movies, 2012
what i watched last week

treme, series finale

And so we come to the end of another David Simon series. In an interview with Alan Sepinwall, Simon says “I don't think I have demonstrated that I'm a particularly good fit for television.” He wonders aloud if it’s time to move to another medium. An artist should follow their muse, and anyone who gives us The Corner, The Wire, Generation Kill, and Treme has accomplished a lot … he’s already left quite a legacy. But it would be nice if there was still a place for someone as talented as David Simon in today’s television. Yet he notes, “what works in terms of maintaining an audience is not stuff I'm particularly interested in doing.”

Treme told the story of a community trying to raise itself back up after a disaster. For the most part, they had to do it on their own; the government, which should have had their back, more often just got in the way. In this, Treme mirrored some of the despair in The Wire. But Treme was always a more hopeful show than The Wire. It was possible, in Treme, for people to make at least marginal progress, and many of the characters were significantly different at the end than they were when the show began, despite the opinion of many that Treme moved too slowly.

The truncated fourth season was a bittersweet gift from HBO. Things were hurried throughout the five episodes. For that reason, Season Four wasn’t quite up to the standard of the earlier seasons. What goes for the season as a whole was especially true for the final episode, which managed to give a feeling of resolution to most of the characters, but did so too quickly. But by now, we’ve come to know the characters so well that we could fill in the blanks, and it was a joy to spend a little more time with them. We got a chance to say our goodbyes. There was too much of Davis for my liking, but most of his scenes also included Janette, and I can never get enough Kim Dickens.

As always, the acting was impeccable: Khandi Alexander, Kim Dickens, Melissa Leo, Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, and Jon Seda deserve to be singled out, and many of them had worked on Simon projects in the past. Some of the newer faces were also worth mentioning. Rob Brown had made a few films, but he was under my radar until Treme, and he played his part as a trumpeter connected to his New Orleans past while stretching out into newer musical forms with great professionalism. Phyllis Montana LeBlanc, whose “acting” career before Treme consisted of playing herself in two Spike Lee documentaries about post-Katrina New Orleans, reinforced what we knew from those earlier films, that she is a natural. Perhaps the best find was violinist Lucia Micarelli, whose part as Annie Tee grew as the series progressed and she demonstrated she had the acting chops to warrant more screen time. Treme featured an enormous roster of musicians playing themselves over the years, and Steve Earle played a character in the first two seasons. But only Micarelli was given the room to stretch out as an actor (Earle was genial playing a version of himself … I liked him here, as I did on The Wire, but he stays within a fairly narrow range). If there is a breakout star from the show, Lucia Micarelli could be that person, just as Annie Tee moved to another level in her music career as the show ended.

The music. You can’t talk about Treme without talking about the music, which was ever-present. Many of the characters were musicians, everyone spent time in clubs listening to music, and as I noted, the show was stuffed full of musicians playing themselves and offering up a song or two. Oddly, considering the importance of music to the show, performances were usually truncated … we’d pick up a band in mid-song, or switch to another scene after the first verse. You could say Treme didn’t do right by the artists and their performances. But Treme was very right indeed in showing how music was a part of the lives of the characters. We might get just a snippet of Dr. John, but we’d also get a bit of backstage jive with the Doctor, and he’d be discussed in other scenes where he wasn’t even there, and everybody knew who he was, and people in the audiences were always joyous, and this was true for every artist who made a cameo appearance. No show I can recall did a better job than Treme at showing the interaction between musicians and their audience, and between the music and the personal lives of those fans.

I already miss the characters from Treme: Big Chief Albert Lambreaux, LaDonna, Janette, Annie Tee, Antoine and Harley and Aunt Mimi. Here is how well Treme worked these characters into our lives: after The Wire, I figured I’d never see Clarke Peters or Wendell Pierce again without thinking of them as Lester Freamon and Bunk Moreland. But now, they are Big Chief and Antoine.

Grade for Season Finale: A-. Grade for Season Four: A-. Grade for Series: A.

(One last note … in the closing credits, they listed some of the New Orleans musicians who have died over the past few years. After that, one line got a screen of its own: “David Mills 1961-2010.” That got me.)

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