I Love My Country
Anyone who believes we here in the U.S. of A. don’t actually make anything anymore needs to watch HBO. Let me be more specific: you need to watch Treme. Now. All of it.
Fourth of July fireworks have been cancelled here in Lubbock, as in much of the parched southwest, but my heart swelled with nationalistic pride and my eyes teared up repeatedly as I watched the second season finale of the series about New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Created by television auteurs David Simon, responsible for HBO’s The Wire and NBC’s Homicide: Life on the Street, and Eric Overmyer, who worked on both productions with Simon as well as St. Elsewhere and Law & Order, Treme is proof positive that the most interesting narrative work today is being done for broadcast and cable tv, not the movies.
My girlfriend has a low tolerance for menace (having been held up at gunpoint, she’s earned it), so halfway through the first season of Treme she gave up. Amidst the joy of creative people living vibrant lives in a globally and historically unique city, she correctly perceived the constant possibility of unannounced horror. Amidst plenty of examples, the ninth episode of this season suddenly ended with one of the most horrifying murders ever represented on American television. No small part of its horror was its banality, coming out of the blue as such things often do.
But to reach the fifth paragraph of an essay about Treme without mentioning the music is as criminal as some of the worst behavior the series has brought to life. Truly, it is hard to imagine any cultural text paying such consistent, knowing, loving tribute to the vitality of America and its unique cultural gifts as Treme does, episode after episode. The theme song alone (by John Boutté) makes me want to salute the nearest flag, and most episodes are so full of great American music that even a partial list is a cop-out.
New Orleans may be reasonably called the birthplace of American music, and our music, along with democracy and free-market capitalism, may be America’s most enduring contributions to global culture in the broadest sense. Nowhere else has this peculiar set of circumstances and energies produced such irrepressible joy, sorrow, beauty, ugliness, hope, despair, solidarity, and loneliness. Treme captures it all, even more vividly than did The Wire, which was inevitably drawn to the dark side of the American soul.
When Davis (Steve Zahn) leads his band for the last time in a nerd-funk cover of James Brown, or Antoine (Wendell Pierce) gives up his band to lead a bunch of aspiring high-schoolers, or Janette (Kim Dickens, the sexiest actress alive) gives up her high-profile chef in New York to return to NOLA and start over, or LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) recovers her inner fire after being raped by opportunistic thugs, or Delmond (Rob Brown) returns because Dr. John convinces him his father was right, or Toni (Melissa Leo) realizes her daughter Sofia and she will survive the suicide of the love of their lives, we know we will survive too, This is great art.
Which is to say, Treme is the best American television series. Ever.
Happy 4th of July, all.