By Brett Johnson
New Orleans often gets reduced to a few timeworn clichés—bead-tossing Mardi Gras parties, backroom voodoo ceremonies, and residents who speak with indecipherable Cajun accents. But with Treme, a powerful new HBO series that premieres in April, cocreators David Simon and Eric Overmyer manage to capture the authentic culture of the Big Easy post-Katrina.
“Treme is really about a group of ordinary people trying to put their lives together after the storm,” explains Overmyer about the show, named for a neighborhood historically known as a haven for free people of color and as the epicenter for the city’s jazz tradition. “People have their ups and downs, their good moments and their crises and tragedies. We hope that the viewers will become invested in the humanity of the characters. The details will come along the way.”
Part of the brain trust behind The Wire, Overmyer is adept at weaving complex narratives into meaningful, nuanced television. And at least two Wire alums help illuminate the stories in Treme: Clarke Peters plays a proud father and Mardi Gras Indian chief determined to preserve local traditions. And New Orleans native (Pontchartrain Park to be exact) Wendell Pierce leads the ensemble as a dollar-short jazz cat caught between loving his estranged family and his music. “One thing I hate more than anything is when I see actors just sawing the air. I didn’t want to look like an actor who knows absolutely nothing about music,” says Pierce, who has been taking trombone lessons for the role. “This is the birthplace of the music. I have a great responsibility. This is more than a job for me—it’s art imitating life and life imitating art.”