Treme Dissapoints

A while back I called The Wire:

My favorite TV show ever.  It presents a vivid and believable world of Baltimore drugs, police, politics, etc. … I findThe Wire’s world unusually consistent with everything I know.  … “The overall moral of the story seems to me largely libertarian.

Though I was puzzled that its producer, David Simon, didn’t agree with me about its overall moral. If The Wire was the best show ever, then it was quite unlikely that Simon’s new show, Treme, would nearly as good. And after watching six episodes now, I can assure you it isn’t.  (Newsweek agrees). Oh its better than average, and I’m sure it is cutting-edge and ground-breaking in many ways.  And in terms of the details of personal lives, Treme may be even more realistic than The Wire.

But in terms of the larger social forces, Treme seems to be setting up a standard political fantasy: colorful warm-hearted salt-of-the-Earth plunky outranged citizens “take back their town” from corrupt leaders.  Oh they may well fail and get squashed in the end, but their idealism and passion toward their heart-warming noble cause is way way over the top.

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  • mrwiizrd

    Agreed. The Wire is also my favorite TV show of all time and I find Treme to be pretty uninteresting, so much so that I haven’t watched the last few episodes saved on the dvr.

    Similar thing with The Pacific, which while better than average, couldn’t live up to my expectations given how great Band of Brothers was.

  • Popeye

    Vaguely related, I thought this New Yorker article on La Familia was fascinating:

  • Eric

    I agree about The Wire, but not about Treme.

    It sure is hard to buck the evaluative biases that emerge if we let our viewing of Treme be anchored by our appreciation of The Wire. The deviations register as straight losses, which accumulate and make the experience disappointing.

    I found it easy to step out of this frame. This is why I think Robin sees the characters as idealistic citizens in a political fantasy, whereas I just see confused and frustrated citizens with no political resources or efficacy. They are not warm hearted, they are heart broken. Simon is focusing on empathy rather than on levels of social and political organization. He doesn’t offer much on the political front, and if you treat this as a gap that needs to be filled in, then it will look like fantasy.

    Wire devotees can make their disappointment vanish by just following Simon’s lead. They won’t get The Wire, but they will get to appreciate a brilliant show on its own merits.

    (I think similar processes plague evaluations of late Woody Allen movies and also of every cast of SNL since the first one.)

  • Looks like pretty straightforward regression to the mean and pretty much what we should expect when we consider that so many hailed The Wire as the greatest show ever…

  • alan

    one thing i wish i could communicate to all of the Treme watchers–

    don’t construe this show as too much of a deliberate construct. Simon is coming very close to a literal psuedo-documentation of life here at that particular time. The characters are thinly veiled composites of well-known people. A not-insignificant amount of dialog is lifted from work published at the time. The problems they faced are actual ones, thus the drama (which I find poorly paced and somewhat unengaging) is a representation of the actual drama.

    You know how life is nothing like the movies or TV? Well in this case it is. It was almost exactly like that. He is creating a fictionalized visual record of what happened here.

    Whether or not that is ground breaking, or whether this should be the filter through which the show is critiqued is beyond my pay grade. However, I do somewhat resent your dismissal of the show as political fantasy. There is zero fantasy in that show.

  • Ben

    Supposedly someone once asked Joseph Heller why he was never able to match the greatness of his first novel Catch 22, to which he replied, “Who has?”

    Treme lacks the immediacy and accessibility of The Wire, which was built on an extremely familiar foundation of cops vs. criminals. It’s hard to grab people’s attention with “Musicians in New Orleans” as your building block. But I think it’s worth giving Simon a pretty long leash here, especially if you believe, as Robin does, that the show is better than average. The first few episode of The Wire were pretty engaging, but the real payoff didn’t occur until later.

    For anyone desperate for more Wire-caliber TV, the closest thing I’ve found is the Canadian TV series Intelligence. It’s similarly patient in developing its stories and detailed in exploring institutions, with a large cast.

  • Matthew

    I know this is an old post, but I’m curious if you have any other TV shows you have particularly enjoyed? I too found the Wire a fascinating portrayal of both institutions and individuals, and desperately looking for more.