Down In the Treme / Me and My Baby

So last night, I got together with Anna John, Latoya Peterson, Kay Stieger, Matt Yglesias and Rachael Brown to watch the first two episodes of David Simon’s new show, Treme. We’ll be running a roundtable on it all weekend over at The Atlantic’s Culture Channel. My first entry in that conversation went up this morning:

So it seems appropriate that Treme, Simon’s new show, is a valentine with a devious, violent heart. I say devious because after the first episode, I didn’t quite know what to make of the show. And the second upset my understanding of what I’d seen entirely.

The show is — as befits a David Simon production — profane, challenging, and frequently funny. But it also relies on a deep assumption of kindness between its main characters. In The Wire, such emotions were portents of doom: D’Angelo Barksdale, a young drug dealer, was marked for jail and worse the moment he showed signs of sensitivity. Homicide’s detectives may wield gold shields, but they’re still vulnerable to heartbreak, suicide, and violent death. Watching Treme, I found myself expecting Antoine to be turned down when he asked for a loan, an extension on paying cab fare, or help finding a gig, and intensely relieved when his friends amiably agreed to help him out.

Treme is very good, but it’s also a complete different animal from The Wire (despite the presence of Clarke Peters, Wendell Pierce, and fellow Simon alum Khandi Alexander) which I think is fortunate. It would be distressing, and probably not very good television, if Simon & Co. had simply tried to create a simulacrum of McNulty, Omar, Kima, Bubbles, et. al. The characters are marvelously themselves, and Treme packs a huge amount of characterization and exposition into single lines and scenes. The show is beautifully shot: brass, and feathers, and hot light make for a visual feast. And the music is luscious. I don’t want to say a lot more than that because I want you to read the piece, and the ones that follow. I’ll be putting up links here and into next week. But I also highly, highly recommend getting yourself to a television with HBO on Sunday at 10. It’s worth your while.