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?

Tonight was the premiere of The Pacific on HBO and, boy, was it a doozy. The 10-part mini-series comes from the same production team as Band of Brothers, Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

This time around, as the title obviously explains, we’re treated to the horrors of WWII that took place in the Pacific theater. Tonight’s opening hour introduced us to our three main characters: Robert Leckie, John Basilone, and Eugene Sledge. The hour mostly followed Leckie as his platoon touched down on the island of Guadalcanal, while still providing us with some foundation on the other two, to guide us into the further weeks.

The visuals are stunning. The climactic battle sequence in the second half is terrific, though I have a feeling it’s just the tip of the iceberg, in terms of what to expect in the weeks to come. However, for me, it’s the little moments that really drive home how masterful this hour was. Basilone’s Italian father placing a hand on his son’s and giving him a knowing, misty glance after a touching Christmas toast. Leckie’s platoon anticipating arrival on the beach in the carrier boat, each going through something different (one’s praying, one’s puking, one’s totally pumped, etc.), yet each of them seem totally authentic. And Leckie’s hands shaking, as he’s going through the bag of the Japanese soldier he’s just gunned down, discovering pictures of family, realizing that the enemy is a person, too.

The production value is incredible. The battle sequences are sure to be brilliant. But, it’s these small, human moments that are going to be the transcending moments of this mini-series and are the reasons why, if you’re lucky enough to have HBO, you should watch, and if you’re not, you should get it.