December 29, 2013

There's a scene in the last season of "30 Rock" where Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) says, "The DVR’s at 98 percent, but I’m just never in the mood to watch Treme.” She finally watches those episodes and tells her boss, "It gets good if you stick with it."

Enough people didn't stick with it, and so we say goodbye to another gorgeous, sad, ambitious, memorable and sometimes maddeningly slow HBO series.

The series finale is called "... To Miss New Orleans," after the old Louis Armstrong song, "Do You Know What It Means To Miss New Orleans?" (The song was used to open the first episode, titled "Do You Know What It Means".)

One of the first things you learn when you watch "Treme" is that the city's music culture really is the main character -- whether it's traditional New Orleans jazz, hip-hop, bounce, blues, zydeco, or roots music. It's all in there, and it's the thread that pulls the stories all together.

We already know that David Simon is good at what he does. Like Simon's "The Wire," "Treme" is an unsparing, Dickensian look at the larger forces of society and the effect they have on individuals caught in their path. It begins four months after Hurricane Katrina, and the city's residents are trickling back home -- still reeling, trying to piece back their lives despite the mold that pervades everything, the free-market vultures who descend on the place to knock down poor people's neighborhoods, a corrupt and brutal police force and an establishment full of bureaucrats more than happy to look the other way.

And funerals. Lots of touching Second Line funerals.

How do you rebuild the culture of such a unique geographic place after the climate disaster that was Katrina, and the political decisions that followed? In the same detail with which he examined the effects of the drug war, Simon paints the picture of what happens after the disaster capitalists take over. He's helped by a stellar cast: Melissa Leo as a tenacious civil rights attorney, John Goodman as an angry Tulane professor, David Morse as a NOPD detective who's fed up with corruption, Wendell Pierce ("The Wire") as a struggling musician, Clarke Peters as Mardi Gras Indian chief Albert "Big Chief" Lambreaux, Kim Dickens as a chef trying to hang on until the tourists return, Steve Zahn as a privileged white slacker who's a part-time DJ, Khandi Alexander as bar owner Ladonna Batiste-Williams, Rob Brown as Delmond Lambreaux, the son with a foot in two worlds -- his successful career as a New York jazz musician, and his father's deep tradition. Just as he did in "The Wire," Simon pulled his supporting cast from the community and the show is richer for it.

I don't want to pick it apart to make you want to watch it. But it really does get good if you stick with it. Buy it, rent it, borrow it from the library. Just watch it.

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