Blogging Treme: The Pilot.

“Since when do nations not rebuild their great cities,” asks Creighton Bernette, a professor and professional mad man, standing out there on one of those levees with a British news crew.

To Creighton, played with full-throated indignation by John Goodman, there is only one acceptable answer.

Alas, the obnoxious – yet clueless –  interviewer doesn’t even make it that far. First, he questions whether or not New Orleans is truly great. Then, he mischievously suggests the city isn’t worth the effort and trouble and federal dollars.

This is an important moment. Not just for Creighton, who tries to wrest away the camera and chuck it into a nearby canal. Not just for the interviewer, whose condescension meets an appropriate challenge.

It’s an important moment for all of us – all of us who care a tittle about New Orleans at least – and something that David Simon takes great pains to remind us of throughout the pilot episode of Treme, the post-Katrina New Orleans-based drama that debuted to much fanfare Sunday on HBO.

In Treme, New Orleans is meant to be something more than pathology and parties. In Treme, New Orleans is also the setting for a story about the people of the city.

We talk a lot about how the people of New Orleans are what make the city special. So rarely do we actually get the opportunity to know these people, and Treme – in a way – will give us a chance.

Because something that British interviewer forgot, and something that all of us tend to forget from time to time, is that New Orleans is populated by people, families, taxpayers.

With that in mind, I find it a bit ironic that Treme made its debut on the same weekend that members of the Southern Republican Leadership Conference seemingly went out of their way to deny the residents of New Orleans their humanity.

Hell, it even produced this bit of fuckery from former U.S. Rep. J.C. Watts: “History’s going to be kind to George W. Bush.”

Oh really?

Well, let’s revisit New Orleans with David Simon. Three months after, even.

We start with mold and water marks and energy and then a raucous second-line romp through the streets. Because if you want to know a little something about a people and where they come from, drop by their haunts and listen to their music.

“‘That sounds like rebirth,” says aimless musician Davis, who’s played by Steve Zahn.

That seems promising. Davis is one of the episode’s central figures, someone who sorta drifts through the first show. He’s a little loopy and a lot passionate. He’s a lover (we DO see his naked ass early in the show) and a fighter. He’s a musician, through and through.

He has a sort of spiritual kinship with Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce), a trombonist who mostly gets around by tricking cabbies into ferrying him from neighborhood to neighborhood.

It would make sense that the two most charismatic characters on the show, thus far, are musicians because – well, shit – this is New Orleans. Jazz, funk and lots of Mystikal. It’s enough to draw you in immediately.

But the moment that sucked me in most deeply was near the end, when Albert Lambreaux donned that wonderful, yellow-feathered “big chief” regalia and started dancing in the empty street. He was trying to rebuild his tribe, not long before the ides of Mardi Gras, even as his old friends seem ready to move on. But he was loud, proud, insistent that he be heard.

So much of the bemusement and bewilderment of the city’s evacuees will run through Lambreaux, it seems.

Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) came back to New Orleans from Houston with his daughter, who is not happy to be here. His home and old bar are destroyed, waterlogged and caked with mud. There’s nothing left.

But Lambreaux, for the immediate future, ain’t going nowhere. For the foolhardy like him, New Orleans is home. And nothing else will do.

There are other characters: jazz legend Kermit Ruffins plays himself (who else would be better for the job?); the always awesome Khandi Alexander, who plays Antoine’s ex-wife Ladonna; and Goodman, who is as loud and imposing a figure as ever, this time thrust into a role as the political bullhorn for the show’s writers. I really hope there’s more for him to do in future episodes.

Anyway, there’s a lot of people and a lot of stories. It’ll be interesting to see how Simon and Co. navigate the stories of the residents and their city, especially one as dynamic and complicated and peculiar as New Orleans.

Not for a second was I bored. I saw enough to keep me coming back, though I don’t know if that’ll be enough for those who are expecting something like …

… sigh.

Can we talk about The Wire for a minute? I never saw a full episode. I apologize.

But that leaves us with plenty of space and opportunity to embrace this latest gem from Simon and his writing partners Eric Overmyer and the late, great David Mills.

Treme promises to be an sprawling exploration of culture, class, race, hopefully sex. If that sounds familiar to fans of The Wire, so be it.

But more with anything, let’s learn about the people, shall we? Because they’re great, even if you don’t feel the same way about the city.


Joel Anderson —blackink —  writes about sports, politics, crime, courts, and other issues far beyond his competence at BuzzFeed. He has worked at media outlets in Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana and Atlanta and contributed to a number of publications, including The Root and The American Prospect, among many others.
  • I was doing a little digging, and I read that the final scene includes cameos from a bunch of New Orleans Mardi Gras Indian legends, including Fred Johnson (in the orange shirt, I think) whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years back. And the opening few scenes includes some guys from Johnson’s Black Men of Labor crew. I say this just to point out that, much like that other David Simon show, Treme harnesses authenticity by employing (literally) the men and women that serve as the show’s inspiration.

  • “But more with anything, let’s learn about the people, shall we? Because they’re great, even if you don’t feel the same way about the city.”


    I just spent last weekend with the family in N.O. for the French Quarter Festival and although I’ve been there more than a dozen times (3 post-Katrina) for work and play it never ceases to amaze. The people and their nature are like a drug to me and it never gets old. Treme is gonna let me extend my high a little longer than usual after this trip.

    On the 2nd day of the Festival we were watching Kermit on stage and he did his version of Sly’s “If you want me to stay” which is just a massive shout out to the 9th Ward and the people of New Orleans that stayed and rebuilt and fought for their city and each other. Sitting next to us was a 70ish grey haired woman; we found out later that she was also a 9th Ward survivor, who was in tears when he was doing that song. As a native NYer that moment immediately made me think of 9/11 and how we NYers used to say that only NYC could have survived a 9/11, our pride in our home gave us the strength of defiance and rage. Kermit broke the song in the middle and started talking about the Wards and the flood, the trailers they all lived in and how they rebuilt each other homes one at a time, how no one expected or wanted them to stay. Then I watched that old woman cry and dance with my 6 yr old I know that same goes for Katrina and New Orleans. New Orleans people have some serious mojo and I think Treme is going to be all about them and their power.

    I loved that Indian Chief scene and it completely erased Lester from my mind (I’ll need something like that to stop seeing Bunk too). I especially loved the jazz funeral ending of the first episode, because the slow sad part of the procession is only just the beginning.

  • Trying to keep my jones from fading here. Building my NO music on the shuffle up and thinking about the scene with Davis at the radio station where he’s talking about the 20 songs that make up the NO canon. What do you think was on that list?

    When the Saints Go Marching In
    A Closer Walk With Thee
    St James Infirmary
    Iko Iko

    What else?

  • That’s a fantastic question. Lemme think that one over.

  • boris

    “Can we talk about The Wire for a minute? I never saw a full episode. I apologize.”

    Hey blackink, just on the side, can you elaborate on this a little? Like, is there a reason you didn’t, or do you plan to, or do you plan not to, etc.? Not that I think anyone should see it no matter what (many flaws for sure), but it does seem that most people watching the show have been led there by a fairly specific, possibly unique, form of social analytical drama in The Wire that Treme obviously follows.

    So the gap that’s here between you and a large proportion of the audience needs addressing somehow (as you do) and I think rather than apologizing I’d be really interested in the discussion about why or why not it figures in your universe.

  • Leigh

    I finally watched it. (Thanks J!)

    I have comments triggered more by the TAP thread, esp. the co-blogger of Joel’s lamenting the lack of institutions. Give the show a chance. And it’s fairly accurate historically, I think. Only 3 months out, there pretty much were no institutions functioning in the city, except FEMA and the National Guard, both on display in this, even if sorta subtly. And the cops – Parish and City.

    I didn’t get to the ground until Jan 06, and the city still felt really empty. It really felt like those of us who were there had the city to ourselves. Long, exhausting commutes back and forth on I-10 b/w NOLA and Baton Rouge were the norm for so many residents. The only thing missing from this episode IMO was the flat tire, a chronic problem for cars in those early months because of all the debris on the streets.

    I think Zahn’s character actually is the most potentially overdone, and I find the expository writing in this episode to be pretty heavy, though my husband thinks it may just seem so because of my familiarity with the city. Zahn seems to exist mostly for comic relief, which is indeed a relief, witnessing all that mold and destruction, but it might be too much. Neither Goodman nor his wife’s character struck me as strongly as they did some other watchers (again the TAP thread), but it does seem a little much that they’re married to each other. But there’s A LOT of heroics in post-Katrina New Orleans, both from residents and outsiders who arrived and anointed themselves saviors and helpers. There’s no shortage of moral outrage to go around, esp. from folks with the resources to expound on it at length. So I think Goodman’s character is ok so far…

    I know so little about musicians’ worlds in New Orleans, little more than the average visitor, I bet. I am learning as much as others in watching these characters unfold. I like it. It does really center the series so far on residents’ lives, and I think one of the major sources of tension in the post-Katrina world is can this livelihood survive alongside rapid development that will bring NOLA “in line” with other US cities? Tradition clashes with what we consider progress, if you will. I’m curious to know what the time frame for this series will be, how much time and change it will cover.