Back in 2006, Jacob Weisberg, who runs the Slate Group, argued that The Wire "is surely the best TV show ever broadcast in America. This claim isn't based on my having seen all the possible rivals for the title, but on the premise that no other program has ever done anything remotely like what this one does, namely to portray the social, political, and economic life of an American city with the scope, observational precision, and moral vision of great literature."
"Historically, television has often been treated by critics as a superficial medium of less resonance and less reach than cinema," wrote Dana Polan two years later on the occasion of "Making The Wire," a symposium at the Museum of the Moving Image. "But the very span of time covered by shows like The Sopranos and The Wire — the span of the actions within them but also of the time they take to recount these actions over season after season — allows the ambitious television series representational possibilities that the feature film never could come close to achieving."
As you'll have heard, Saturday Sunday sees the premiere, also on HBO, of the series' co-creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer's new project. "In Treme, your gaze is always brought from the general to the specific," writes Nancy Franklin in the New Yorker, "or — more specifically — to a dense mesh of details that don't always appear to make sense or add up easily. That approach is a fitting one for looking at New Orleans, especially post-Katrina, assuming that Simon and Overmyer can get under the city's skin. It's one thing to take us to New Orleans — anyone can do that — but not everyone can take us inside New Orleans.... The characters in the show are ambivalent about outsiders, and if you're at all sensitive to that you feel intrusive, rude — almost a colonialist — for appreciating what you see and hear in Treme. The series virtually prohibits you from loving it, while asking you to value it. In that sense, I suppose, it may be the bravest show that David Simon has ever made."
"Treme epitomizes the sort of great storytelling we all thirst for on TV but rarely find," argues Heather Havrilesky in Salon. "Sure, we're just a bunch of outsiders, but this drama has captured our hearts and now we're in love — silly, awestruck, enchanted, sobbing, swooning love."
For the latest lengthy profiles of Simon, turn to Larry Blumenfeld in the Voice and Emily Nussbaum in New York. Two blogs are posting Treme-related news, links, reviews, pix, the works: Watching Treme and Back of Town, both via Cargo co-editor Ekkehard Knörer, who's also posted a making-of (14'02") and a promo (2'37").
IN OTHER NEWS
The Directory of World Cinema: American Independent, a handsome collection running over 300 pages, is freely downloadable for a limited time.
In Hong Kong, David Bordwell has seen the newly reconstructed and restored Metropolis and taken extensive notes on the film, a Q&A that followed and a seminar held by Martin Koerber, a restorer and curator at the Deutsche Kinemathek.
Jafar Panahi, arrested in Tehran over a month ago, is still being held by Iranian authorities. The New York Times' Robert Mackey posts a statement from his wife, Tahereh Saeedi, who has just visited him and reports that "they are doing everything to break his spirit. He has been deprived [of] his elementary legal rights. Can this be called anything but torture? Does a regime have the right to behave so shamelessly and inhumanely toward one of its art icons, for the crime of an unmade film?"
Updates, 4/9: "In [Treme] is anger over government incompetence and neglect, but this is not a Dickensian exploration of failed institutions like The Wire," writes Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times. "Nor it a call to arms like Spike Lee's documentary When the Levees Broke: A Requiem in Four Acts, which ran on HBO in 2006. Treme, which features real musicians, including Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint and the New Orleans trumpeter Kermit Ruffins as themselves and the violinist Lucia Micarelli as a street musician, is more an act of love, and, odd as it sounds, that makes it harder to embrace."
"The drama's ambience, its sense of rudderless drifting in the wake of the flood, is perfectly gauged melancholy," writes Matthew Gilbert in the Boston Globe. "This is the kind of TV that viewers ask for but rarely get, driven by characters who are more than the sum of one or two qualities and who harbor depths that are revealed slowly, subtly, and authentically."
"Unlike The Wire," Treme "brims with an unrelenting optimism," finds Tim Goodman in the San Francisco Chronicle. "This is a love letter with bruises."
James Poniewozik talks with Simon and Overmyer for Time.
Updates, 4/10: Watching the first episode, Slate's Troy Patterson finds similarities to Robert Altman's Nashville: "It has the same looseness and kaleidoscopic focus. It has a similar tolerance for contradictions and a commitment to getting the big picture by concentrating on the small details. The rock star who, playing himself, shows up at a jazz club functions much like Julie Christie and Elliott Gould do in the Altman movie, as mirrors where the audience catches the reflection of the central characters' feelings on fame. And, most tellingly, an early moment in Treme finds a naive British reporter poking at the setting. But where Altman's viewpoint shares something with the Brit interloper's, Simon sides forcefully with the home team, tacitly expressing more than a little sympathy for the steaming conspiracy theorist who tries to toss the journalist over a levee. This is all in all an ambitious way to launch a TV show, and Simon makes it look like a cakewalk."
"[T]here is form, but there is the feeling of endless improvisation," writes David Poland. "Unlike The Wire, a great series that this one quickly threatens to surpass, there is no Guy At The Center. Every time you feel like you are about to pin down the star... the center of the storm... it changes."
Gabe Soria talks with Simon for the Guardian and adds: "The Wire's focus on politics and crime is largely absent in Treme (for now, though the subject of New Orleans after Katrina has unavoidable political undercurrents). Instead, Treme is about how a city survives despite erosion at the hands of the combined forces of nature, ignorance and economics. The pilot episode of Treme (directed by Agnieszka Holland, another holdover from The Wire) lays out these differences."
"[E]xploiting 'New Orleans' is what saves the actual New Orleans from extinction," argues Hank Stuever in the Washington Post. "The price of that is high, and each of Treme's characters struggles with it in some way."
Viewing (5'11"). Wendell Pierce (Bunk in The Wire) discusses Treme on ABC.
Update, 4/11: "Simon's fury is so evident in The Wire and his equally brilliant Iraq War miniseries Generation Kill that people tend to forget how humane his shows are at their core," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "The important thing to remember about Simon: He loves people. What he hates are the institutions that fail them. The genius of both series is their ability to demonstrate convincingly how the arrogance and avarice of the powerful become the trickle-down tragedies of the powerless.... Treme may well enter the corridors of power, but for now, it's a series that affirms — with humor, tenderness, insight, and a rich sense of regional music and custom — Simon's love of humanity and its resilience in the face of trying circumstances."
Updates, 4/12: Treme "emits shimmering heatwaves of prestige, and sustains a sense of place as dreamy as Twin Peaks, only rigorously reality-based," writes Tim Appelo at Thompson on Hollywood.
"By the third episode, 'Right Place, Wrong Time,' the show has developed so much character that even simple glances are steeped in meaning." An overview of the first season from Aaron Riccio in Slant.
Recaps of the first episode: Dan Kois (Vulture) and Julian Sancton (Vanity Fair).
Update, 4/13: HBO has "announced that it had ordered a second season of the show, just two days after its premiere," reports Dave Itzkoff for the New York Times.
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