There are times when TV shows have the most brilliant of pedigrees and lead to disaster. I have previously mentioned NBC's Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip & Smash as TV shows that should've come on like gangbusters and ended up nearly collapsing the network.
There is more room for wild experimentation, and in some case, greater failure on cable. HBO has been the site of some of television's greatest successes, but they have also fallen victim to excessive messes, particularly in recent years. One is reminded of David Milch's Luck, which even if it hadn't been canceled because of animal cruelty was never the show it should've been. After the last couple of seasons, it's becoming increasingly clear that Boardwalk Empire has fallen victim to the same syndrome.
But what are we to make of a series that is engaged in taking it's final bows this month on HBO, a series that has become almost a symbol of a series that is watched more out of curiosity than quality? That series is David Simon's Treme, which airs it final episodes this month?
By all right, this series should've been a big force on HBO. Written by the man who brought us The Wire, a series recently named by Entertainment Weekly as the greatest in television history. Actually set in Post-Katrina New Orleans, featuring the atmosphere that made that series and Homicide TV landmarks? Featuring some of the best actors from both series, Melissa Leo and Jon Seda, from the latter; Wendell Pierce and Clarke Peters from the former, with the added talents of Khandi Alexander, Steve Zahn, Kim Dickens and David Morse, with the added presence of what appear to be dozens of real jazz musicians, playing in the streets? How could it go wrong?
Well, the biggest problem is a very simple one: there was no overriding theme. People might argue that Simon took a similar approach in The Wire, using the skeleton of a police investigation to investigate larger problems, such as the drug war, the disintegration of the working class, and political corruption. Yes, but there was that skeleton. No such animal ever existed in any of the three seasons of Treme that I have watched. There were storylines, and those storylines were followed over the course of a season. But the laser light focus that was present in Simon's earlier shows has been swallowed up by jazz. Now maybe it's because I don't appreciate jazz, but there needs to be more than good music and musicians to make a series. One gets the feeling that Simon sensed that and in Seasons 2 and 3, he dealt with investigations into suspicious deaths, but there was never any real resolution or recognition with any of the cases. When Melissa Leo couldn't resolve a suspicious death on Homicide, it was cause for concern; when her character tried to do the same thing on Treme, I just felt that my time was wasted.