Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Treme: Sometimes they cross paths and play a song together

David Simon's Treme might look like it's going to be one long rant about the state of post-Katrina New Orleans. And there's a bit of that, but it's mostly a laidback look at the people within the community. It's full of music. Full of it. Almost every character is a musician; they play music in the street, in clubs, in hospital waiting rooms - anywhere they can find. Sometimes they don't stop and whole scenes go by with nothing but trombones, violins, and pianos. These people are as keenly observed as anything from The Wire, but everyone's a lot gentler. Some are actually lighthearted. These are not the streets of Baltimore. The first four episodes border on uneventful but, in that way that few shows manage, are just an interesting place to be. The characters have musical difficulties instead of debilitating drug addictions. Nobody has a gun. It's a tight community rather than a sprawling city, even though they don't seem to know each other. In the way of these things, they occasionally cross paths and sometimes play a song together. There isn't a bad note among them.
The highlight is Davis McAlary, a loud-mouthed radio DJ who is fired for letting a guest sacrifice a chicken on air, and then thrown off a hotel reception desk for sending Christians to the wrong end of town. He's got a childlike enthusiasm for music that gets him by, occasionally composing a song or two and adding a welcome chunk of comedy. Elsewhere, Sonny and Annie busk for spare change, John Goodman screams at YouTube, and Antoine 'The Bunk' Baptiste plays trombone all day. I'm sure these people will develop large, dramatic problems, but for now they're just quite nice to watch. Some might be annoyed by its quest for authenticity, or dislike the characters when they arrogantly proclaim New Orleans to be the centre of the world. Though any show with this amount of social commentary is bound to make people take sides. I like that the characters are faintly fanatical about their city. Without that, Treme wouldn't exist.

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