Rolling With the Punches
By Belinda Acosta, Fri., April 16, 2010
First, let me say that any TV producer that has the good sense to bring Khandi Alexander to the screen has my undying gratitude. Oh sure, she's on that police procedural on that other channel, but in Treme, the newest HBO series from TV powerhouses David Simon (The Wire) and Eric Overmyer (Homicide: Life on the Street), I know she, along with the amazing ensemble cast, will get to flex the full range of her performance abilities – something she only gets a glancing opportunity to do elsewhere. The most amazing thing of all: We get to watch from the comfort of our living rooms. Ah! Life is good!
The 10-episode series, which launched last week and stars The Wire alum Wendell Pierce, takes place in New Orleans, three months after Hurricane Katrina. While the series starts with Antoine Batiste (Pierce) as the central character, the lens is expanded, as with previous Simon projects, to examine other lives that may or may not intersect with our primary character.
Antoine Batiste is a wonderful personification of the city he lives in – a little ragged from wear but still living and breathing when others have given up on him. An itinerant trombonist, Batiste lives hand to mouth, eking out a living working any gig he can get, and as such, plays a lot of funeral processions for friends who have passed on in his neighborhood, the titular Treme (pronounced Tre-MAY), and elsewhere in the city. Antoine still has the hots for his ex, LaDonna (Alexander). And she could be said to serve as an elegant metaphor for New Orleans, too. In a small scene where Antoine happens into her neighborhood bar, they exchange pleasantries and family news (post-Katrina, her brother is still missing), and at a key moment, Antoine makes a playful but poignant confession that he still misses her and the way things were between them. LaDonna declines his overtures, but not without some hint that maybe, just maybe, she misses him, too. But she's moved on and is married to another man. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but when Antoine exits this small scene, with LaDonna standing statuesquely in the doorway of her ramshackle bar, I couldn't help but see that LaDonna was the perfect physical representation of that spirit of New Orleans that the natives yearn for and defend with great affection. Something so tantalizingly present, but not quite there. This is one of the wonderful things about Treme, and any David Simon series. There is always so much to walk away with.
Besides being filmed on location in New Orleans, Treme has an added air of authenticity by having notable New Orleanians appear in small roles, as well as including New Orleans-based writers on staff. Lolis Eric Elie (a former columnist for New Orleans' The Times-Picayune) and novelist and nonfiction writer Tom Piazza (City of Refuge and Why New Orleans Matters) are part of the stellar writing team that includes Simon, Overmyer, George Pelecanos (The Pacific), as well as David Mills (The Corner), who passed away unexpectedly in late March while working on the series.
The rest of the ensemble cast includes John Goodman (The Big Lebowski) as Creighton Bernette, a university professor and outspoken critic of post-Katrina restoration efforts; Steve Zahn (A Perfect Getaway) as Davis McAlary, an ornery disc jockey and sometime musician; Kim Dickens (Deadwood) as Janette Desautel, McAlary's on/off girlfriend and a popular chef struggling to relaunch her restaurant; and Melissa Leo (Homicide: Life on the Street) as Toni Bernette. Married to Creighton, Toni is a lawyer who has been trying to help her close friend LaDonna track down her missing brother. Cleverly, most of these characters are in positions where they must roam the city, taking viewers into pockets of the city perhaps not seen as much or as clearly elsewhere.
The notable New Orleans residents who appear in Treme from time to time include Allen Toussaint, Dr. John, Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, Kermit Ruffins, Donald Harrison Jr., John Boutte, Galactic, Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews, Deacon John, and the Rebirth and Treme brass bands.
Treme airs Sundays at 9pm, with encores throughout the week, on HBO.
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E-mail Belinda Acosta at email@example.com.