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Baltimore Sun TV Writer Swoons over Treme

March 29, 2010

The weak headline “Simon’s new series captures New Orleans moments” on the Baltimore Sun TV writer’s piece on Treme doesn’t give a clue to his powerful reaction below the fold.

In 30 years of writing about television, I have never heard music used as organically, wisely and powerfully as it is in the new HBO drama, “Treme,” from Baltimore writer David Simon and playwright Eric Overmyer…

The 80-minute pilot episode opens on a street parade and closes on a funeral procession. The former, with its screaming brass, syncopated bass drum and snake-hipped dancers, lifted me out of my seat and instantly transported me into the bombed-out landscape of post-Katrina New Orleans, where the series is set.

The latter, with its dirge-like, slower-than-the-slowest-rhythm-you-can-imagine version of “A Closer Walk with Thee,” touched me in a psychic place that has nothing to do with rational thought, criticism or even words. It drilled deep down into that primitive place in the collective psyche where the origins of dance, religion, death, music and tribalism are found. At least, that’s where psychologist Carl Jung said they come from.

Whew. I am not going to try and analyze it for now. Let me offer a confessional moment instead. As the camera pulled up and back for its final overhead shot of the funeral procession passing boarded-up homes alongside a cemetery in deep decay, I just sat there in front of the screen enthralled – oblivious to everything else.

I don’t know why. But I do know that I have reacted with such intensity fewer than a dozen or so times in writing about TV: once with “Homicide: Life on the Street;” three times with “The Sopranos;” and at the ends of Ken Burns’ “The Civil War” and Spike Lee’s “When the Levees Broke.” (The influence of “When the Levees Broke” on “Treme” is unmistakable, particularly in that final scene.)

I know there are a few other such moments, but that’s what I recall off the top of my head. And when you cut through all the lofty critic talk, these are the moments on which I base my belief that TV is capable of great art.

– wet bank guy

P.S. Fair use and comment consistent with USC 17 Chapter 1 Title 107 blah blah blah. All typos are probably mine. Just sayin’.

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One Comment
  1. March 29, 2010 4:24 pm

    Done well, TV/film/video does have the power to circumvent that whole “writing about music is like dancing about architecture” dead end.

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