Recently, HBO aired the final episode of “Treme,” David Simon and Eric Overmyer’s survey of life in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. During its four-season run, “Treme” received critical acclaim but failed to find the audience of millions that network executives seek from that and another Louisiana show, the vampire drama “True Blood.” It’s too bad “Treme” didn’t fare better; the show deserves patient viewing.
I believe it will stand as the finest, fullest rendering of New Orleans ever committed to camera.
“Treme” is far from the first TV series or movie to use south Louisiana as setting. Consider only the years since the state, in 2002, began offering tax incentives to production companies. Since then, who has been able to keep up with all the reality TV shows shooting here, shows with “Cajun” or “Bayou” or “Swamp” in their titles (and that too often turn our residents into caricatures)? Other productions have made Louisiana look beautiful on-screen.
“The Curious Case of Benjamin Button” could double as an ad for the New Orleans tourism industry. “12 Years a Slave,” in theaters this year, paints the plantation region of our state as an Eden, the beauty of which throws into starker contrast the brutality of slavery. And every once in a while, a film captures not only the physical allure of Louisiana but part of its spirit, as last year’s “Beasts of the Southern Wild” accomplished.
In how it handles our home, “Treme” tops them all. It is by turns sad, joyful, angry, funny, earnest, irreverent — all of which we can be in our daily lives. From the first episode, the show embraced the complexity of a complex city. It refused the shortcuts that lesser productions take.
Through the stories of its ensemble cast, “Treme” explores the struggle that many people feel between making art “something meaningful”and making money. And “Treme” itself is an example of something meaningful. It, and the city it depicts, demonstrates the power of culture to transcend a trauma like Katrina.
I, for one, am grateful for such a nuanced portrayal. As the finished series moves to DVD and Netflix, my hope is that many more viewers, in south Louisiana and beyond, will discover this triumph of storytelling.