This review of Treme contains some spoilers.
I wanted to love Treme, I really, really did. I consider The Wire to be the greatest thing in TV drama history, and Generation Kill was pretty good too. But something got lost in the execution here.
The characters are interesting, the sense of place is incredible – at least, as someone who has never been to New Orleans, I assume it is incredible – the music is great – though I could rant about the portrayal of modern jazz in this show – and there are true moments of greatness, moments which rank with the best scenes in American television history.
But this is a show that has no plot. I mean, there are individual narratives, but there is no overarching plot. Now, lots of movies handle this well. And I am a fan of movies which eschew conventional narratives. And I am a fan of Mad Men, the finest example of an American TV show that has moved beyond conventional narrative. But Treme is not Mad Men. Mad Men has subtext. Treme has no subtext; it’s like The Wire without the subtext, without the differing (and deep) themes, and with a way more specific focus. Treme is just about New Orleans, nothing else. And, whether it has anything to do with Simon’s degree of involvement or not, it’s much harder to extrapolate from Treme to life in general, unlike The Wire. This is just everyday life in New Orleans post-Katrina.
It isn’t all bad. There are many truly great moments; some examples: Goodman’s character’s suicide, Toni and her daughter confronting each other over Goodman’s character’s suicide, the funeral for Steve Earle’s character. These and other moments are among the best TV has to offer. But finding them means spending hours of your life with an otherwise boring show, full of extremely rich and authentic characterizations, that just don’t add up to much.
PS One of the writers thinks AM is the best Wilco record, and that should tell you everything you need to know about where this show’s ideas of contemporary music are at.