Sunday brings the brief fourth-season return of
Still, it felt concluded, if not conclusive, a finish, if not definitive -- quite in the spirit of the series, which which rolls along like the Mississippi, or any river of your choice, changing and unchanging. The Season 3 finale left its main characters in a moment of peace or possibility or renewed resolve (and also brought many of them together, in a big party scene). Not everything was wrapped up, but there were no cliffhangers either. Something would happen beyond our view, and something else would happen, and so on, into eternity.
And yet by that same token, it is natural enough for the show to be moving on, toward whatever not-ending it will finally offer. Given all the things this series does that no other shows on TV care to -- it is as singular as New Orleans itself -- this extended coda is a happy surprise. (The new episodes were written alone or in combination by Simon, Overmyer and/or their longtime associate, George Pelecanos, the mystery writer.) Artistically, it may be an unnecessary appendix, but I'm not complaining. More pie? I will make room somehow.
To quote myself, the series "takes its form from the city's substance; it does not so much present a point of view as embody a perpetual argument....It is romantic and naturalistic at once, as dreamy and earthy as the place in which it takes place — a place where when you die, they strike up the band. I love it as much as anything now on television." In my more perfect universe, it would be the cable drama everyone talks about and other shows want to imitate.
The new season begins not long after the end of the last, on election day 2008; its musical theme is
It is also intensely local -- all the characters, whatever separates them, race or money or political bent, share New Orleans. (The city plays itself, uptown and down.) The references and real-world cameos run so thick that the Times-Picayune's nola.com has published a "Treme Explained" column to list them; within the show itself things are rarely explained, which makes its world feel richer: at once more real and more mysterious. The context is on the screen, the exposition is in the action.
Sometimes brutal, more often tender, "Treme" is about recombination and rebirth, about making things -- music, food, money, a safe place -- out of whatever's at hand. It has the complicated, joy-out-of-sadness tone of a New Orleans funeral parade. The milieu may be exotic -- the Crescent City really is a world of its own -- but it's the most lifelike show around. Its protagonists are decent, more or less; their challenges familiar; their solutions (or lack of one) believable. They're deep, the way people are, without being disturbed -- only human.