If, like me, you admired The Wire, but sometimes wished that its creator, David Simon, would turn his considerable talents to less unrelentingly depressing subjects, then wish no more. While we were in the States, we watched the first episode of Simon’s latest production, Treme (pronounced Treh-may) which premiered on HBO on Sunday night.
Set in New Orleans three months after Katrina, Treme has some similarities with the ground-breaking Baltimore cop series: a focus on the lives of African-Americans, a sprawling cast of characters, and plot and dialogue that are initially difficult to tune into. Some of The Wire’s actors even feature: the excellent Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters (Bunk and Lester in the earlier show) have central roles.
But the main difference, at least judging by the pilot episode, is that whereas the main focus of The Wire was crime, in Treme it is music, specifically the jazz and street bands of New Orleans. And where The Wire could be accused of painting a one-sidedly grim picture of life in an American city, the underlying tone of Treme is – despite its tragic context – celebratory and even humorous.
The one false note in the first episode - at least for this viewer - was the scene depicting a local activist, boistrously played by John Goodman, being interviewed by a British TV reporter – who came off as an absurdly upper-class and insensitive caricature. To those of us who remember Jon Snow navigating his rowing boat between submerged houses, and helping to rescue stranded inhabitants, this was a travesty and an unnecessary cheap shot.
But that's a minor quibble. I don’t know if or when there are plans for Treme to air in the UK, but on the basis of what we saw on Sunday, it's going to be worth the wait.