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Josh Reviews Treme Season 3

January 11th, 2013
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I find Treme to be so much better than pretty much everything else on television these days, so it was with great sadness that I watched the final episode of Treme’s ten-episode third season.  (The show will apparently be coming back some-time next year with a five-episode fourth season, and then that’s all she wrote.)

I don’t know any other show on television structured the way Treme is.  The show has at this point amassed a ginormous number of characters, and each week we flow around the Treme area of New Orleans and its surrounding environs, checking in with one character for a few minutes before moving on to catch up with another.  Most character arcs don’t advance too significantly over the course of just one individual episode.  Instead, the character arcs are spread out over an entire season of the show, and things tend to progress fairly leisurely from episode to episode.  Each episode flows smoothly into the next, and as each season of the show reaches its conclusion, the grand tapestry of the Treme’s story-telling stands revealed.  Despite the leisurely pace, almost every single character in the show is in a dramatically different place at the end of the season than at the beginning, with every character’s status quo being changed more than in the entire run of most TV shows.  Treme is a show that rewards the patient and attentive viewer.  I find this type of story-telling to be incredibly bold and exhilarating.

This story-telling model works because of David Simon (mastermind behind The Wire), co-creator Eric Overmyer, and their team of writers’ careful attention to each and every character’s story.  There really isn’t a weak link in the show’s huge cast of characters.  The writing is extraordinary, and the actors are phenomenal, each and every one of them.  When the show began, I didn’t have much patience for D.J. Davis, but now I think he’s become one of the show’s most compelling characters.  I found his story-line this season to be particularly interesting and ultimately heartbreaking, as we see him hit the wall of the financial realities of the music business in his attempts to create meaningful music and then actually get it released so someone other than he and his friends could hear it.  (When Davis, beaten, comments sadly that “I just feel like, at this point in my life, I want to have more control,” my artist’s heart broke for him.)

It was interesting this season to see several characters fail in their endeavors, but find unexpected silver linings.  Sonny fell off the wagon but found unexpected support from his Vietnamese girlfriend’s father, who he’d previously seen as impossibly overbearing.  Meanwhile, others succeeded beyond their wildest dreams — only to encounter new problems they’d never thought they might face.  Janette returns to New Orleans and, with the help of a wealthy backer, successfully opens her own high-end restaurant, only to find herself far from in control of the restaurant bearing her name.  Annie begins to compose her own music, which people seem to respond to; she gets a manager; and suddenly she finds herself booked in fantastic gig after gig and gets a record of her music released, though this new success seems to strain her relationship with Davis (still stuck in the doldrums) to the breaking point.

I loved the transformation of Antoine Batiste from the broke, unreliable musician flitting from gig to gig who we met in season one into a devoted teacher of kids.  (I loved the little joke in the finale in which the cab-driver couldn’t believe that Antoine wasn’t pestering him the whole ride to find a faster — and therefore cheaper — route, a great callback to the show’s premiere episode.)  I loved the way Sonny, Annie’s no-good druggie boyfriend, stepped into the forefront this season and suddenly became a truly likable, empathetic character.  I loved seeing Tony and Lt. Colson gradually drawn back into one another’s orbits.

My favorite aspect of this season was the way that the characters connected with one another to a degree we’d never seen before.  In previous seasons, many of the show’s characters seemed to live in entirely different worlds, and their stories seldom intersected.  But this season, it was really cool to see how the closely all of the stories intertwined.  And so we saw Delmond involved in consulting for a proposed new New Orleans music center, a project involving Nelson Hidalgo.  We saw Davis and Nelson eating at Janette’s new restaurant.  We saw Delmond bump into one of Davis’ tours of the New Orleans music scene, and join the small group in their walk around the lesser-known parts of town.  And Big Chief Albert Lambreaux’s Indians began meeting for their practices in LaDonna’s bar, leading to the inspired pairing of Albert and LaDonna, the two most hard-headed characters in the show.  I loved the gentle friendship the two formed, and was it just my imagination or did those two totally hook up in the season finale, when they both seemed to vanish from the party to raise money for LaDonna??  And, of course, speaking of LaDonna’s party, that sequence was a masterpiece, bringing together so many of the show’s characters in a way I never thought I’d see.

I felt like season three was the strongest season of Treme yet, but you know, all three seasons have been pretty spectacularly great.  I adore this show, and wish more people were watching it, and wish it would be continuing for many more years to come.  But I am so grateful for what I have been given, and am eager to see Mr. Simon, Mr. Overmyer, and their team bring things to a finish with their final batch of episodes next year.  Down in the Treme, as in Baltimore, all the pieces matter.

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