'Treme' is a 'show whose time has come'

David Simon's HBO series set in post-Katrina New Orleans

It's been more than four years since Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans but sadly the producers of "Treme" did not have to search far to find authentic locations for the new television drama, set just three months after the levees broke in 2005.

"I'm a little embarrassed that this far down the road we aren't more recovered," said actor Wendell Pierce, a New Orleans native who plays a smooth-talking trombonist trying to make ends meet. "It's like pulling teeth to get back on your feet in New Orleans."

"Treme," which debuts on cable network HBO on Sunday, is named for the historic Faubourg Treme neighborhood near New Orleans' famous French Quarter.

The program follows a diverse group of musicians, chefs, Mardi Gras Indians and bar owners as they try to rebuild their lives, clean up their homes and get their businesses back on their feet after Katrina.

The August 2005 hurricane broke New Orleans' levees, flooded 80% of the city and killed or displaced hundreds of thousands of residents in a disaster compounded by slow and inconsistent relief efforts by the U.S. government.

Vast stretches of houses are still unfit for habitation due to flood damage and the city's current population is about 150,000 below its pre-Katrina level.

Brimming with songs and cameos by musicians like Elvis Costello, Allen Toussaint and Dr. John, "Treme" is one of just a handful of U.S. movies and TV dramas about post-Katrina New Orleans and anticipation is running high for the series.

"It's going to turn the country's perception of New Orleans on its head," NewOrleans.com columnist Karen Dalton-Beninato wrote last week.

"From bringing national attention to post-Katrina rebuilding, to offering locals a series with accents that don't induce a full body dry heave, it's a show whose time has come."

Writers David Simon and Erik Overmyer, the team behind HBO's critically acclaimed series "The Wire," told reporters recently they want to avoid hot-button political issues and focus on the city's culture and how New Orleans came back -- or didn't -- and on what terms.

Some characters seethe with frustration over slow insurance checks. One angrily hurls the microphone of a sneering TV reporter into the river and another battles bureaucracy in a search for an imprisoned relative who was moved in the Katrina chaos.

"It is political only in the sense that ordinary people find themselves dealing with politics in their own lives," Simon said.

"New Orleans is a city that still creates. Even in its damaged state, even amid a shocking continuum of national indifference, it remains a city that continues to build things. What it builds -- its very product, in fact -- is moments. Extraordinary moments in which art and ordinary life intersect."
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