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“…To Miss New Orleans” — Josh Bids Farewell to Treme

January 10th, 2014
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I think that The Wire is probably the greatest TV show ever made.  And while my crazy love for that show has ensured that I will eagerly watch any future which in which David Simon (who created and ran The Wire along with Ed Burns) has a hand, I never expected that any of his future projects could possibly equal The Wire.

And then came Treme.  Created and run by Mr. Simon & Eric Overmyer, Treme in its three and a half seasons has chronicled the lives and struggles of a variety of different people in the days and months following the disastrous hurricane Katrina and the government’s botched response.  While I think The Wire still stands as the greater achievement in television, I think I have actually grown to love Treme more!  I adore all of the characters in Treme in a way beyond even my attachment to all of the wonderfully flawed figures from The Wire.  And while Treme shares The Wire’s cynicism about the sad state of formerly great American cities, and the corruption and often incompetence of our institutions (the government, the police, etc.), Treme had a joy and, yes, a stubborn optimism that The Wire never had, and I think that has allowed the show to hook its way into my heart in an even deeper way than did The Wire.

I just love all of these characters so much!  Treme has been blessed by an incredible, extraordinary ensemble of characters, brought to life by an impossibly talented group of actors.  I know some people complain that not much happens in Treme.  For a while, I agreed, feeling actually that his was part of the show’s unique charm, that it was more about the atmosphere of New Orleans — the food, the music, the people — than it was about actual plot-development.  But looking back on the show now, I would argue that anyone who says nothing happens in the show is entirely missing the point.  Think about the incredible journeys these characters have gone on!  Think about how different the trombone-playing Antoine, the rebellious D.J. Davis, the former drug-addict Sonny, the fiery chef Janette, and so many other characters, have changed from the beginning of the series to its end!  The genius of Treme is that it is in fact jam-packed with plot, but not plot of the type we’re used to seeing on TV.  There are very few big exciting TV events in the show — dramatic police investigations, exciting trials, great adventures, that sort of thing.  Instead, the plot found in Treme is all on a much smaller, much more personal scale.  But consider all that has happened to these characters over the course of the three and a half seasons of the show.  These events might seems small-scale to a TV viewer, but to these characters, these events have been enormous and life-altering.  Consider the impact of the death of Harley on violin-playing Annie, the rape on the life of strong-willed LaDonna, the way Antoine’s connection to the kids in his band program changed him, the way Creighton’s passing affected crusading lawyer Toni and her daughter Sofia, and on and on.  I don’t think any one of these characters would think that nothing happened during the years chronicled by the show!

And it is these small-scale but oh-so-personal stories of the struggles of these characters, of their victories and their losses both small and large, that connected me to these characters in an incredibly deep way.  The power of Treme was in the way that we, the viewers, lived these lives with these characters, that we felt their joy and their pain.  My goodness I love these characters, and I already miss them so much!!

Three and a half seasons (this fourth and final season was a mere five episodes) seems far too short a run for a show of this level of greatness, but I am thankful that HBO keep this little-watched show on TV for as long as it did, and that when the decision was made after season three that they were not interested in continuing the show, that they at least allowed Mr. Simon and his team a final five episodes to bring the show to a conclusion.  That is a luxury that most cancelled TV series are not allowed, and I as a viewer am very thankful.

I am pleased to report that Mr. Simon and his team were able to use these final episodes very efficiently.  While I am devastated that the show is no more, I am pleased that it feels like we got a complete story.  Yes, some characters and story-lines got the short-shirft in this final abbreviated season (I really wanted to see more of Sonny, and I would also have loved a little more Sofia, and I would have loved to have seen when and how Janette & Jacques’ relationship ended, and also that of LaDonna and Larry), but over-all I feel like the series was brought to a satisfying conclusion, rather than feeling that the show was abruptly torn away from us mid-story.

And by the way, here’s another counter-argument to anyone who says that nothing happened in Treme.  In only three 10-episode seasons and a final fourth season of only 5 episodes, Treme only had around the number of episodes most network shows get in two seasons.  And yet I think more happened in Treme’s shortened run than happens in most network series that run for five seasons or more!

Moving more directly to this final fourth season, there are several story-lines that stand out.  As I commented above, I am impressed by the dramatic development of the character of Antoine (Wendell Pierce).  When we met him in the pilot, Antoine was one of the most disreputable of the characters on the show.  He didn’t have the money to even pay for a cab ride.  He was a heavy partier with a fondness for drink and, ahem, the ladies.  And while in the finale we still got a glimpse of the old Antoine (when he’s approached by two girls he’d apparently hooked up with at a previous Mardi Gras), by the end of the show Antoine has shockingly become one of the most centered, responsible characters on the show, becoming a terrific teacher and role model for his band students, and also finally becoming a real father for his sons with former wife LaDonna.  (I also love the way the fourth season found several moments to bring LaDonna and Antonie back together.)

When I wrote about the show’s premiere, I commented that the one character I didn’t connect to right away was the loud, immature Davis (Steve Zahn).  And yet, by the end, he was one of my very favorite characters.  Davis’ struggles to grow up, and the way in this final season he finally became a good boyfriend for Janette (Kim Dickens), was an unexpected though wonderful development.  (I loved the scene in the finale of Davis’ skills as a sommelier!)

I also can’t believe how much I have come to love Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda)!  In a show without many villains, this man who became rich without doing much work of his own, buying and selling real estate and taking advantage of the opportunities offered by natural disasters, could certainly have been a villainous character.  And maybe he is.  But as Nelson fell in love with New Orleans, so did we with him.  I loved the development in his fourth season of his friendship with Davis (those are two characters I never expected to be paired together!) — all of their sense together were so great!  And the act of kindness he does for Janette in the finale was one of my favorite bits of business in the final season.

I was ultimately surprised by Delmond (Rob Brown)’s decision not to stay in New Orleans.  Since the first season I thought that he’d wind up spurning his high-paying gigs in order to stay in the city of his father.  Ultimately I am happy for the choice he made to continue his successful musical career, and I think that he and his wife will be able to, as they say in their final scene, to keep a foot in both worlds.

Speaking of the Lambreaux clan, is not Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) one of the greatest TV characters of all time?  I didn’t think Mr. Peters would ever create a more indelible character than The Wire’s Lester Freamon, but the stubborn Big Chief is, I think, who he will be known for from now on.  My favorite development of season three was the pairing of Albert with LaDnna.  The show’s two most-stubborn characters, a match made in heaven!!  I loved the way season four explored that relationship, and ultimately the end of Albert’s story was one of the most emotionally affecting moments in the run of the show for me.  (As was the beautifully underplayed final scene between the Chief and his son.)

In the end, I think the finale did a great job giving closure to all of our characters.  I wrote above that I missed seeing more of Sonny, Sofia, Jacques, etc., in the final season, but they all returned for the finale and got some nice things to do.  I loved the reunion of Annie and Sonny (something I was worried would be forgotten, considering how connected those two characters were at the start of the show), I loved seeing Toni and Sofia once again dance out the door of their home to join Mardi Gras.  I love that the tile of the finale “…To Miss New Orleans” is a completion of the tile of the first season premiere “Do You Know What It Means…”  As with the final few minutes of the series finale of The Wire, the closing minutes of the finale gave us a note-perfect montage, giving us one last glimpse of all of the characters.  I am really, really happy with where the show left all of these characters.  I think everyone got an ending that felt right for that character and his/her journey.

There is so much more to praise.  The music of his show has been, from the very beginning, extraordinary, and one of my very favorite aspects of the show.  The theme-song of this show was perfectly-chosen, and I have loved the evolving opening credits (and, in particular, the main title card) that have shown the progress of the post-Katrina repairs.  From the very beginning this show’s writing, directing, acting, editing, have all been phenomenal, operating at a consistently sky-high level.  Maybe I am looking back at the show through rose-colored glasses, but I really don’t remember a single BAD episode of this show!  That is so extraordinary.  And the cast.  WOW.  Each and every one of these actors could be the star of their own show.  As with The Wire, I love how diverse this cast was (with so many non-white faces), and how much these performers made me love even those characters who a first seemed unlovable.  (Again, I can’t believe how much I go to care about Sonny by the end of the show!!)  That these actors have all been so ignored by all of the awards shows is criminal.

Here at the end, I can only once again thank David Simon and his amazing collaborators for creating this incredible show.  I know it was little-seen and cut down before its time, but I have loved every moment, and I am eager to watch the whole thing through again from the beginning some-time soon.  For anyone who is reading this who has never seen this show, I exhort you to give it a try.  One of the finest TV shows ever made awaits you.  For me, I now certainly do know what it means to miss New Orleans.

Click here for my review of the pilot episodeClick here for my review of the season one finaleClick here for my review of the season two premiereClick here for my review of the season three finale.

For a great post-finale interview with David Simon, click here.

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