Paul Casserly 's Opinion

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

Paul Casserly: The party is over for Treme

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Treme is going out with a bang. Paul Casserly looks over four seasons of the New Orleans-based show.

Treme - the party is over. The superb, if underrated, HBO series Treme comes to an end as the fourth and final season airs in New Zealand next week.

What sets Treme writer and producer David Simon apart from the rest of the premium drama pack is his interest in politics, sociology and economics. His instinct is journalistic. His mission is to speak truth to power, especially in regard to individuals coming up against the brute fist of institutions, like the drug gangs and the police in The Corner and The Wire.

Treme - set in post-hurricane New Orleans - continues the fight, with the cops proving to be just as corrupt, except for the heroic individuals who fight the power. Unchecked capitalism is also a target, via the politics of rebuilding the city with dodgy contractors making a killing from the devastation. Again Simon has deployed the heroic individual to provide the hope, whether it be the Joan of Arc like LaDonna, (Khandi Alexander) the magisterial "Big Chief" (Clarke Peters), or the crusading righteousness of civil rights lawyer "Toni" Bernette (Melissa Leo).

Treme, is stocked to the brim with characters who are fighting the good fight, even if it's sometimes with themselves. It could be called Kicking Against The Pricks. It could also be a perfect recipe for a stodgy gumbo of handwringing and bed-wetting. It could be The Newsroom. Luckily Simon's ability to add just enough sugar makes the medicine slip down without leaving you with a bad case of diabetes.

The key to it is that above everything else, Treme is a party. Extended musical sequences that startle you by going on for twice as long as you'd expect soon remind you that you're watching TV made by someone with a different vision. It's that journalistic thing again, he's letting us soak up the real atmosphere, he's reporting.

Smoking pot and drinking booze are also part of the party, although Simon draws his boundary at the use of stronger drugs, which always lead to bad times rather than good.

However, he clearly has a love for the best drug of all: food. Whether it be jerk chicken or the gourmet creations of the many master chefs that feature, food is always present and often a highlight. The struggle of Chef Janette Desautel, (Kim Dickens) to survive and stay true to herself is the struggle of all of New Orleans, if not the world. It's also interesting that one of the real bad guys of the last two seasons - up there with rapists and murderers - has been the money-hungry restauranteur.

I'm guessing Simon is no fan of Starbucks or the golden arches.

Of course music is the main course, and most of the main characters are involved in the rich musical life of New Orleans. From the shambolic and loveable Jon Baptiste (Wendell Pierce, aka Bunk from The Wire) to the fantastically annoying DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) to the struggling wannabes on the corners, to the real life stars, like Dr John, The Neville Brothers, Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint, Treme is a festival of sound. To wrap this all up with a strong sense of history, politics and economics, is no mean feat.

Simon and his co-creator, New Orleans native Eric Overmyer, assembled local writers and journalists to dial up the authenticity to 11. This, the fourth and final instalment, finds the show in good form. Season one was probably the least satisfying, three being my favourite, and this is not far behind. It wraps up a fair amount of the loose ends. It begins with the hope of Obama's election and though it ends prematurely, it feels complete.

Will you cry? Yes. Were four seasons enough? Probably. Don't get me wrong, I could stay at this party forever but there's something righteous about it all coming to an end if only because it will force Simon to embark on a new crusade.

In any case it's often best to be sent home while the party is still rocking, rather than hanging till the bitter end.

* There's a box set of season 3 of Treme starting 1pm this Saturday on Soho, series 4 starts Friday January 31 at 8.30pm.

Paul Casserly

Paul Casserly watched too much TV as a child.

It began with Dr Who, in black and white, when it was actually scary. The addiction took hold with Chips, in colour. He made his mum knit a Starsky and Hutch cardigan. Later, Twin Peaks would blow what was left of his mind. He’s been working in radio and TV since the 1990s and has an award in his pool room for Eating Media Lunch.

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