Fourteen months have passed since Hurricane Katrina, but residents of the Crescent City are finding it harder than ever to rebuild their lives, much less hold on to their unique cultural identity. Some have become expatriates in distant cities. The insurance checks that never arrived for homeowners were followed by the bureaucratic nightmare that was the Road Home program, and a land-grab is underway as developers and disaster capitalists press their advantage. Crime and drug use are up, and corruption and graft are endemic, with civic institutions unable to counter any of it. And yet the culture of New Orleans somehow endures.
You won't find many television series whose defining event occurred before the first episode of the first season. Then again, there aren't many, if any, series like HBO's Treme
. Created by writer-producers David Simon (of The Wire
) and Eric Overmyer, this show has as its driving force, its raison d'être, Katrina, the hurricane that decimated New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. The debut season began a couple of months after the storm passed through, leaving misery and chaos in its wake; the first of 11 episodes in this, the second season, starts about a year after that. Most of the action still centers around NOLA, where the locals are continuing to pick up the pieces and get on with their lives in a city now plagued with violence and disorder. Some of those who left are returning, but some may be gone for good (several scenes throughout the season take place in New York City). Some are trying to rebuild their homes (which means the endless wait for federal funds continues); others, hewing to a mantra that "no disaster should go to waste," include venal businessmen looking to capitalize on the city's pain by rebuilding New Orleans "properly." And as one character puts it, "Everybody is out of their minds."
As before, there are numerous characters and story lines to keep track of. Trombonist Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) takes a job teaching music to schoolkids while also putting together a hot new band, the Soul Apostles. His former wife, bar owner LaDonna (Khandi Alexander), spends much of the season suffering from the effects of a brutal assault. Chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) now lives and plies her trade in Manhattan, while her former boyfriend, DJ and aspiring rapper-music exec Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), has taken up with up-and-coming fiddler Annie Tee (Lucia Micarelli). Activist lawyer Toni Bernette (Oscar winner Melissa Leo) tries to get to the bottom of a killing that may have involved police misconduct, while daughter Sofia (India Ennenga) struggles to adapt to life without her dad, who died in the previous season. Part of the show's appeal is the fact that these folks and the others whose story lines we follow are not superheroes or world-beaters; they're just people dealing with life's daily, if not exactly ordinary, vicissitudes. But as before, it's the music that remains the show's soul and constant heartbeat, whether it's provided by regulars like Antoine, Annie, and trumpeter Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown), who's trying to simultaneously update and honor the traditional New Orleans sound, or guest artists including John Hiatt and Shawn Colvin. You might tune in for the writing and acting (both excellent), but in the end, it's the sounds of Treme that will keep you coming back. --Sam Graham