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HBO’s ‘Treme’ readies for curtain call with tonight’s series finale

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Over its run HBO's “Treme” has always been one of TV’s most critically beloved, but ratings starved series. Reviews were largely positive for this extremely underrated program, which HBO has nurtured over its four year run. Tonight the curtain comes down on “Treme” and for those who have stuck with it from the beginning, producers are promising closure…but not in the traditional sense of the word.

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“Treme” is an ensemble in every sense of the word. The city of New Orleans itself though is clearly the main character. Set in the time after Hurricane Katrina decimated the city, the series looked to focus on how “The Big Easy” rebuilt, with both the positive and negative aspects receiving equal attention.

With small ratings, it’s a small miracle that “Treme” has lasted as long as it did, especially in this day of trigger-happy network and gun shy audiences. Yet that’s the beauty of pay cable and HBO, ratings don’t necessarily dictate success, quality does.

Tonight’s finale wraps an abbreviated five episode swan song season, which is essentially half the usual amount of installments. In a column posted yesterday by series co-creator David Simon on NOLA.com, he reflected on the show’s run and reminded audiences what the show really was and wasn’t about.

“It would not be completist or documentarian. Nor would it be precise with fact or chronology. It would use the post-Katrina experience to create a narrative about some people. It would be definitive only in that it was the story that we wished to tell.”

In other words while confirming the characters introduced in “Treme” will see their stories conclude tonight, there’s still a lot of work to do in New Orleans and that won’t change just because the show ends. Unfortunately it probably just means there will be less attention on the areas that need it the most.

Created by Simon and Eric Overmyer, the men behind fellow HBO underrated drama “The Wire,” “Treme” never got the accolades many expected it to receive. After “The Wire” was consistently snubbed, many assumed “Treme” would be the series where voters would get it right; to this point they haven’t.

The unique draw of “Treme” was that while it was set in a real time and place and centered on an actual event, the stories came from the minds of the show’s talented crew. The rich tapestry of New Orleans provided the inspiration for numerous tales played out by a cast including Wendell Pierce, Melissa Leo, David Morse, Steve Zahn, Khandi Alexander and Jon Seda among many (many) others.

Of course those are just the “above the title” names, there are hundreds more that worked either behind the scenes or in a smaller capacity. Dave Walker, the television critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, made sure to acknowledge them in his column Friday highlighting the finale.

“Some of the sweetest treats of “Treme’s” lagniappe season have been the callbacks and curtain-calls for characters played by actors with local ties. The show ... employed hundreds of them over its three-and-a-half seasons, thousands if you count the background actors and others who populated street scenes and nightclubs.”

As Simon went onto say in his column he and his colleagues “don’t expect to work on a project that feels as this one did for a long, long time to come, if ever.” For four years he and his team took a delicate situation and handled it with the level of respect it deserved. This was not an easy show to create and produce, but it’s one TV is better for having housed…even for a short time.

“Treme” airs its series finale tonight on HBO.

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