The Ghost of Katrina Haunts HBO's "Treme"

BlogHer Original Post

I've never had to live through the devastation of a massive hurricane, but just watching the opening credits of HBO's drama Treme gave me a little taste of what the aftermath must be like.

The artfully designed credits show closeup after closeup of water lines. House after house, wall after wall, the water line is an indelible, inescapable scar.

Photo: Skip Bolen/HBO

David Simon, executive producer of the critically acclaimed The Wire, is also behind Treme, which explores life for a variety of New Orleans residents three months after hurricane Katrina. The series stars Wendell Pierce (pictured above), Melissa Leo, John Goodman, Khandi Alexander, Clarke Peters, and Steve Zahn, among others.

Last week's 80-minute premiere introduced viewers to a cross-section of New Orleans residents coping with the shock, anger and despair of one of the worst natural disasters to ever hit this country. But in the midst of all the destruction is hope.

And music. Always the music.

One of the things that made the first episode of Treme so effective was the integration of that inexorable New Orleans music. The powerful and joyous jazz set the scene for the show like nothing else possibly could.

Treme (pronounced truh-MAY), according to New Orleans, "is not only America's oldest black neighborhood but was the site of significant economic, cultural, political, social and legal events that have literally shaped the course of events in Black America for the past two centuries."

And the world of Treme is without a doubt a culture rich in tradition and history, but also poverty and decay. The characters are engaging and totally feel like real people. Wendell Pierce is Antoine Batiste, a talented musician who lives on a shoestring, from gig to gig. John Goodman is Creighton Bernette, the outraged, upper middle class novelist/teacher who's determined to publicize the political failures that helped demolish so much of his adopted city. Then there's Albert Lambreaux, played by Clarke Peters, who returns to a condemned home, despite his children's protests, to prepare for Mardi Gras.

Some live in neighborhoods with no electricity and no running water, and others where the only thriving business is junk hauling. Long commutes from nearby cities like Baton Rouge to the few jobs in New Orleans are common.

Based on the first episode, I liked what I saw. I found myself engrossed in the city and the lives of its traumatized characters -- even the characters, like hippie dippie radio DJ, Davis McAlary, that I didn't like.

Reactions in the blogosphere have mainly been positive. Issa Rae at loved it:

The cinematography is gorgeous, the music is inspiring and the show actually made me want to go to New Orleans and struggle.

So did Charlotte of the blog Charlotte's Web, who currently goes to school in New Orleans and is a Katrina survivor:

They showed one character walking into his house for the first time since the storm. Everything was completely destroyed and it looked like a war zone. I can remember seeing my home, and other family and friend's homes after the storm and seeing exactly what this character saw in the show.

M. at, also a Katrina survivor, reminds readers of the human devastation of being displaced:

Honestly, being a Katrina exile is more deeply rooted in my soul than being a cancer survivor. I don't know what that says about me. I don't know what that says about trauma. Roommate and I had it good. Our home was in the 20% of the city that didn't flood. I was still able to keep my job part time. We were in the first wave of evacuees to return home. We were lucky enough not to lose any friends or close acquaintances.

That being said, my ex-husband -- a New Orleans native -- died three years after the storm. A death I most certainly blame on Katrina.

Megan at Moments with Megan was actually an extra in the first episode of Treme, but unfortunately ended up on the cutting room floor. She recently wrote a post to thank all those who helped Katrina survivors like herself:

To all of those who reached out to us in our time of need, thank you; I am still overwhelmed by your kindness. So many of you donated time, money, goods and services. Some of you even opened your homes. Thank you for letting us cry on your shoulders and thank you for lending your ears. Thank you to everyone who helped us once we made it home and thank you to those who are still helping. Your compassion and generosity is unmatched.

Did you watch Treme? What did you think?

Viewing note: Treme airs on HBO at 10 p.m. Sundays..

Related Links:

David Simon Remembers His Friend David Mills

Q&A with Treme star Wendell Pierce

Megan Smith is the BlogHer Contributing Editor covering Television/Online Video.     Her other blogs are Megan's Minute, quirky commentary around the clock and Meg's Rad Review.


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