what i watched last week
blu-ray series #5: hugo (martin scorsese, 2011)

catching up: treme, the walking dead

Treme’s truncated fourth and final season kicked off on Sunday. It will run through December, and will then leave forever. David Simon’s The Wire is called by many the greatest television series of all time, but it won few awards, and its popularity, which seems to grow with each passing year, was never all that high during its initial run. Now here comes Treme, and it’s only one of the best shows around, but it gets dissed because it’s not The Wire, and even fewer people watch it, and it’s only going to run for a total of 36 episodes.

I’ve waxed rhapsodic about the great pleasures of Treme for a few years now, and it is surely too late to convince anyone to start watching at this point. It will be there, on disc and on HBO GO, and eventually, like The Wire, it will get the respect it deserves. Great ensemble acting, wonderful music, characters you care about, just enough plot to keep things moving, and did I mention the music? All of this will be sorely missed when Treme finally closes shop.

It’s odd … I feel like there’s a Treme backlash, critics who want to be able to say they saw Treme as a mediocrity before anyone else noticed. I suspect their opinions will be just as marginalized down the road as they are now. Most critics appreciate what the series offers. The worst that can be said for it is that the final season is too short. (At least it knows it is ending, unlike Deadwood.)

David Simon is one of the great artists of our time. Just in television, he has been a central figure in Homicide, The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, and Treme. It’s not that there are no duds on that list. It’s that every one of those shows is of the highest quality. Treme could be David Simon’s least substantial television work, and it would still rank above the vast majority of television.

The Walking Dead suffers from none of David Simon’s problems. It is extremely popular … you don’t have to wait for the inevitable Blu-ray box sets to join the club, everybody is already on board. There are things it does very well … it’s always fun to see zombies having dinner, or getting their heads blown off. The acting is variable, but some of the performers are quite good. For me, there are too many characters I don’t care about, and the show seems to wander in circles. The zombies are always attacking, the humans are always trying to create civilization, they are always unsuccessful, and on to the next season. They live on a farm, then they move. They live in a prison, and then they move. Some characters are killed off, others remain. Some episodes are tense, others are boring. No season is better than any other … no season is worse than any other. Treme is often accused of moving too slowly, if it moves at all, but in fact, the characters on Treme experience the kind of gradual growth you see in actual human beings, and New Orleans is same-but-different over the course of the seasons. It’s The Walking Dead that gets stuck. It seems like a lot is happening, because of all the violence and gore, because important characters are killed, because Rick is always on the edge of change. But by the end, Rick always falls back into the leadership role, other characters fill the void created by others’ deaths, and the violence and gore continue. A lot happens, but nothing happens.

Grade for Season Four premiere of Treme: A. Grade for the first half of Season Four of The Walking Dead: B.

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