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Thursday, 4 April 2013


Treme is, like it's predecessor, a portrait of a city. The predecessor I am talking about, of course, is The Wire, also written and produced by David Simon. The Wire was about many things, but above all it was an exploration of Baltimore, the previously anonymous city near to Washington DC. And now comes Treme, a love letter to New Orleans.

Of course New Orleans - pronounced "N'orlins" by the residents -  like Baltimore, is far from a model city. Treme is set in the years after Hurricane Katrina, in the mid 2000s, when the city was devastated and attempting to pull itself back together. Like Baltimore it has a questionable police force that lacks the confidence of the populace, and insidious corruption in local government that allows police brutality, developers with connections to get paid for contracts that they never fulfill, and crimes to go unpunished.

Of course New Orleans has the music, and that is at the heart of the show. The Treme (pronounced "Treh-may") of the title is the area of New Orleans that is most associated with the music and musicians of the city. Blues, R&B, Jazz, Bluegrass, these are the soundtrack to the series, there are live performances, street performers, marching bands, "second lines", in fact the only music that we hear in the show is live. There are cameos from the great and the good of New Orleans music, names that most people won't have heard of but who are legends in their own milieu. Music suffuses the series, and almost every character of note is a musician or has a strong connection to one.

Treme needs time and patience, with it's sprawling cast and intricate storylines, but it is really worth it. Series three has just completed, and for me it has gotten better and better. It shares with The Wire this style of sketching multiple narratives, with multiple characters, some interlinking, the stories criss-crossing, the main characters coming into and out of each others' lives, providing layer after layer of story that builds like a complex network into a view of the city in all its aspects. It is not a show that you can dip into and out of, you need to follow it. It is perfect for a box-set, and requires - again like The Wire - some effort and commitment from its viewers.

And when it comes together, it is truly magnificent. It is the accumulation of detail, the layer after layer of story and character, the examination of important issues, the humour, the likable personalities that inhabit the city, the bad guys, the good guys, the ability to deal with complexity without having to reach for cliché and easy answers, the subtle brilliance of the writing. For fans of The Wire it takes some getting used to, but Treme retains a lot of the genius of the previous show and is worth committing to. And of course it marks the return to TV of Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters, the actors who played Bunk Moreland and Lester Freamon, two of the most loved inhabitants of The Wire universe.

The show also has a strong social conscience. Series three revolves around, for one thing, attempts by journalists and lawyers to get justice for people mistreated by the infamous NOPD. They in turn are victimised by the police force. It is a vision of those in power who frequently seem to be opposed to those they are supposed to represent.

Treme, in its intricate exploration of a city at a particular time in its history, and its perfect blending of the personal and the political, is massively intelligent, subtle, impressive and compelling. The best written show on TV at the moment.

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