Treme Season 1: A Jambalayaicious Dish Of American History That Should Not Be Missed!

Title: TremeThe Complete First Season
Studio/Distributor: HBO
Creators: Eric Overmeyer, David Simon
Principle Cast: Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown, Kim Dickens, Michiel Huisman, Melissa Leo, Lucia Micarelli, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, John Goodman, Steve Zahn
Released: 2011
Stars: 4.0

For someone who doesn’t watch much network television because it’s just so unappealing, it’s always a joy to discover a new and wonderful HBO or Showtime series.  I’m a huge music fan and I’ve been to New Orleans (pre-Katrina) so the premise of the Emmy nominated Treme  was very intriguing to me.

Treme  (pronounced truh-MAY) is an American drama created by Eric Overmeyer and David Simon (Homicide: Life On The Street, The Wire) and set in Tremé, a working class neighbourhood in New Orleans which just happens to be the birthplace of jazz.  Season 1 begins three months after Hurricane Katrina and the breach of the levee left much of New Orleans under water. The residents of the once great city, including musicians, chefs, and Mardis Gras Indians are trying to rebuild their lives and restore their unique culture to a city that’s been all but abandoned by the U.S. government.

The principal cast are all excellent actors, some more well known than others, but everyone lends their considerable talent to the stories told in the various soulful sub-plots.  The writers lent great detail to the music scene (which for me is the most exciting part and the music on this show is simply superb!), political corruption including that within the criminal-justice system, clashes between the local police and Mardi Gras Indians, the public housing controversy, and the struggle to draw tourists back to the city after the storm.

Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce of The Wire & Numb3rs and a native of New Orleans) is a somewhat sleazy, sweet-talking trombonist who is always looking for his next gig.  He lives with the mother of his baby girl but rarely sees his two sons with ex-wife LaDonna because he has no car and has to take cabs everywhere even though he can never afford to fully pay for his fares. Antoine’s ex, LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander – last seen in CSI: Miami) owns a tavern that she’s trying to get re-roofed while looking after her mother and commuting between New Orleans and Baton Rouge where her sons are living with her second husband, Larry (Lance E. Nichols, also a native of New Orleans) who is a dentist.  In Season 1, most of LaDonna’s scenes are spent on a search for her missing brother David “Daymo” Maurice.

Toni Bernette (Academy Award Winner for The Fighter, Melissa Leo) is a civil rights lawyer who is working with LaDonna to locate her missing brother while also defending musicians and others abused by the city’s justice system.  She’s married to English teacher and aspiring novelist Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) who, depressed and angry, becomes a minor celebrity on YouTube for his rants against the discrimination suffered by his city via the US government after the hurricane.  They live with their daughter Sofia (India Ennenga, who has a promising acting career ahead of her) who wants to return to her high school in New Orleans and wants to spend more time with her father who has holed himself up in a room off the porch to finish his novel about the great flood of 1927.

Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens of Deadwood & Friday Night Lights) is a struggling chef who is trying to keep her restaurant open while waiting for her insurance to pay out.  She’s carrying on a casual affair with Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), my favourite character in the show, who works as a part-time DJ (at WWOZ New Orleans) and musician while constantly stirring up social outrage against “the Man”.  Davis is so passionate about New Orleans and its culture that you can’t help but be taken by him.

Albert “Big Chief” Lambreaux (Clarke Peters of Holby City, Damages & The Wire) is a well respected Mardis Gras Indian chief who returns to his severely damaged home and decides to move into the neighbourhood bar where his tribe practices.  Big Chief works on repairing the bar and preparing new costumes for Mardis Gras and St. Joseph’s Day while trying to convince his son Delmond (Rob Brown of Finding Forrester & Stop-Loss) to return from New York where he is a successful jazz session musician.

Finally, we have Annie (the adorable Lucia Micarelli in her first acting gig), a classically trained violinist who is playing music on the streets of the French Quarter with her boyfriend Sonny (Dutch actor & musician Michiel Huisman) whom she met while backpacking in Europe.  Sonny isn’t as talented as Annie, looks perpetually greasy and in need of a shower and has a penchant for drinking and drugs.  It doesn’t take Annie long to realize that she can do better and doesn’t have to settle for Sonny’s abuse.

The music in Treme is what really stands out so I highly recommend the Grammy nominated, 19 track, Treme: Music From the HBO Original Series, Season 1, released by Geffen Records.  It features many of the artists who appeared on the show, including Dr. John, Irma Thomas and Allen Toussaint, John Boutté and Steve Earle who also has a small, recurring part as a musician friend of Annie’s.

The very catchy Treme theme song, which I catch myself singing along with Iko, Iko all the time now, was written and performed by Creole/American jazz singer John Boutté (“Treme Song” from his Jambalaya album) who is featured in the show.

Hangin’ in the Treme
Watchin’ people sashay
Past my steps
By my porch
In front of my door

Church bells are ringin’
Choirs are singing
While the preachers groan
And the sisters moan
In a blessed tone

Down in the treme
Just me and my baby
We’re all going crazy
While jamming and having fun

Down in the treme
Is me and my baby
We’re all going crazy
While jamming and having fun

Treme with its cast of colourful and cantankerous characters and jumping jazz is a Jambalayaicious dish of American history that should not be missed!

Season 2 of Treme is currently being aired on HBO on Sundays at 10 PM ET/MT.

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