I have been a fan of David Simon's since The Wire and was inspired to go back and watch his New Orleans show, Treme (2010-2013) after seeing his most recent mini series for HBO Show Me A Hero (2015). It is a another significant achievement in which Simon, co-show runner Eric Overmeyer and their production and writing team chronicle the lives of ordinary citizens in the aftermath of hurricane Katrina that almost completely destroyed the city and had a significant impact on the lives of thousands. A common theme in the work of Simon is the failure of institutions and we have that here as Simon shows how the city, state, and federal governments failed the people. Incompetence and corruption are exposed. The police force is presented as corrupt and malevolent as it reflects the reality where looters were shot on sight and where people languished and died in the jails in the aftermath of the hurricane.
I had seen a few episodes and wasn't drawn in right away, but I think the first season needs to be seen in its entirety for it to make proper sense, since it opens in the middle of the aftermath as people begin returning to the city to assess damage and start rebuilding their lives. The season ends with a flashback to the storm and shows how the different story strands started at the onset of the storm. It seems like the episodes are not tightly plotted, but it all comes together in the end.
Simon and company spend a lot of time establishing characters. And what a cast of characters, the novelty here is that musicians and members of the specific culture of New Orleans are highlighted along with those who work in government, law enforcement, and schools. For example: Steve Zahn plays Davis McAlary, a part time DJ, musician, and full-time booster of New Orleans culture and lifestyle; Khandi Alexander as LaDonna Batiste-William, runs the family bar and has to confront the violent ugly side of New Orleans-she is long suffering and should be singled out for impressive acting through the course of the series; then there's her ex-husband Antoine Baptiste, the 7th best trombonist in NOLA, the charismatic Wendell Pierce (an ex-cast member of The Wire); another ex-Wire cast member also has a towering role, Clarke Peters as Albert "Big Chief" Lambreaux, a Mardi Gras Indian chief that gives a window into a cultural subset unknown outside of NO, and several more that reflect story arcs that follow a musician without enough talent to make-it and another who has what it takes. Another story line investigates the world of celebrity chefs and the food culture of New Orleans and New York that was manifested in the character Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) as written by former celebrity chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain. Every episode has several live musical performance scenes that introduce the many artists and musical genres that are home to New Orleans music scene. All in all, a fascinating look at one of America's most original and distinct cities.