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Herc’s Seen The First Three Episodes Of HBO’s TREME, From The Creator Of THE WIRE!!

I am – Hercules!!
A compelling new ensemble drama from “The Wire” mastermind David Simon and “Wire” writer-producer Eric Overmyer, “Treme” (pronounced treh-MAY, and named for one of New Orleans’ oldest neighborhoods) is sort of “Nashville” for K-Ville, following professional musicians and their friends as they try to rebuild their lives three months after George W. Bush praised the performance of FEMA director Michael Brown. Is it as good as “The Wire”? Three episodes in, I had no idea how good “The Wire” was (it turned out to be really REALLY good), so it’s hard to judge, but there’s no chance I’ll be moving on before HBO cablecasts the 10th episode that concludes “Treme’s” first season. The series fascinates at times with details of time and place, from the helmeted national guardsmen who shadow the city to the mud on the floors and the mold on the walls. Disaster has even apparently driven most of the criminal element out west to Houston. What becomes of a major metropolis after it spends weeks as part of the Atlantic Ocean? My inner survivalist loves to learn how we cope with catastrophe, and I’d be lying if I said this series doesn’t beckon to that part of me. And I think I already like “Treme” better than Simon’s last series, “Generation Kill.” I can also speculate that if you’re a jazz fan you’ll enjoy this series more than a not-jazz-fan, as it features stretches in which little happens beyond men blowing hard into horns. The project should also sell quite a few albums for real-life recording artist Kermit Ruffins, who performs and plays himself in a pivotal supporting role. (More a callow punk/alternative maven myself, I’m excited to discover that Elvis Costello is a major presence in the series, having come to the city to record a new album with legendary songwriter-musician and Louisiana native Allen Toussaint. I note that Costello and Toussaint did indeed record the Grammy-nominated album “The River in Reverse” there between Nov. 27 and Dec. 10, 2005.) One big advantage “Treme” has over “The Wire” and “Generation Kill” is “Treme” launches with far more recognizable actors -- a helpful thing for a project that deals with a lot of stories and a sprawling cast. I count about 10 main characters: * Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce, detective Bunk Moreland on “The Wire”) is a trombonist having trouble making ends meet now that city tourism has been decimated. * LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander, Dr. Alex Woods on “CSI Miami”) is Antoine’s ex-wife, a bar owner who has to commute 80 miles to visit her young sons and newish dentist husband, who have all relocated to Baton Rouge. * Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo, detective Kay Howard on “Homicide”) is a civil rights attorney looking into the disappearance of LaDonna’s younger brother Daymo, who may have been in custody when the levee broke. * Creighton Bernette (John Goodman, Pops in “Speed Racer”) is a local lit professor who’d love to sue the government for that shitty levee it built. * Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens, Joanie Stubbs on “Deadwood,” Cassidy Phillips on “Lost” and Shelby Saracen on “Friday Night Lights”) is a friend of the Bernettes, a swamped restaurant owner desperately in need of insurance money to stay afloat. * Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn, Gus McCrae in “Comanche Moon”) is a mouthy difficult-to-employ reefer-sucking know-it-all guitarist and Janette’s equally broke “friend with benefits.” * Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters, detective Lester Freamon on “The Wire”) is a local contractor and Mardi Gras “Indian chief” on a Jake Blues-ish quest to put his scattered “tribe” back together. * Delmond Lambreax (Rob Brown, Jamal Wallace in “Finding Forrester”) is Albert’s son, a rising (and touring) modern jazz musician who finds himself following Albert back to New Orleans following the disaster. In the second episode we meet shaggy-haired Sonny (Dutch actor Michiel Huisman) and ethnically ambiguous girlfriend Annie (pro violinist and recording artist Lucia Micarelli), a pair of street musicians determined to stay put. Were I to pick a favorite character at this stage, I have to say my attention focuses hardest when the civil rights attorney is on screen. (This may owe to her story being the plottiest and fastest-moving and least likely to be interrupted by a musical number.) But there’s a lot to be said also for Pierce’s money-strapped trombonist, if only because Pierce is so adept at finding the funny in adversity. USA Today says:
… tells its story incredibly well, but it just may not be a story everyone wants to follow. Some will hear its music and some won't. But if you do, this could be the rare TV show that makes you dance. …
Entertainment Weekly says:
… Hoo boy, are you going to have fun watching this. … The artistic achievement of Treme is that it blends bluntness with the nuances of gorgeous music.
The New York Times says:
… The effort to get New Orleans “right,” to do justice to the city’s charm, its jazz tradition, and now its post-Katrina martyrdom, is at times so palpable it is off-putting, a self-consciousness that teeters on the edge of righteousness. … Fortunately “Treme” has a sense of humor, and most of all a binding love of jazz. …
The Los Angeles Times says:
… many feared that "Treme" would be Simon's "John From Cincinnati," a show drowning in quirkiness and creative freedom. But the otherworldliness of the city is balanced by characters that manage to be both place-specific and universal. … There are moments in the first three episodes when some of these characters seem a bit too formulaic -- Zahn in particular walks a fine line between being that lovable irritant and parodying him -- but their familiarity keeps "Treme" from tipping into all color, no substance. …
The Chicago Tribune says:
… Scattered throughout this sometimes frustrating series are scenes that will make you love the city even if you've never been there … The attention to detail in "Treme" is admirable, but at times (especially during the extensive yet enjoyable musical sequences) it's hard not to wonder if the series' creators may have been better off creating a documentary about the city's musical scene. …
The Washington Post says:
… an engrossing, storm-torn and lovelorn New Orleans drama … Three episodes in, I'm willing to say "Treme" (the title is two syllables; it rhymes with away) has the potential to be better than "The Wire." … soon, people at parties will start saying that "Treme" is the only television show they ever watch.
The San Francisco Chronicle says:
… A Simon story always unfolds slowly, but there's enormous payoff in the density. From the first three episodes of "Treme," it's clear that Simon and Overmyer, who has lived in New Orleans on and off for more than 20 years, have set out to make this an authentic portrayal of the cultural stew and the varied peoples of the city. …
The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette says:
… It's a languidly paced series -- too slow in Sunday's 82-minute premiere but less pokey in subsequent episodes … As in "The Wire," executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer are not preoccupied with making sure viewers understand everything they see on screen. Their goal is to paint a realistic portrait on a broad canvas -- but they don't provide a study guide. There will be moments of confusion for viewers and anyone who plans to watch will just have to accept that as the price of admission. …
The Newark Star Ledger says:
… may lack the obvious narrative engine that the cops vs. drug dealers narrative gave "The Wire," but it's already a smart, engaging, moving and funny series, one that in many ways is more accessible than its predecessor. …
The Boston Herald says:
… Unlike “The Wire,” the pacing is lazy. Many of the moments seem authentic, but to paraphrase director Alfred Hitchcock: A good show is life minus the boring parts. … Simon has assembled an impressive cast here. Surely he can find more for them to do onscreen than listen to tunes. Good music is no substitute for story.
The Boston Globe says:
… I hardly know where to begin: with the seamless acting, the outrageously good music, the sensuous cinematography? This is the kind of TV that viewers ask for but rarely get, driven by characters who are more than the sum of one or two qualities and who harbor depths that are revealed slowly, subtly, and authentically. …
The Hollywood Reporter says:
… It's all done so masterfully that by the third installment, "Treme" has the old-shoe feeling of a series that has been on for years, not weeks. Still, those first three episodes do move slowly, and if there's a sour note to be sounded it's that it takes awhile for the series to find its centerpoint. The well-rounded, well-written, charming characters are united behind a climactic incident that has since passed, and with an absence of shared conflict, they're left as a collection of loose threads, short stories of color and light -- but not so much focus. …
Variety says:
… Rich, textured and too leisurely in its gait, "Treme" won't be to everyone's taste, but by episode three, a hardy band will be hopelessly hooked. … If you're not enamored of jazz, "Treme's" extended musical interludes will play like something of a slog, and keeping track of the disparate stories is nettlesome at first. Fortunately, the talent on display -- particularly Goodman, Alexander, and "Wire" alums Pierce (a New Orleans native) and Peters -- is such that watching them read the phone book would be superior to much of what's on TV. …
10 p.m. Sunday. HBO.
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