Sunday, April 11, 2010
I'm not sure, honestly. I enjoyed the first episode, in its way, but I think I'm still probably working past how annoyed and betrayed I felt by season five of The Wire and its abrupt right turn from being just the best and most bracing bit of television I've ever seen to becoming a parodic and unconvincing axe-grinding session. I should probably chill the fuck out, about that and in general, but it colored my response to the oddly flat and over-written Generation Kill, and the grandiosity-displacing-grandeur thing that defined Season Five was definitely lurking in my mind during the Treme premiere.
I always felt like the "authenticity" of The Wire was maybe over-vaunted -- not because it wasn't true-to-life in a dozen different ways, but because the authenticity that mattered (given that it was a dramatic TV show, and not a documentary) was more about storytelling craft than reportage. The most inauthentic moments of The Wire -- Bad Jimmy McNulty and everything to do with the Sun in Season Five -- were inauthentic despite the fact that Simon et al presumably know cops who drink too much and got the layout and look of the Sun's newsroom exactly correct. As admirably serious as David Simon is about his work as a writer and TV-maker, David Simon is also clearly serious about indulging his own literary vices when it suits him, which means that we get 1) hard-drinking white dudes delivering unconvincing monologues in the florid/profane contrasto-voice that Simon clearly finds most amusing and 2) the occasional bazooka-versus-fly settling of scores against people who pissed him off 15 years ago along with all the good stuff. The good stuff is not notably less good for all the bad stuff that veins through it, though. Nobody's perfect, and I wouldn't trade Season Two or Season Four of The Wire for anything I've ever seen on TV.
At any rate, here's Nancy Franklin in The New Yorker:
One night, [Clarke Peters] dresses up in costume and goes looking for one of his old cohorts, and we see him dancing in the dark, in an enormous costume of red and gold feathers. I’d never seen anything like it in a TV show. And yet it didn’t strike me as exotic, since that’s a word I would use to describe something I felt distanced from. But here I felt a strong connection. I think this is what Simon wanted to have happen to viewers, though so far it hasn’t happened to me very often. 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.
And David Simon in the New Orleans Times-Picayune, on authenticity. You can see a little bit of the overwritten-white-dude in the faux-magisterial reveals and winks in his prose, but also some insight. He's an interesting dude and very good at his job, and I feel kind of silly even carping about any of his foibles. It is, at some point, the equivalent of criticizing LeBron James for not having a strong enough left hand. But Simon's last few attempts haven't been total winners, to me, because he has decided -- perhaps because of all those scoring titles he won with his right -- that he's going to spend a lot of time playing left-handed.
My friend who grew up in and now lives in New Orleans says Treme's right on, and I'm in no position to argue. I also should mention that the show is fucking gorgeous -- just exponentially more cinematic and visual than The Wire (which is good, because of all the writing stuff I was beating on about above), and really evocative without ever making a big deal about it. (And also very evocative when making a big deal about it, as in the bit Franklin described above, which is stunning to look at) But I worry -- and again, this is colored by interviews, inarguably -- that David Simon is going to be doing proportionally more excess-indulging here than he did in the great seasons of the Wire (two through four, in my opinion). I am so ready, and so eager, to be proven wrong on that count. I'd offer some sort "it's easy to be frank, but hard to tell the truth"-style homily here, but this dude created The Wire and I'm a guy who blogs about sports and took like 15 months to commit to finishing my novel, so... right. Good luck.