Treme focuses on the triumph beneath the brokenness in post-Katrina New Orleans.

"What hit the Mississippi Gulf Coast was a natural disaster, a hurricane pure and simple,” John Goodman’s character, Creighton Burnette, tells a British TV journalist. “The flooding of New Orleans,” Burnette continues, his vocal tempo shifting, “was a man-made catastrophe, a federal f--- up of epic proportions, and decades in the making.”

As spot-on as this TV character’s conspiracy theory may be, political rants and anger aren’t the focus of HBO’s Treme (tre-may). Named after the iconic New Orleans neighborhood west of the French Quarter, Treme is a melancholy love story. It begins three months after Hurricane Katrina and chronicles the resilience of eight amazing characters (and a few average ones).

Trombone player Antoine Baptiste (Wendell Pierce, The Wire) lives gig to gig, refusing to get the “real job” his girlfriend demands. Chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens, Lost, Deadwood) struggles to keep her dilapidated house or procure fresh seafood and new customers. Burnette’s wife, Toni (Melissa Leo, The Fighter, Homicide), is a harried, passionate attorney who defends the city’s musicians.

Treme doesn’t dodge the economic and social tragedy left behind by Katrina — Burnette’s teenage daughter asserts on her video blog that “85 percent of the city is doped just to cope” — but the focus is on the triumph beneath the brokenness.

The star power of the show’s creators, Eric Overmeyer and David Simon (The Wire, Homicide: Life on the Street), and the actors, including Goodman, Pierce, Leo, David Morse, John Seda, Khandi Alexander and Steve Zahn should bring in as many viewers as any other HBO masterpiece.

Yet, at the start of its second season, now set 14 months post-Katrina, critical acclaim for Treme is high, and viewership remains low.

Like zydeco and oxtail soup, Treme may not seem like a good idea in the first few minutes. But don’t let prejudice cut you off from this intoxicating blend of culture, music and story.

“Day by day, year by year,” Burnette opines, “New Orleans conjures up moments of artistic clarity and urban transcendence that are the best that America as a people can hope for.”

Give the series at least two hours of your time, and the heartbreaking talent of these intense and flawed characters will get inside your soul. Treme makes you want to be in New Orleans, eating deep-fried food, getting blown away by blaring eight-piece brass sections and dancing in its crumbling streets. (Sundays, 10 pm, HBO)


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