This Sunday at 10pm on HBO, David Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer’s, Treme, will give viewers a trip to New Orleans that most haven’t seen past the beads, the booze, the boobs, and Mardi Gras floats. The storyline takes place three months after Hurricane Katrina and the Federal levee system failure, following an assortment of city residents as people use the weight of the area’s rich music and culture as affirmations amidst a government that has failed them.The title derives from the neighborhood Treme, one of the oldest black neighborhoods in New Orleans and hailed as one of the birthplaces of jazz. There are the same crisscrossing storylines, rugged authenticity, insider’s viewpoint, regional dialogue, and the expectations that the audience will “get it” that made The Wire, alternately the “best show on television” and the most difficult to understand.But Treme goes against one of the few critiques of the widely lauded series, The Wire—that it was too bleak, that it missed the fact that people rely on hope to get them through inconceivable circumstances. In Treme, the spirit of the people is the storyline—not in the sappy, kumbaya sense—but in the sometimes angry and determined, sometimes comedic and dysfunctional sense. Amidst circumstances like homelessness, government neglect, dead or missing family and friends, and being displaced, they are determined to regain their footing, and that footing is a funky two-step infused with brass band music.Viewers will recognize some faces from The Wire, including Wendell Pierce (who played the affable Bunk), and Clarke Peters, (who played the genius detective Lester Freamon)—both are accomplished musicians in real life. Pierce, a Julliard graduate, plays Antoine Batiste, a musician taking any gigs that will pay, including the seedy tourist traps and strip clubs on Bourbon Street. Peters plays the Mardi Gras Indian Big Chief, Albert Lambreaux, rendered homeless by the storm but determined to continue a tradition dating to when enslaved Africans were allowed to congregate in Congo Square and perform their homeland’s traditional songs and dances. The Mardi Gras Indians mask in Indian attire for parades, in part as homage to escaping enslaved Africans who were harbored by Native Americans.“Some people are honoring the Native Americans, some are honoring a day of freedom,” says Donald Harrison Jr., a real life Mardi Gras Indian chief and consultant for the show and jazz saxophonist who has played with greats like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers and Don Pullen. “You transcend to another state with the dances and music. When you have people who have been oppressed, they need those periods.”The pilot opens with Treme’s first second line parade since the storm, a simultaneous protest and exultation. The series lends authenticity following a timeline of some of the real events that happened after the storm and through the use of real life NOLA musicians who have cameos and some recurring roles—Keith and Phillip Frazier from the Rebirth Brass Band, world renowned Trombone Shorty—who counts Wynton Marsalis as his biggest fan, Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins, Elvis Costello, Donald Harrison Jr, and Yacub Addy and Wynton Marsalis who worked together on the song for the series trailer.But Treme is not a documentary, it’s all drama filled fiction. Ultimately, Treme is more character-driven than plot-driven–mostly because the characters are stories within themselves. Batiste (his name taken from the widely regarded family of New Orleanian musicians) is a struggling musician with the contradictory characteristics of being lovable, loyal, and a philanderer. Kermit Ruffins (playing himself), a celebrated jazz trumpeter, composer, and singer is asked in the pilot episode by disc jockey Davis McAlary (played by Steve Zahn) if a man of his talent really wants to just “get high, play some trumpet, and barbecue in New Orleans all your life.” He pauses, seemingly bemused by the question, before smiling in response, “that’ll work.”Ruffins is contrasted against Lambreaux’s son, Delmond (played by Rob Brown), a jazz musician who has gigs all over the Northeast including the high- brow Lincoln Center in New York, and is reticent to stay in New Orleans for very long. He only returns sporadically, shamed into coming back by his sister who has been burdened with helping her father get back on his feet. McAlary provides comic relief as the ne’er-do-well disc jockey-wanna-be-musician, with a prolific vocabulary, a bottomless well of musical knowledge, and a witty sense of outrage.Treme writer and creator David Simon describes it best: “In New Orleans, the nuances have nuances.” It may require viewers to do some homework to understand the intricacies of the verb form of NOLA’s term second-lining, it’s local Hubig pies, or ornate Mardi Gras Indian costumes. But the payoff for the self-education is well worth it.Treme premieres this Sunday, April 11th, at 10pm on HBO

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