Tremé, the HBO Series / a word pond review

Clarke Peters as Albert "Big Chief" Lambreaux

Melissa Leo as Antoinette "Toni" Bernette

Three Tremes
Three Things We Know / jezebel
Your next box set: Treme, the HBO series on post-Katrina New Orleans / the guardian

I recently watched season one of Tremé on DVD. This is the third television series for writers David Simon (of Baltimore) and Eric Overmyer (of New Orleans). They first collaborated on a masterpiece of a series, Homicide: Life on the Street, followed by the outstanding and by now classic, The Wire. Unlike these, Tremé feels hurried, an evacuation kind of hurried. Hurricane Katrina came and went in the blink of an eye. The aftermath — in human lives lost and broken as well as the great city of New Orleans, taken piecemeal to the sea — continues to this day and hereafter. Tremé is the story of  a post-Katrina New Orleans, of how the people, the land, and their culture struggle still to survive. It’s a natural that music, particularly jazz, and the Blues, welds the community back together. The working class people of Tremé, are defined by their music. It gets them through one more night, one more long afternoon of problems, frustration and despair. It veritably shadows the origins of the Blues.

The characters are real flesh- and blood-like, a cross-section of the Tremé neighborhood. Albert “Big Chief”Lambreaux, a devoted Mardi Gras Indian Chief, played by the fine understated  actor, Clarke Peters, is the most complex character. You can feel him thinking, brooding; and then he acts, as one for many, actions of civil disobedience within the great historical, moral context of Martin Luther King Jr and Mohandas Gandhi. John Goodman, as Creighton Bernette, based on the life of the New Orleans blogger, Ashley Morris, is the Greek chorus voice of the community, unable to resume his teaching and writing career as it was before the hurricane. Unlike his wife, Antoinette “Toni” Bernette, portrayed by the great actress, Melissa Leo, who takes on pro bono work for the sake of her neighbors, Creighton struggles for meaning from his pre-Katrina life as an English Lit professor and author. Unable to write, he blogs his way through voicelessness and helplessness, holding up a mirror for all to see the life of his devastated community. It just isn’t enough — not enough help in not enough time, and he goes under, like the hopes of so many. Then there’s Antoine Batiste, the real glue of the neighborhood. The incomparable Wendell Pierce is the trombonist who lost his car in the hurricane and must rely on soft footin’ it, verbal chits to taxi cab drivers, and  public transit rides to get to gigs and back home to his second wife and baby. He refuses to go down, even when his trombone is stolen and the woman he loves slaps him one more time. It is in this continuous gotta-get-the-next-gig refusal, that he shows us to the dark door, the ways to step through it, the stroke and stroke again through more darkness, of the how and when to breath, even sing. Where would  any of us be without our artists?  ~ yours truly, df

  1. I adore Treme, Donna; thanks for writing about it. And the 2nd season is every bit as terrific — it’s so refreshing to watch a dramatic series on TV that turns on music — and such an great variety of performers. Another actor who is amazing is the woman who owns the bar (Batiste’s former wife): she’s utterly amazing, particularly in the 2nd season. I think this will be every bit a classic as The Wire is. The poet, Baron Wormser, has written a fascinating essay comparing The Wire to King Lear — probably available on line.

    • Hi, Gray. I’m glad you wrote about Batiste’s former wife, that would be LaDonna Batiste-Williams played by Khandi Alexander. Her character IS amazing. Hope Treme and The Wire bring you to Homicide one day. That’s where it all started. Will search for this poet’s essay. Trust you’re exceedingly well in this glorious summer. ~ D

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