I’m usually not the kind of person to rave about a TV show, but I love Treme. When I was volunteering in New Orleans I remember hearing about TV and film crews wanting to capitalize on the Katrina disaster and film on location, even to the point of re-creating disaster sites (as if there wasn’t enough yet-to-be repaired damage all over the place). None of them sounded promising, and the ones that were produced (like the TV show “K-Ville,” the film The Bad Lieutenant: Port of Call New Orleans) presented a shallow caricature of the city of New Orleans.
A big reason why I know that the producers of Treme did their homework, and the reason I’m able to enjoy so many of the details, is that I was very lucky to learn a lot about the history and culture of the city from some local residents who took the time to explain things to us well-meaning but sometimes clueless out of town volunteers. I’m thinking of people like Malcolm S. from the People’s Hurricane Relief Fund, who spent countless weeks giving the same workshop to incoming crews of mostly white volunteers so that they’d have a better understanding of the history of predominantly Black neighborhoods they were working in. He’s also the one who explained the roots of the Mardi Gras Indian tradition to us (which I later discovered is something that not even some of the white locals take the time to understand beyond a bunch of guys making elaborate costumes every year).
It was also the little things, like the patient folks who helped us spell words like Tchoupitoulas and told us the correct way to pronounce street names like “Burgundy” and “Calliope” (it’s Bur-gun-dy, and the “e” in Calliope is silent). The people who told us where the best live music was, the places to go outside of the touristy French Quarter for good food.
So yes, I love that the creators of this show really took the time to get to know all the many quirks of the city, and that it’s giving the audience a glimpse of what NOLA is all about, the good and bad. I also appreciate the show because for the most part they’re sticking to the story. A lot of the story lines are based on real people and real events, there’s no need to invent more drama. There really were people lost in the system at Orleans Parish Prison, and people really were prevented from coming home because the public housing units were sealed off and fenced in. The potholes really were that big.