HBO sent critics all 10 episodes for the current season of "Treme," which premieres Sept. 23. If only watching them didn’t feel like homework – easily the least-distinguished effort among "The Wire" producer David Simon’s stellar body of work for the pay service.
Although I wasn’t a huge fan of the program’s first season, its final episode – recounting what happened before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans – felt like a rather elegant and appropriate ending. Since then, the series has yielded moments of interest, but has too often struggled from an uneven array of characters amid its dizzying assortment of plots.
Admittedly, the show loses me in one key respect: I'm not enough of a jazz aficionado to fully appreciate the bountiful outpouring of live music featured each week. Yet part of that also involves incorporating a number of non-actors – both musicians and restaurateurs – intended to heighten the show’s sense of authenticity. They accomplish that, yes, but having them around also has a way of diluting the dramatic impact, given the stilted nature of the performances.
Of course, as with any Simon show, there’s some wonderful writing – I particular enjoyed a discussion of the difference between vice and sin, as filtered through the prism of New Orleans – and a sobering look at failed institutions. In that regard, some of this season’s major themes echo “The Wire,” as it layered them on: A corrupt, broken system, including (here) government and the police; ineffective schools; and a primer on journalistic legwork, reflecting Simon’s days as a reporter.
There’s also some terrific acting, with an expanded role for David Morse as a principled detective that’s especially welcome, as well as interesting storylines for both Clarke Peters and Wendell Pierce.
Despite low ratings, HBO has kept renewing “Treme,” presumably under its theory a show that inflames passion – even among a small audience – is worth having around. Moreover, the most recent hurricane to strike the gulf made the region’s continuing struggles feel especially timely.For a hardy few, this is no doubt one of those series that will keep them subscribing as long as its on. Yet as much as I’ve admired Simon’s work in the past – including “Generation Kill” and “The Corner” – this one is just too narrow for me. And frankly, I’ve got enough homework.