This is how I imagine the pitch meeting for Treme between HBO and co-creator David Simon went:
HBO Exec: Hello, David. First, we’d like to say thank you for everything you’ve done for the network. What would you like to pitch today?
Simon: I want to do a show about post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans.
HBO Exec: Oh wonderful! Very topical, very political, very HBO — we love it already. What’s going to happen on it?
Simon: Excuse me?
HBO Exec: What’s going to happen? You know, who are the characters? What’s the plotline?
Simon: I don’t know.
HBO Exec: Here’s $3 million. Bring us a pilot.
Treme, which began its second season Sunday night, is the follow-up effort from Simon, creator of The Wire. The Wire was that one show all of your pretentious friends keep on telling you to watch — nay, begging you to watch. It was the finest piece of narrative art to ever appear on television and maybe one of the finest pieces of narrative art to appear in any medium since Shakespeare. It was pretty good.
So how does Simon follow up something like that in Treme? After watching all 10 episodes of the first season and Sunday’s premiere, I feel like I can safely conclude that you can’t.
Treme kind of looks like The Wire on the surface: both are tales of dying American cities featuring large casts. But where The Wire felt truly sprawling and epic, Treme comes across as timid and insular.
The Wire’s famous mantra was “All the pieces matter,” and the show continually proved it, playing every single moment, no matter how small, as a puzzle piece for a larger, grander and fuller narrative.
On Treme, the pieces aren’t even part of the same puzzle. The characters are just musicians, cooks, professors and housewives trying to put their lives back together after a storm. That’s it. There is nothing of consequence to their struggle. They aren’t part of a bigger narrative. A storm came, disrupted their lives and now they trudge along.
It is entirely possible that Simon is trying to make a grander statement about the nature of community (or lack thereof) after tragedy. But I doubt it, given how an episode rarely goes by without a character making a grand political or moral statement about post-Katrina New Orleans. And even if Simon was trying to make a larger artistic statement, it’s hard to imagine he would have wanted it to be this boring.
It’s unfair to compare anything Simon does now to The Wire, a once-in-a-lifetime event. But unfortunately, we can only judge something on both the context of what came before it and how it makes us feel. Tragically, Treme comes up very lacking on both accounts.