Treme: Won’t Bow, Don’t Know How.
With season 2 scheduled for April 24th, here’s a quick look back at one of the best shows of last year…
You know when friends swap TV recommendations? There’s always some shows, that when vouched for, provoke responses along the lines of “Ah I think I’ll wait…”
Treme’s one such show. Even with over blown critical adoration, it’s proven to be a slow burner at fan base level. For most it carries weighty post-Wire expectations, or fearful remembrance of intoxicating day long, Baltimore binges that lasted well into the wrong side of the AM – there’s too much to risk.
And despite season two coming to air later this month, there’s no immediate bulk re-up around the corner if you do get sucked in. At least not immediately.
Treme holds no real surprises, as usual Simon is concerned with what one New Yorker review referred to as “elsewhere places.” Again Simon and his writers find epic tragedy in the daily life of a North American city, no matter the social class of the characters populating the socio-drama.
Where The Wire used a failing drugs war as a prism to view the corruption and political inertia rotting away inside the governance of a failing Baltimore. Treme shuffles along in similar style, but so far its focus is more local, almost as a corrective to The Wire, it looks at community and the threads holding it together rather than ripping it apart.
Treme opens up “three months after” to find New Orleans and it’s residents in a post-K day foetal position. And no matter how hard they try push the waters of Katrina back in their memory, there’ll always be a moment when they, excuse the pun, flood back. One character, La Donna (played by the Corner’s Khandi Alexander , her of the perpetually anguished face..) refuses a second autopsy on her younger broader who disappeared into the penal system like thousands of others after being arrested on the eve of the flood. There’s an inability to deal with the past, moving on becomes all
The opening sequence is made up of delicate stills and scratchy archive footage of historical New Orleans and the flood. The first season carries on from there in a series of snap shots from the city. If there’s any uniting theme it’s the run up to the Mardi gras festivities, and a fear that the event will be a washout..
Danny Barker and Baby Didds Trio – My Indian Red
It might sound like a dumb thing to say in a TV review, but the focus is very much on the characters and their interactions with each other. Power is notable by it’s absence, truly defined by its failure to respond to the Katrina disaster – witness a lack of services in neighbourhoods forgotten by the state. And when it does intervene, it’s a fucking nuisance. It harasses Mardi Gras goers, smashes a trombone, the tool by which a man earns his living into the ground, or bashes someone for smoking weed . Always in the corner of your eye you see that New Orleans is a city literally under occupation by the National Guard.
Despite this vacuum of civil authority, contrary to wisdom from above and racist media framing during the flood– the New Orleans communities we meet are managing just fine to get their lives back together. So much of Treme rests on that notion, and where the Wire was grim, so far, this new series offers hope. But it’s hope tempered with real anger at the lack of aid. The character played by John Goodman, a university professor at Toulane, voices this feeling of isolated rage in a series of brilliant Youtube “fuck you” viral rants directed to the rest of the US. Even though the city was left dead by the rest of the states, it’s one that will claw its way back .
Kermit Ruffins – Smokin’ With Some BBQ
Yeah, so the series is about the survival scramble of a repertoire of local businesses, musicians, families and neighbours in a wrecked city, but it is also very much about the traditions and institutions they hug close in the face of unparalleled threat.
In the first episode, a shaggy failed musician jumps out of bed in the morning buzzed with excitement. Music flows into his apartment from the street outside. “It’s the first second line since the storm,” he says to his partner. “It sounds like rebirth.”
In a very Wire like technique and one of the most moving scenes – the camera pans through the lives of the characters on the night before Mardi Gras. Each of them hums along to “My Indian Red” by Danny Barker and the Baby Dodds Trio, as it purrs from the citys local alternative radio. It’s life affirming chorus of ““Wont Bow, Don’t Know How!” very much expresses the mood of the show.
It’s in Tremes evocation of the music and traditions around Mardi gras that we are invited into a very beautiful universe where moments of collective joy lend themselves to survival, making bearable an otherwise brutal existence. As Simon said in an interview with Slant magazine “the truth is, it was culture that brought that city back from a near-death experience. It wasn’t political leadership, because there was none.”
5th Ward Webbie – Fuck Katrina
If Baltimore proved fallow ground, Simon does find alternative leadership emerging in Treme, not new ones – but very traditional community orientated ones from the bottom up. There’s Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), the chief of a tribe of Indians. An African-American Mardi Gras tradition, with a practice dating back to when slaves played music in Congo Square and sought shelter with local tribes.
Creighton Bernette’s Rant
In the first episode, he comes out in full head dress and regalia, in a desperate plea for his festival tribe (and community) to re-coalesce. It’s the same character that squats an undamaged yet vacant housing project, that FEMA and the federal housing authority have left empty in order to take advantage of a property swap with a developer. Local police and politicians are clearly wary of acting against him, given this leadership status and localised power, it’s an organic one – neither backed by guns or apathetic election turn outs, its earned though respect.
As most conscious reviewers have noted, New Orleans is ground zero in the battle over housing privatisation in the states. A place where the disaster capitalism that Noami Klien examined in her latest tome plays itself out on the ground, as profit tries to take advantage of and shape a weakened civil society to its own peculiar motive.
Like The Wire, Treme is masterful at plunging you deep into a totally foreign interior. And after a few doses, avarice TV nerds will find themselves skipping frantically through articles on the Mardi Gras traditions, the local realities and mythologies of New Orleans.
For instance, the blue tarp couture worn by the Bernette family was an actual highlight of the Mardi Gras in 2006. A mass satirical wind up of the FEMA roof coverings still protecting homes across the city as state money had still not been released to properly buy shingles.
Then there’s the host of local musicians that come into the show Dr. John, Tom McDermott, Troy Andrews, Bruce Sunpie Barnes and even Elvis Costello. The best cameo is that of Kermit Ruffins, who was quoted in an interview with NPR as saying “The storm brought a lot of bad and a lot of good. It took the mask off everything. Everybody could see what the city was for. And who was running it. And the corruption and the good.”
We’ve already seen hints of this when the shaggy, puckish musician McElery runs for city council in an impish attack on the political and property cartels running the city. That story line closed down quickly, as he was bought off with a get out of jail free card. But maybe as traditions and sources of resistance regroup, there’ll be more scope in the show for the political shenanigans captured in The Wire to step into play.
Don’t wait, get stuck into the first series now, eleven new episodes kick off April 24th on HBO. Hopefully it’ll hit the downloads straight away, so we can all be seeding and leeching on it.
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