true joy. I can’t wait to make my weekly visits to the neighborhood. How about you?

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I watched tonight’s premiere of Justified, on FX, with one thought heavy in mind: Timothy Olyphant should never be without a cowboy hat. Ok, not just one thought. But, before I get to the part where I rave about the standout hour of television I just witnessed, I’ve gotta make room for a little fanboy gush. Olyphant is all flinty-eyed man’s man and it’s totally hot. And, seriously, have you ever, in your whole life, seen a man look better in a cowboy hat? Mmm.

Ok. Now that I’ve gotten the gay out of the way…

Justified tells the story of Raylan Givens, a U.S. Marshal, who applies his own code to the law he operates within. Now, before you starting thinking “Oh, Western Dexter,” let me remind you that Raylan Givens is the creation of acclaimed writer Elmore Leonard, so, totally different. As the episode opens, Raylan is working down in Miami, where he’s just shot a man in public. You see, Raylan gave the guy 24 hours to get the heck out of Dodge or else, but ol’ SweatyFace didn’t listen. And then he had the nerve to pull the gun on Raylan first, so it was justified. (Ah, now the title makes a bit more sense. Originally titled Lawman, skittish producers changed it after that claptrap reality show Steven Segal: Lawman hit airwaves first.)

While Raylan is able to justify the killing, his boss is only able to, to an extent. And so, Raylan’s forced to return to Kentucky, where he’s from. That, or lose his badge. As the premiere hasn’t aired on the West Coast yet, that’s all I’ll divulge, story-wise. But, know that this first hour is superb work. Olyphant is, as Raylan, everything his Deadwood character, Sheriff Bullock, wishes he could have been. And his chemistry with Walton Goggin’s (The Shield) xenophobic miscreant Boyd Crowder is palpable and exciting. Certainly, one of the stronger antagonistic relationships we’ve seen on TV in a while.

Bottom line: Come for the Olyphant eye candy, but stay for the sharp writing and the brilliant performances. Justified shows great promise. I’m tuning in next week. Are you?