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"Treme:" A+

Wendell Pierce is back

Wendell Pierce is back Photo Credit: hbo

I've seen "Treme" - all of it, or as much as HBO has handed out to the critics, which is about three hours and twenty minutes, or three episodes in.

My judgement...all positive.

And - as if this much-touted HBO newcomer arrriving this Sunday needs anymore promotional gas, here's a little more - my review in this Friday's paper.

"Treme" - pronounced "TREM-ay" though I'm sure no one will mind if you call it "Treme" to ryhm with "cream" - is a big deal for HBO. 

"Treme," HBO, Sunday, 10.

  Reason to watch: Most important HBO series launch in years, created by  producers of  "The Wire," David Simon and Eric Overmyer.

  What is "Treme:"
Pronounced "TREM-ay,"  historic black neighborhood, and just north of New Orleans' central business district, and not far from the Mississippi, spared some of the worst flooding; the cradle of jazz.

 Who's who: Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce), trombonist who does gigs to make ends meet;
  LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander), Antoine's ex, who runs a bar, searching for her brother, lost after "the storm" (that's what everyone calls Hurricane Katrina)
  Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), a Mardi Gras chief, returns to his ruined home, desperate to re-start the old tradition
 Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), sometime-DJ for WWOZ, musician, fierce defender of the Treme
 Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens), a restaurateur struggling to keep her doors opens
 Creighton Bernette (John Goodman), Tulane prof, expert on local history
  Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo), lawyer, helping LaDonna find her bro; married to Creighton.
 Sonny (Michael Huisman) and his girlfriend Annie (Lucia Micarelli), street musicians who live dollar to dollar.

 What it's about: Three months after Katrina, the city remains wrecked and largely abandoned, mostly free of crime because (as someone says) "that's all gone to Houston" and mostly free of money, too. The Federal disaster relief effort is largely invisible, and so those who stayed behind are struggling to survive. They've stayed simply because they refused to leave, while their passion and dedication have re-energized the place, which pulses with music and life. The opening seconds are a velocity of images and sound - mouths laughing, fingers working trumpet pistons, cigarettes dangling for mouths, and Dixieland jazz. There are several parallel stories. Creighton Bernette's furious that New Orleans has been ignored, while Davis battles gay neighbors he says are gentrifying the Treme, and scraps for dollars. (His sometimes-girlfriend, Janette, can barely pay her butcher bill.) The core stories belong to Antoine, LaDonna and Albert because you sense that New Orleans would simply cease to exit without people like them.

 My say: It'll be fun to see the great disconnect between the critical and viewer reception over "Treme." The former will fawn. The latter will yawn. In fact, what Simon is asking everyone (viewers and critics) to do is scrub their minds clean of all images, impressions and biases related to New Orleans, pre or post-Katrina. With "Treme," he (and Overmyer) are re-building that picture for them, frame by frame. It's a methodical and pointillist process, requiring patience (on your part) and time. Stories, per se, don't "pop," but accrete; the narrative rhythm takes time to build and come into focus. Characters and their lives slowly become whole, then utterly real. This is often more like documentary-style narrative - think Fred Wiseman, or Barbara Kopple, or (yes) David Simon of "The Wire" - than straight TV entertainment.

 Bottom line: Give "Treme" all the time it needs. This is a spectacular new series, with some stunning performances - Pierce, Peters, Zahn, in particular - and gorgeous music. You’ll become hooked.

 Grade: A +


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