There is no other place with such rich culture, history, and identity in this country as New Orleans. As author Tom Piazza said in his book Why New Orleans Matters, the city “has an astonishing vitality that has spoken to people all around the world.” The food, the music, the people, the buildings–all of these aspects have such a uniqueness that isn’t really seen elsewhere. It’s a city alive with energy–good and bad–and spirit. And it’s resilient.
It’s not, however, without problems. Crime is high. Poverty is high. It’s the “Missing Persons Capital” of the world. But, the city knows this. And it doesn’t try to hide this from the millions of people who come check out its sights and sounds every year. It’s a part of its identity.
“Treme” recognizes this. David Simon’s series, with its third season opener premiering Sunday night, explores both sides of New Orleans–the side that takes pride in its gumbo and shrimp creole and reveres its local musicians who have made a name for themselves blaring their trumpets and clarinets and the side that felt abandoned and abused when Hurricane Katrina devastated the area–leaving thousands dead and even more disolcated, forever scarred by the weeks of pure chaos that swept the Crescent City. The actors, who range from newcomer Lucia Miccarelli to Oscar(R) winner Melissa Leo, bring to life the pain and the devastation but also the joy and the hope that the city as a whole has felt ever since the storm. Each and every one of them transforms into their role, and several of them have been snubbed of some serious recognition.
I’ve heard criticism that the show is “too slow” and that “nothing happens.” That’s just what makes it brilliant, in my opinion. The series takes a very detailed, intimate portrait of the everyday lives of native New Orleanians. There’s excitement: people get shot, people do drugs, fights break out, Mardi Gras parades and parties ensue. But, such scenes are done with a sense of humility, respect, and…mundanity. The showrunners are not trying to sensationalize the city (frankly, it doesn’t need any sensationalizing!). They’re just trying to educate people about a place in our very own backyard and a culture so different from that which has come to define “American culture.” They are showing us what makes New Orleans so special and why the people who come from there carry with them a lifelong sense of pride for where they grew up.
I make a trip down to The Big Easy once a year. On numerous occasions, I have heard people say that “the show is good for New Orleans.” For the natives, it helps redefine themselves and to put together the pieces that were broken when Katrina reared her ugly head. For others, it shows the city’s charm and works to encourage people to explore one of our nation’s biggest and brightest gems. For everyone, it shows why the city is important and why something like our government’s response to Hurricane Katrina should never, ever be allowed to happen again.