Post-Katrina New Orleans Rises in Treme

Early themes snaking through the first two episodes made available to the press include the search for a missing man who could be dead or simply lost in the criminal justice system, and the housing woes faced by residents whose homes are no longer safe. Watching an older man return to his home and step through its ravaged rooms is haunting, and one of many examples where the show reveals the hurricane’s devastation with restraint.

Simon, the creator of the critically adored HBO series The Wire, brings a remarkable sense of time and place to his newest series. The backgrounds, the music, and the characters all feel authentic, as if we’ve been parachuted into the city just when life was starting to resemble the rhythms in place before the hurricane. And even if the dramatic elements leave viewers cold, they may come back to hear the music, a tapestry of foot-stomping tunes unlike what’s played on any other show.

What’s missing so far is a compelling reason to revisit these characters. Potential abounds with both Creighton and Davis -- the professor’s anti-PC outbursts alone could be teased into a must-see attraction. And Pierce’s big-hearted performance could easily become the show’s focal point with the right tweaking.

Treme doesn’t let the country’s cultural reaction to Hurricane Katrina off the hook. One subplot involves a church group that visits the ravaged city hoping to lend a hand. They’re immediately dismissed by a surly local musician (Michael Huisman) who feels their pity a bit too strongly. But the group eventually sees the “real” New Orleans culture and is changed by the experience.

The new series lacks the magnetic attraction of shows like The Sopranos and Sex and the City, but HBO’s latest offering could mature into one of its most affecting programs. All the elements appear to be firmly in place for just such an evolution.