HBO se­ries calls it a night five hours too late

Winnipeg Free Press - Section G - - ENTERTAINMENT - By Hank Stuever

ONE prob­lem with wel­com­ing back David Si­mon and Eric Over­meyer’s Treme for its brief, five-episode fin­ish is that Treme al­ready gave it­self a lovely and con­clu­sive sign-off at the end of its third sea­son — a year ago. It be­haved like a show that knew it would be can­celled, and so it wrapped up nearly all of its char­ac­ters’ story lines with af­fec­tion and a re­spect for the hand­ful of fans (in­clud­ing me) who stuck around. But peo­ple who are ob­sessed with New Or­leans are par­tic­u­larly good at find­ing any rea­son to re­turn and bask once more in its mu­sic and cul­ture, even if they were just there. The point of New Or­leans is that you might leave, but it never stops. This new sea­sonette (which be­gins Sun­day night on HBO Canada) there­fore winds up feel­ing more like an at­tempt to keep the party go­ing, or, at the very least, it comes across as an un­nec­es­sary act of char­ity on the net­work’s part. Treme’s strength and weak­ness is the way its me­tab­o­lism re­sem­bles that of the city it­self; the show seemed true be­cause it de­fied TV’s de­mand for speed and ac­tion. Fans of Si­mon’s other work (no­tably The Wire) were mostly be­fud­dled by Treme’s ten­dency to in­ter­rupt its nar­ra­tive ev­ery few min­utes with night­club scenes of mu­si­cians per­form­ing and crowds sim­ply en­joy­ing them­selves. Af­ter so many movies and shows that tried and failed to con­vey life in New Or­leans, only Treme un­der­stood the dis­rup­tive al­lure of lais­sez les bon temps rouler, with­out laps­ing too far into the genre of tourism-boost­ing. The show was al­ways will­ing to stop for a song and a reverie, as if the plot could al­ways wait for the next episode . That’s what gave Treme its vis­ual and mu­si­cal rich­ness, but this time it verges on the te­dious. There’s just not enough to do any­more with th­ese char­ac­ters and, more tellingly, a re­luc­tance to up­end their lives. This time we see Treme for what it mostly was: an ef­fu­sive op-ed set to mu­sic. The show had some­thing im­por­tant to tell us — right af­ter this next song — and then for­got what it wanted to say. Treme re­sumes its story in late 2008, some 38 months af­ter hur­ri­cane Ka­t­rina and the dis­as­trous levee breaks that fol­lowed. It comes to an end just af­ter Mardi Gras of 2009, still one year shy of the New Or­leans Saints’ 2010 Su­per Bowl vic­tory — an event con­sid­ered by many New Or­lea­ni­ans to be a fit­ting book­end (if only a sym­bolic salve) to the Ka­t­rina tragedy. In­stead, the heady fumes of hope waft from the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion of Barack Obama, a true cause for celebration in a town that re­viled his pre­de­ces­sor. Things brighten a bit: Ac­tivist lawyer Toni Ber­nette (Melissa Leo) finds re­newed in­ter­est from fed­eral pros­e­cu­tors in the post-Ka­t­rina in­jus­tices she’s so doggedly pur­sued, while her now-boyfriend Terry Col­son (David Morse), a po­lice de­tec­tive, pre­pares to sac­ri­fice his ca­reer in or­der to tes­tify about cor­rup­tion. At one point I in­vested in Treme’s char­ac­ters the way I did with many shows. But this time it oc­curred to me that, all along, it was dif­fi­cult to dis­cern which of them most rep­re­sented the show’s essence — who and what was I sup­posed to root for the most? Most eas­ily, it was Wen­dell Pierce’s An­toine Batiste, the trom­bon­ist who couldn’t catch a break. Or it was Clarke Peters as Al­bert Lam­breaux, the re­silient chief of a group of Mardi Gras In­di­ans, now fac­ing end-stage can­cer. Or it was Khandi Alexan­der as LaDonna Batiste-Wil­liams, the bar owner who left her mar­riage to a den­tist to of­fer com­fort to Lam­breaux. There is also Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), the DJ and failed mu­si­cian who turns 40 and briefly frets that he’s wasted his life sen­ti­men­tal­iz­ing and in­hal­ing New Or­leans in all its glory. Don’t for­get the strug­gling restau­ra­teur (Kim Dick­ens); or the re­cov­ered heroin ad­dict (Michiel Huis­man) who mar­ried the daugh­ter of a Viet­namese shrimp-boat cap­tain; or Al­bert’s mu­si­cian son, Del­mond Lam­breaux (Rob Brown), am­biva­lent about his ties to the city and its jazz scene. Set­ting aside all those char­ac­ters (and more), it would ap­pear Treme’s creators and writ­ers con­sider the fi­nal moral cen­tre of the show to rest in An­nie Tee (Lu­cia Mi­carelli), the clas­si­cal vi­olin­ist who found in­creas­ing suc­cess as a Ca­jun-flavoured fid­dler/singer/song­writer. Now on the verge of a ma­jor-la­bel break­out, An­nie strug­gles with is­sues of authen­tic­ity vs. com­mer­cial­ism — a story line as old as moss and, alas, a re­dun­dant drag on Treme’s en­er­gies as the show keeps re­turn­ing to her. Si­mon and com­pany only seem pe­riph­er­ally in­ter­ested in telling the story of the vi­o­lent crime waves that came with the re­cov­ery. Per­haps they don’t wish to dis­tort the mag­ni­tude of sta­tis­tics, in­stead fo­cus­ing on a cou­ple of telling tragedies: A shoot­ing in­ter­rupts a Mardi Gras pa­rade; An­toine mourns the mur­der of a stu­dent in his band class. “We love this city, but it needs to love us back,” one of the dead girl’s class­mates says at a can­dle­light vigil. It’s a swipe at New Or­leans’ per­sis­tently split per­son­al­ity — so en­am­oured of its cul­ture and im­age and so of­ten help­less in the face of its de­spair. It could also be an in­dict­ment of Treme it­self — so fix­ated on ex­alt­ing New Or­leans that it be­came only nom­i­nally con­cerned with show­ing its prob­lems. Still, there is much to en­joy in Treme’s pro­tracted good­bye. It is, as al­ways, beau­ti­fully filmed and pa­tiently as­sem­bled. But what comes through most is a feel­ing of overindul­gence — one drink too many, one plate of etouf­fee too far, one too many hang­overs and five too many episodes of an oth­er­wise mem­o­rable se­ries. What could be more New Or­leans than an in­abil­ity to call it a night?

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