Welcome to the Weekly Binge, where we’ll be taking a closer look at the shows that are worth your time. This week, we’re gonna head way down yonder to New Orleans to get acquainted with the good folks of Treme.
What’s the premise? A couple dozen loosely connected residents of New Orleans try to get their lives back to normal after surviving Hurricane Katrina.
What’s it like? New Orleans is nicknamed “The Big Easy,” and that’s often the vibe of Treme: it simmers rather than boils over, and it’s bittersweet rather than sad or angry. That’s not to say the show is particularly lighthearted — after all, it’s about unsettled people dealing with the aftermath of a natural disaster. But for fans of The Wire, creator David Simon’s previous series, Treme could seem pretty lethargic — at first, anyway. Think of it as a Robert Altman film in serial form — Nashville, but with jazz.
Where can I see it? It’s on HBO Sundays at 9 pm EST. You can stream the entire show if you have HBOGo; if not, seasons one through three are available for streaming on iTunes, Amazon Instant, and Yidio.
How long will it take? The show is currently on its fourth season; each of the previous seasons were 10 episodes each, at an hour an episode, so give yourself a couple weeks.
What do the critics think? Season four is the first to dip below 100 percent, but it’s still at a healthy 92 percent. The critics have praised Treme for its characters, its atmosphere, and its multi-stranded plotting, all of which add up to a portrait of a troubled but vibrant city. “The show’s beauty is not in big moments, or exquisitely written scenes (though it has both),” wrote the AV Club’s Todd VanDerWerff. “It comes in the pauses between, the semicolons and commas that make up the bulk of many lives, but which TV has trouble giving full heft.” ” It’s to the credit of the show’s creators, David Simon and Eric Overmyer, that these characters have become so familiar and alive in only 30-plus episodes,” wrote Mike Hale of the New York Times.
Why should I watch this? OK, so Treme isn’t as good as The Wire. You know what else isn’t as good as The Wire? Just about every other television show ever produced. WhileTreme is relatively short on fireworks, its languid pace and local color sneak up on you; after a while, you really feel like you know these people, and you really like spending time with them. What helps make it worth your time is its potent sense of place — with its distinctive rhythms and customs, New Orleans is practically a character on the show — and its eclectic cast, which is comprised of likeable HBO vets (Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Kim Dickens), outstanding character actors (Melissa Leo, Steve Zahn, David Morse), and musicians playing musicians (Lucia Micarelli, Steve Earle). Oh, and the music is terrific, but you knew that already.
What’s my next step? For a wilder, crazier take on the Crescent City, be sure to watch Werner Herzog’s Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans, featuring Nicolas Cage at his unhinged best. If you’re looking for historical context, two well-recieved documentaries — Spike Lee’s If God Is Willing and Da Creek Don’t Rise and Tia Lessin and Carl Deal’s Trouble the Water — should fit the bill. And if you’ve never listened to any records by Louis Armstrong, Fats Domino, the Meters, or Lil Wayne — well, you’ve got some catching up to do. Check out Doctors, Professors, Kings and Queens: The Big Ol’ Box of New Orleans, a handy four-disc box set of classics from some of the city’s greatest artists.