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Interview: 'Treme' co-creator David Simon post-mortems season one

Posted on Sunday, Jun 20, 2010 By Alan Sepinwall
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Interview: 'Treme' co-creator David Simon post-mortems season one

Khandi Alexander in a scene from the "Treme" season finale.

Credit: HBO/Paul Schiraldi

What's your follow-up act when your previous series is held up by those who saw it as the greatest drama ever produced for television? Well, if you're "The Wire" co-creator David Simon, it's "Treme," the weekly love letter to New Orleans and its people - specifically to its musicians and those musically-adjacent - in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

The passion "Wire" fans had for that show brought expectations to "Treme" that the new series couldn't possibly meet - especially since Simon and co-creator Eric Overmyer were not trying to do "The Wire: New Orleans." The overwhelming focus on character over plot was a jarring shift for many, as was the anger towards the outside world expressed by the characters played by Steve Zahn and John Goodman, whom some viewers assumed were just mouthpieces for the creative team.

I learned quickly to accept "Treme" as its own thing, and while I had some issues with the first season (particularly with the character of Sonny, whom Simon and I talk about in this interview), I loved the warmth of it, and the performances (both acting and music), and the sense of place and community and time it gave me. You can read my review of the finale here, and after the jump is a very long interview with Simon about the first season, and about some of the reactions to it. If you've read a Simon interview before, you won't be surprised to find the man to be his usually blunt (and profane), unapologetic self.

At the very end of the interview, we spent a few minutes looking ahead to some events from New Orleans in the second post-Katrina year that might be incorporated into "Treme" season two; I put a warning before that section so that if you view history as a spoiler, or simply don't want to know anything, you can stop reading.

At what point did you and Eric know that you were going to show that Katrina flashback in the finale?

Back in the writer's meetings. It was planned when we sat down for the second round of writer's meetings. I will actually credit David Mills with coming up with the idea.

What were you aiming to do with that?

It's kind of self-evident, isn't it? We wanted to reflect on the transformational power of Katrina and its aftermath on all of the lives of our characters. Very tellingly, David made the point that in some respects, we'd been talking about Daymo as an abstraction. We'd only seen him in the context of the morgue. A lot of what we're dealing with, because we're doing a post-Katrina story, not a Katrina story, is about the aftermath of the storm. It's about the survivors, not about the losses. But here was an instance in which it was probably our only opportunity in the entire run of the show to reflect on loss in such a direct way. It's the reason for the (dream sequence) at the beginning of episode five, halfway through the run, to see Daymo once so it would be resonant at the end. It's always amusing to me to watch people commenting on the chapters without knowing the story. As a singular flashback, the beginning of episode five doesn't feel particularly resonant. I think you look at a lot of it differently when you get to the end of the story. I think you look at a lot of things when you get to the end of the story. So it's kind of frustrating, for people trying to blog the show each week like yourself, people trying to comment on it or to anticipate the storyline, to debate the filmmaker's choices. But it's a no-win situation. We wouldn't want to have people not discussing the show, but at the same time, you can't take the discussion seriously until everyone gets to the end. At the end, people can reflect on what they've seen, and whether it added up.

Well, in terms of things you've read, whether it's something I've written, commenters, writers elsewhere, what misconception has bothered you the most? Where have you found people to be most far afield of your intentions?

"Bother" is too strong. I've been through this now for five seasons of "The Wire" and one of "Generation Kill." This is my seventh time telling stories this way. And I've come to realize that the only commentary I can take seriously are people who react to what's on screen and how that reflects on the reality they know. That's the only biofeedback that matters to me.. All the feedback of, "I wish the show would be this, I wish the show would be more of this, I wish this character had less to do, I wish this character had more to do," that's of no use. It's of no use because we've already finished production, but on a more philosophical level, it's of no use. Choices have been made based on the last half hour of film. Every season of 'The Wire' built to the last half hour, to the endings. This is my seventh time of having the initial reaction to our storylines be, "I don't understand where they're going. Why do they have this? This doesn't make sense to me. I don't like this character." If you go back and watch the first episode of any season of "The Wire," or the first episode of "Treme" or "Generation Kill," knowing the ending, the choices will be entirely reasonable as a first chapter of something that is novelistic. If you experience it only as something that's an episodic entity unto itself, I can't answer that, because I don't really think about that. I'm not irate about it, I just can't take it seriously.

Having said that, it's sort of a perfect example of something. It's interesting you brought the flashback up, because David and Eric and I had a discussion about it: Do we need to see him before then in order for Daymo to resonate? Ergo, LaDonna's dream right at the exact midpoint of the run, referencing Daymo, because we're going to be in her head at the funeral. I said to David, "People are going to see it as being out of theme when they see it in episode five." And he said, "Yeah yeah, people are going to say that it's like Tony Soprano flashback bullshit. And you know what? It will be out of theme until it's not." But in the end, what's more important: story as a whole, or the episodic? Did we lose people, because the episodics don't play as perfect episodes? Sure we did. Always, going back to "The Wire." You should read the reviews we got for the first six or seven episodes of "The Wire." That's the game we're obliged to play if we're going to believe in the thing as a whole.

Some people have suggested that "Treme" is a show that is light on plot. You disagree with that.

I absolutely disagree, but I think you can only make the actual judgment when you look back and see what the characters have been through and what it represented. But it's not that it lacks plot. What it lacks is the life and death stakes of the television trope. If you tell me that somebody is going to lose the love of her life, which is a restaurant, and it's going to happen in real time, and we're going to see them make a choice to abandon their city - that's an awful lot that's happened to a character. On the other hand, are you measuring it by asking, "Did I see a gun put to this person's head? Did I see them raped? Did I see them wreck their car drunkenly and end up in the hospital? Were they put on trial for their life? Were they sent into an ER and the doctors hovered over them making life and death decisions? Were they hurtled into the West Wing where they had to consult on a decision that would mean the lives and deaths of thousands?" Those are the standard tropes of a standard television drama. I'm uninterested in telling a story that is a lie, and those are not the stakes of post-Katrina New Orleans, and I'm interested in post-Katrina New Orleans.

For me, I don't think people can tell the difference when they speak of plot between the notion of whether something is a plot that's progressing or whether they're having dramatic moments that are typical of television standard - which is to say, cop show, medical show, legal show, "West Wing," whatever, where the stakes are high. That's what people are saying.

When they say "Nothing's happening on it," I don't know. One character took his own life, another lost a restaurant and gave up her own city.  Another one lost a brother and put her marriage into danger, another one moved towards wrecking his own home life and reacquainting himself with his ex-wife. And others have had some degree of success in terms of negotiating this broken world of post-Katrina, or had some failures in negotiating it, like Batiste. I don't know. There's a lot of plot in my head. I just know what I'm not doing, which is I'm not playing by the rules of what is functional television drama. That's it. I wouldn't change a word. But did I anticipate this reaction? I anticipated a lot of, "Jesus Christ, it's not 'The Wire.'" Frankly, I could give a fuck. That's someone saying, "Waiter, there's soup in my soup." If you tuned into "Treme" for a show that said upfront it's about life in post-Katrina New Orleans, and you were expecting "The Wire" or something that heightened or - and I'm not dissing this show ("Breaking Bad"), because it's a very good show - someone who's diagnosed with cancer and becomes a drug dealer, that's not my premise. I'm not interested in telling that right now, with this city at this time. It's a more delicate piece. I'm very comfortable with the execution, and I'm very comfortable with the audience we've found, and I knew I had to leave some people behind. Not a problem.

(Later, after our initial discussion ended, I called Simon back to talk about plans for a "Treme" soundtrack, which I related in this story. When we were done, Simon wanted to revisit this portion of the earlier interview.)

I didn't mean to be kvetching about the bad stuff people have written. If people are saying they love where the story is going in episode two or three, I don't buy that, either. If they like characters, if they like a moment, if they like a way something was filmed, then that's okay. When they start to sort of evaluate the arc that they can't know, the story arcs themselves, even if they're loving it, I just can't take it seriously. Nobody knows what we've built until the end. In some ways, even though we've planned it out and know where we're going, until we look at the last edit of the last episode and send it off - that's the only point where we can look at it and go, "This worked really well, this not so much." Until then, you can't really tell. That's what I was trying to say. I was not trying to say I do not take criticism seriously. Obviously, anybody who gets to the end and says, "I don't think this worked," that's entirely legitimate. But I can't take seriously stuff in the middle. It's like reading a book report in the middle. Not to say there isn't valid commentary about the process. Just not about arc.

(Back to the original interview as it took place.)

Well, I'm curious. You alluded to some stuff with Batiste in there, and certainly I enjoyed every minute of watching Wendell navigating his way through life in New Orleans over these 10 episodes. But I'm curious what you saw as Antoine's arc over these 10.

Over these 10, I think what we've depicted is the life of a workaday musician. Of a guy who has genuine talent but lives on the margins, because 10th-best trombone player in New Orleans lives hand to mouth. Whereas in any other city in America, he might be quite celebrated. Just like the 10th-best piano player in New Orleans lives hand to mouth. I wanted to see the life of a workaday musician. I wanted to see him living on the margins and see him with all of his flaws. I didn't want him to be pure heroic. He has the indulgences that a lot of the people we know in the music community have. Ultimately, I'm looking at his arc over more than one season. There may be moments where he reaches for a brass ring, where we see just how far it is from Antoine Batiste to being truly celebrated as a musician. These are all quiet questions. It's not a matter of, does he put down the trombone and pick up a gun?

That's the question that we had to ask ourselves in the beginning of this: do we want to write a story about musicians, and the other people in this particular culture? And we did. I've got a lot of grown-up people who wanted to watch this story. The real telling thing will be the On Demand numbers and the DVDs. And we'll see how large that audience is and whether we miscalculated or not. Would I add two murders and a house fire and a gang rape? No, I wouldn't. If you want that, there's plenty of opportunities to see it on TV.

One of the things that I found interesting about Batiste is that in the flashback, we see that before the storm, he was living what seemed to be a much less marginal life.

Yes. He was in mid-city, he had a car, he had his record collection. And he was probably content with that, and then he had to take a huge step backwards. And there's also no implication that he was living with Desiree at the time. She and the baby were someplace else. So he was a lot more fancy-free as a bachelor.

When Delmond and Janette wind up sitting near each other in the airport, it occurred to me that the Albert and Delmond story was taking place largely independently of everyone else's. I mean, everyone's story was their own, but we saw pretty much all the other characters frequently crossing paths. Was that just how it played out?

I don't need to make a false move in order to have a perfect weave where all the characters know each other. Where it was appropriate to have the characters intersect and happened naturally in the course of writers' meetings, that's what happened. We really thought about every glance between two characters, whether or not this was reasonable or plausible, or whether it was too early. Nothing precludes something from happening down the road, but it has to be organic. When he turns the corner there (in the airport), everyone who's been conditioned by television - just as people who are conditioned buy television expecting Creighton to wash up on shore in the next episode, just a little bit tired from his swim - they were also expecting, "Oh, they're going to meet! That's a couple!" And maybe down the road, but that wasn't the point of that scene. The point of that scene was just two exiles on their journey. But the expectations of television are such that it's another reason to close your eyes and just plow ahead.

Just like you did on "The Wire" and "Generation Kill," you threw people into the deep end of a culture they're not that familiar with. Specifically with the Mardi Gras Indians, you clearly felt comfortable not having to even use the kid (Darius) for exposition. It was just, "We're going to watch them work, we're going to show them doing their thing. People will figure it out, or they won't."

Or, by the way, if they're alienated by not knowing something, I lost them on "Generation Kill," I lost them on "The Wire," and I'll lose them on "Treme." I think there's a net gain. I think I actually pick up people who are tired of being spoonfed by television and who are willing to experience a new culture in a way that doesn't give them all the answers right away, that makes them work a bit for the answers, and to acquire them as you would acquire them if you landed on the streets of New Orleans with some innate curiosity. I feel like I pick up more viewers than I lose. But how do I know? I could be wrong, but it's more interesting for me to do it that way.

What do you feel was the story you were telling with Sonny this year?

The story that I was telling with Sonny has to do with a musician who is not up to the New Orleanian standard. I didn't want to do a show about musicians where everyone had the requisite amount of talent. I wanted to have him to be a devotee of the music who came to the city who is in a relationship with somebody who has a great deal of talent, and that starts manifests itself in a way that puts a great deal of strain on a relationship. That would be tough for two people in a relationship who are both secure in themselves. If one of them is not secure, and one of them is vulnerable, it lends itself to something discordant. What I was trying to do was to ultimately begin at the point just prior to the lowest ebb of them as a couple. That's a very delicate dynamic, to have two creative people at varying places in their career, and then their careers are diverging. I believe they made a classic film about it.

They made it ("A Star is Born") several times, I believe.

It struck me as being very interesting: the notion of somebody who does not have the level of skill. Davis may not be the greatest musician in the world, but he's sort of a raconteur of imagery and media, and he's fully intellectualized, and so indifferent to his own shortcomings, that he somehow triumphs. That's interesting to me as well. But Sonny is somebody who right now is playing cover songs and playing them with much less finesse than Annie. I wanted to put someone in a world where creativity is at a premium, and he can only at this point bring so much. I wanted to give him a level of frustration with that.

I don't mind if a character is selfish or insecure. I just don't need all my characters to be winning. And in the same way that people often miscalculate or fail to acknowledge the equivocation between high-stakes and plot itself, I think people generally mistake their dislike of a character as poor acting. I have watched some extremely good actors over the last decade who we've used in ways where we knew a character was supposed to be belligerent or irritating. I've watched the actor's work maligned until a point where a plot turned or revealed another aspect - often seasons later. When you think about Prez, or Ziggy within the context of season two, we've had these moments. We did one in "Generation Kill" with Sgt. Major Sixta. He was a complete pain in the ass, despised by all of the men, it was told from the point of view of the men. No one was at all sympathetic, except for Marines who understood his role. His role was to be purposely alienating and to draw fire away from the officers and onto him, and to create a sense of allegiance on the part of the men in their hatred of the Sgt. Major. And we only revealed it in episode seven. To me, the payoff for that is so much more profound. The most oversold thing in television is redemption. "Well, we feel a little bad about this character, but by the end of the episode, he'll be warm and fuzzy again!" That, to me, is bad writing. Sonny's ship might not have come in, maybe it will never come in, but we know what we're doing.

In this run, some of the initial response was overwhelmingly to criticize Steve Zahn's acting or John Goodman's acting, because they started purposely from a position of cultural antagonism towards outsiders, which was true of New Orleans three months after the storm, and it was something that needed to be said. That city felt under siege. People wondered, "Does David Simon really think that San Francisco is a cesspool with hills?" But for someone like Ashley Morris (blogger and inspiration for Creighton),or a variety of people who were actually speaking to it, or to the fictional character of Creighton, it's an entirely reasonable thing to blurt out under the circumstances and in your anger. I look upon this, and I go, you can not like this, you can want to not watch a show where people have a divergent opinion, where they say bad things about your city, or where they seem to be insulated and self-absorbed. Although who isn't self-absorbed when their town has a near-death experience? Were New Yorkers not talking about 9/11 for years afterwards? Was it not a subject of intense discussion and self-awareness? Did New Yorkers not sound to outsiders self-absorbed and preachy when they spoke of 9/11? The sense of entitlement that New Yorkers feel and that they're not willing to grant to someone else who's had a life-changing experience is really remarkable. But that's the nature of empathy: it only goes so far. But what's amazing to me is that most lay people people don't see acting. Goodman was brilliant. He wasn't chewing furniture. There were moments when he went over the top. He was brilliant. Same thing with Zahn. Zahn, to me, defined that character from jump. And it was only when the character made a few right moves that people said, "Oh, I sort of like that character. He's not bad." I mean, it's one thing to talk about the character; it's another thing to talk about acting as if people know what the fuck they're talking about. Most people want to watch shows and they want to like the people they're watching and they don't want to think hard about why they're ambivalent about a character. That doesn't make it a grown-up endeavor, to do a show where you're basically spoon-feeding warmth and simple plot.

You got at something that was written in quite a bit of the criticism at the start of the series: the idea that you were using Davis and Creighton as mouthpieces for your own beliefs.

The funny thing is, I don't write every script. A lot of these lines are written by someone else. But if you went back and looked at Ashley Morris's blog, and you looked at other people who were writing in the same way. Probably the portion of Shut the Fuck Up Juice that a lot of people outside New Orleans might need to drink if they are at all serious about trying to understand the divergence between what they see on screen and what they think in their own heads is on a blog called Back of Town. It's done by a series of bloggers who were all there in Katrina and the aftermath. Some of them are very good writers, and they're very smart about what they're seeing. That doesn't mean they hold the show apart from criticism. I read it because it informs me. I'm learning when I read that blog. Every now and then, someone veers off and starts to become predictive about what they think should happen or what they think characters should represent. Most of the time that's not much help to the filmmakers, but every now and then they see themes that are indicative of a reality that Eric and I wanted to capture.

That's who we're writing to, in the same way we wrote "Generation Kill" for Recon Marines. One of our directors, Simon Cellan-Jones, did episode 7 of this show and he did episodes 4, 5 and 6 of "Generation Kill." And he said something to me that I found very funny: "Well, you made 'Generation Kill' for 26 Recon Marines, and now you've made 'Treme' for at least 400 New Orleans musicians. So by your standards, you've become almost sickeningly populist."

But the truth is, that's been our recipe for doing work. It hasn't been a recipe for grandiose success. No one watched "The Wire" until word of mouth got around. From our purposes, in terms of what gives us meaning as storytellers, that formula has worked pretty well. I think all the work has got to stand because it's true to the events themselves, and to the people who lived the events. So I read Back of Town, and it tells me that we've not gone so far awry that the people who actually lost their homes, some of them are still exiled, all of them went through the torture of Katrina and its aftermath - the show is resonsant in its details. And that matters to me, in the same way it mattered to me that Marines found "Generation Kill" to be compelling in its depiction of modern warfare. And I don't really care what Democrats or Republicans or politicians or people who were for the war or against the war  thought about "Generation Kill." I don't care that somebody blogging in New York says when a character rants in New Orleans that they feel they're being preached to. Those fuckers didn't give a shit when it was really happening and they were being preached to by people who had lost everything. They didn't give a fuck five years ago; why would I expect them to give a fuck now?

So no, it wasn't me. I'm trying to be a conduit for what people in New Orleans really felt. If you don't think they felt anger, and you don't think they felt self-absorbed about the tragedy that was the near-death of their city, why don't you think for a moment about how New Yorkers reacted in the aftermath of 9/11
and think about what's plausible and what's not?

Everyone - even the people who have been hesitant to embrace the show - has loved the music. How happy are you with the amount and kinds of music you've shown? Do you want to show more of it next year? Do you feel this was the right balance? What did you learn about taking a step back from the drama and showing performance as much as you did?

I think we didn't show it as much as we could have. Most of (the live performances) are under a minute. We're out of most songs without showing between a quarter and a third of the actual performance. I think if you stay too long, it drags, and if you don't stay long enough, you're denying yourself something that is remarkable. We're actually catching real musical performance on film that is being played by the musicians in the moment it's being filmed. Not to disrespect "Glee," for what it is, but if you watch that for performance and for its musicianship, I think you're short-changing yourself. It may be a completely delightful story, I'm not suggesting otherwise. But if "Treme" did nothing else other than assert for the culture of American music, it would be worthwhile. It might not be ambitious enough to satisfy the writers or justify the drama, but it would certainly be worthwhile to watch it to see the extraordinary level of musicianship throughout America's first musical city. But that's not the whole point. You're exactly right to call it a balance. We debate where to cut in and where to cut out on every performance. It's a matter of what the characters are giving us, because sometimes the characters are giving you story within performance, in which case you can stay a little longer. But if it's purely spectator-driven, you probably can't stay that long. I think we've held pretty well to that. You can argue five seconds here, 20 seconds there. But it's a balance.

Wendell and Rob are still miming their instruments and you have real musicians doubling for them. Do you feel when you're showing musical performances with those characters, as opposed to one with Annie, that you want to be spending more or less time with it, because you've got the real musician versus the actors faking it? 

It doesn't really matter. They're part of a musical context, you see them playing with Dumpstaphunk or with Kermit, where you're getting a complete musical dynamic. It's not as if people are focusing solely on the trombone. They're miming it well enough, and what they're miming, we might not be hearing them, we're hearing Stafford Agee from the Rebirth playing trombone, or we're hearing Shamarr Allen when Delmond is playing with Galactic. You're hearing very good musicians.

Overall, do you think the amount you showed this year is what you'd like to stick to, or are you going to play with it as you go into season two?

I don't know. I think in some ways, the first season is about establishing the universe and what's at stake in terms of the depth culture. But there are whole tracks of culture we've barely touched on. We haven't really dealt with bounce music and hip-hop, and New Orleans is a hotbed of that. We've barely done Cajun and we've done no Zydeco. It's even deeper than we've depicted, and we haven't done that much traditional jazz. But having said that, there were some episodes that had more music. I think Mardi Gras, we probably spent a lot more money in terms of buying music, because on Mardi Gras day, in the run up to Mardi Gras evening, you hear music all over town. To have a moment without music is a choice more than to have music is a choice on that day. And then in other episodes, we had one or two performances at most, and the rest was just sort of jukebox. It depends on the episode, and on what's happening. But it is a show about music. If somebody's fast-forwarding through the music and saying, "Man, I wish they'd get to the plot," again: "Waiter, there's soup in my soup."

I think that's one complaint I have not seen yet.

I can't imagine anybody would watch the show if that was the case. And by the way, if you're not particularly interested in music, if you're tone-deaf, there's nothing wrong with that. Some people, music is a valuable part of their lives, and some don't respond. If you don't respond to music, this is probably not the show to sustain you, because we're saying music matters.

(Here's the point at which we discuss in vague terms some possible storylines for season two. Stop reading if you want to come to it fresh.)

One of the things you would do every year on "The Wire" was to greatly expand the cast; we would go to a new part of Baltimore, meet a lot of new people in it. With this show, you have your core group of people, and it's been very character-focused thus far. Are you planning that kind of expansion going into season two or will it still be predominantly about what's happening to this group?

No, there will be other stories to tell. Here are some things that couldn't happen in the first 3-7 months after the storm: we couldn't deal with the Road Home money and where all the money went, because Road Home didn't even start up and become a meaningful nightmare until well after a year, when it became clear the money wasn't coming. We could only get to the beginnings of the betrayal of the insurance industry. We could only deal a little with the idea of "Where's the help?" A lot of the money got funneled to politically connected firms that contracted out to the actual firms that did the work. There's a level of scandal that didn't make itself apparent until the time period of the second season. The crime didn't start up again in a significant way until late spring/early summer of the ensuing year, and then it became profound. In some ways, the second year was much harder than the first. In the first year, there was almost an adrenaline to trying to get back and assert for the city, and that sustained people. That adrenaline faded in the second year. The rates of suicide in New Orleans were four times the national average in the year ensuing. The Creighton Bernette story was, in terms of his inability to create, his struggles on his own - because nobody kills themselves just because their city suffers; there has to be something internalized - was not unusual. If you look up the name Stevenson Palfi, a great documentary filmmaker who lost a lot of his material in the floods and struggled to get his next movie made after making a great film called "Piano Players Rarely Play Together," he took his own life. That's not Ashley Morris, we're drawing from that and some other notable suicides that happened in the aftermath and into this second year. There was a second wave political alienation that occurred when a council president who was widely regarded by liberal whites and African Americans as the political future of the city, Oliver Thomas, who was himself indicted for some acts of corruption in that second year. There are opportunities to go into the political and to go into the police department, and a lot of the other things that happened in the police department since. There was a sense that a lot happened during the storm that was covered up in terms of homicide, and that didn't start coming out until the second year.

We're actually being true to the thing. In some ways, people outside New Orleans are prisoners of what they don't know, or of what they know now, five years later. But it was unknown at the time; certain things hadn't happened
. in the same way, people of New Orleans are prisoners of what they do know. Early on, I was listening to the radio in New Orleans, and someone called in and said, "They got the dome wrong. Superdome, the roof was all torn up. When Lambreaux and his daughter are driving over the bridge, the dome is a clean white." Well, no, the dome, by the November date when we did the pilot, had a fully-completed temporary white top on it. The torn pieces had been removed by November. Nobody remembers that. People were traumatized. We heard there weren't enough refrigerators on the street, but by November, most of them were cleaned up. It's an interesting thing dealing with the real. I value the real, that's the purpose of doing the show, and to cheat that too much for the sake of drama would defeat our purpose.. But some of the people outside New Orleans have no sense of the real or are indifferent to it and want the show to be pure entertainment. And the people in New Orleans, the level of experience they went through is so intense that they're captives to their own memories, which is entirely understandable. So it's an interesting dynamic.

And it's different from "The Wire," where it took place in a real city and you were drawing on lots of real events and characters, but all of it was fictionalized in some way.

Right. We weren't depicting Baltimore's near-death experience. We were depicting systemic things that had been happening over generations in Baltimore. When we decided to do the school system, we decide, "Okay, this will be a fictional school year, and we can show trends from the last 20 years." Here, there's something we're obliged to show fealty to, for better or for worse: the near-death experience of an American city. It was as if 9/11 had destroyed 4/5 of the real estate of Manhattan. It was that profound a moment for New Orleans. People were scattered across the country. That's too profound an event to play around with that much. We're very conscious of our responsibility there. I make it sound like it's a burden, but it's an extraordinary event and it's worth chronicling and it made the show interesting to do. I'm not complaining. I'm just saying it is.

But we're not going to go ahead and say, "Oh, this is the education season." We need to deal with the school system when it comes back, we need to deal with crime. There are other things to do, and new characters to introduce when appropriate. And there are other characters who have been introduced, but facets of them have not been developed.

Am I making an erroneous assumption in thinking we're going to see a lot more of David Morse?

I think not. It would be very good to have a police POV at the point at which crime erupts, and the federal investigations of the New Orleans Police Department start to compound. That would make perfect sense, wouldn't it? Similarly, while Desiree was out of work and home caring for the baby, we've put her as part of the school system, and we've made reference to the way they've laid off everybody and the school system is not coming back. That has all sorts of manifest issues, not just for the schools, but the black middle class in New Orleans, to have that many people thrown out of work. Nothing stays static, but this is not the show where we're going to be building slices of the city, piece by piece. We're telling the story of the aftermath of a great trauma.

Alan Sepinwall may be reached at sepinwall@hitfix.com

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    Jeff Great interview.

    June 20, 2010 at 11:03PM EST Reply to Comment
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    GMan The final 30 minutes of this episode made me well up. My last day as a New Orleans resident was August 26, 2005. I exhausted my energies once writing about my particular aftermath, which I link below as one man's story among millions who were affected by Katrina.

    Funny thing, I was born and raised in Baltimore city (lil neighborhood called Hampden, come visit!), before I lived in New Orleans. So, David Simon has spent his life writing my life. I don't think I can watch his shows objectively anymore. A complement.


    (Incidentally, I did return to NOLA last October, spent a day on a rooftop in the Lower 9 and the rest living it up McAlary style. Cathartic doesn't describe it.)

    June 20, 2010 at 11:09PM EST Reply to Comment
  • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

    MadisonAvenueWoman Regarding the analogy between Katrina and 9/11: 9/11 affected all Americans, not just New Yorkers. New York was just one target. The United States of America was being attacked, and all Americans felt threatened and unsafe.

    June 20, 2010 at 11:54PM EST Reply to Comment
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      Listen to yourself Congratulations, it only took you a few moments to come up with a reason why New York's trauma should matter to all of us but why seeing fellow Americans, stranded in a drowned city, hungry, thirsty an unaided by an ineffective government for days on end, their city drowned by bad engineering and indifference, would not make all of us feel empathy and not entitle New Orleans to the same passion as post-911 New yorkers. New York is just special that way I guess. When someone hurts NY, they hurt all of us. When New Orleans drowns, it drowns alone. Amazing, Madison Avenue Woman! You're living, self-absorbed proof of the critique.

      June 21, 2010 at 12:11AM EST
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      Somebody else She's also correct. The fact that 9/11 made more of a national impact than Katrina seems a matter of public record. This most likely speaks more to the self-absorption of the average American, or of the human race in general, as it points to how people are most likely to be moved by that which may one day affect themselves rather than that which has already affected others.

      Besides, it seems rather as if the issue is apples and oranges. Both cities suffered, and they suffered quite differently. But Simon repeatedly sets up a comparison in the interview above that has the two cities jockeying for position regarding which suffered more. I don't really understand why he or anyone finds this necessary.

      June 21, 2010 at 4:39AM EST
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      Listen to Yourself She is correct that one got more empathy than the other, indeed. No one is disputing that. That isn't where she's revealing the validity of the critique.

      The question is not what happened in the national reaction to New Orleans and the resulting "Katrina fatique" and the inability of America to follow through with a commensurate level of empathy.

      The question is why Madison Avenue woman would feel the need to suggest the primacy of 911, saying that it affected us all where the drowning of an entire American city and the incompetence of government in the aftermath does not, in some way, affect us all. That's Simon's analogy and Madison Avenue Woman immediately challenges it saying, no, 911 affects all Americans. New Orleans, nope.

      Simon makes a comparison between the two not to argue about which city suffered more, but to speak to our differing measures of empathy in the two cases. And then, here comes Madison Avenue Woman, offering a justification for different levels of empathy, and you follow, saying she is correct to do so because 9/11 had more national impact? What? Simon's argument is that New York and the country at large can't manage the same empathy that was extended to NYC after 9/11. And she -- and then you -- prove his point by offering mitigation for this very fact.

      June 21, 2010 at 7:35AM EST
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      albatross I think what MadisonAvenueWoman is trying to say is that all Americans felt threatened during 9/11 and its immediate aftermath because we didn't know who could be the next target, unlike Katrina, which put people in potential danger only if they were in the path of the storm. It's not a comparison of which disaster was more important.

      June 21, 2010 at 11:06AM EST
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      Listen To Yourself Perhaps that was her point. But then it is a decided non sequitur to the point that Simon was making.

      Simon wasn't arguing about whether 9/11 or Katrina made people more or less afraid. He specifically compared the levels of empathy -- which had nothing to do with fear. And if MadisonAvenueWoman is trying to suggest that Americans felt more empathy with New Yorkers because 9-11 could happen anywhere, theoretically, well so can natural disasters compounded by engineering failures. The subtle level of contempt heaped upon New Orleans in the wake of Katrina by too many Americans remains intact; witness the we-didnt-loot mantra that followed the recent Nashville floods. Simon wasn't arguing the invalidity of empathy for New York, nor was he denying that people feared terrorism all over in the wake of 911. He was pointing out that some of the same New Yorkers (and others) who received such solidarity and empathy were and are incapable of returning the same when New Orleans went under water. And for pointing this out, he is immediately greeted by MadisonAvenueWoman establishing her rationalization for why this empathy was withheld. A terrorist act and a storm/engineering failure are not comparable in some ways, of course. But empathy is empathy; that is the point Simon made. And, well, by your logic, MadisonAvenueWoman thinks that empathy can only come from fear of being the next victim. Actually, that's not really very empathetic, is it? True empathy is feeling for the other person, not feeling there-but-for-the-grace-of-god. My original criticism stands: Simon argued that there was no reciprocal empathy for New Orleans from New York. MAW, in her post, then promptly provided a neat example of that exact dynamic. Is it any wonder that many New Orleanians felt alone in the wake of Katrina and the national response?

      June 21, 2010 at 11:34AM EST
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      NOLAGIRL except that what happened in New Orleans was a man-made disaster, and could happen again anywhere in this country. the storm did not hit New Orleans. It hit Mississippi. The levees (federally created and maintained by the corps of engineers) failed (and there are 28 other cities/towns that have failed levees in this country.

      I'm born and raised in NOLA so of course I'm biased. I lost my house. everything I owned. Had to watch my city drown on CNN.

      Nothing will make that right, but for sure Katrina fatigue doesn't help.

      David Simon's 9/11 comments are genius.

      June 21, 2010 at 12:14PM EST
    • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

      MadisonAvenueWoman Apparently, I did not make myself clear. I was actually shocked that David Simon seemed to view 9/11 as something that happened in New York to New Yorkers. I never thought of 9/11 in terms of massive destruction and loss of lives that just affected New Yorkers. Instead, I always thought of 9/11 as an attack on the United States of America. Ironically, I felt a great deal of empathy for all people of New Orleans post Katrina. However, while I did feel empathy for people who lost loved ones because of 9/11, I did not feel empathy for New Yorkers as a whole.

      June 21, 2010 at 2:56PM EST
    • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

      MadisonAvenueWoman I appreciate hearing alternative views re: 9/11. It never occurred to me that anyone thought of 9/11 as "New York's trauma". Is this a post Katrina attitude, or did you always have this attitude?

      June 21, 2010 at 3:31PM EST
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      DB Cooper New Yorkers (and opportunistic politicians) are the only ones still talking about 9/11. Rudy "9/11" Giuliani is an example of both.

      Speaking as one resident of southern California and now the rust belt -- I think New Yorkers insisted on a level of national sympathy (admittedly not the perfect word) well beyond that afforded to other tragedy-struck cities (New Orleans, Oklahoma City, e.g.).

      I thought New Yorkers were supposed to be aware of their self-absorption. Saul Steinberg wasn't making stuff up.

      June 21, 2010 at 10:11PM EST
    • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

      MadisonAvenueWoman David Simon is still talking about 9/11, and he is not a New Yorker. 9/11 is not about New York!

      June 21, 2010 at 10:34PM EST
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      My NOLA Soul And all Americans should feel threatened at how NOLA was destroyed. The storm was natural, but that destruction was man made, just like the collapse of a bridge in the North, and leaking levees in Sacramento. Our infrastructure is crumbling, our inner city schools are falling a part, and we are down right pitiful when it comes to the rail system.

      Americans should be afraid of America and how we have allowed our great country to crumble and whither away. You folks are right, 9/11 isn't about NYC and Katrina wasn't about NOLA. It is about the failure on an institutional level and the apathy shown towards the heart and soul of this country; the great people of New Orleans.

      June 22, 2010 at 7:25AM EST
    • I can only speak for myself, but I lived in New York (for about a year) and spent my honeymoon in New Orleans, and Katrina hit me *way* harder than 9/11. I wasn't concerned about terrorist attacks on my home in Austin, I was angry that we'd been attacked, but I wasn't worried that the world was ending, or even significantly changing, at least for me.

      Katrina, though? I was devastated and frustrated and angry, because the larger point of Katrina to me was that our government had completely failed its citizens, and that was much scarier than what terrorist organizations might be planning to do.

      I see what you're trying to say, MadisonAvenueWoman, but I think you're assuming a universality of experience that just isn't there. 9/11 isn't about New York in the same way that Katrina isn't about NOLA. And I know I felt considerably more unsafe during Katrina, wondering what would happen if a natural disaster were to strike my part of Texas, than I did after 9/11.

      June 29, 2010 at 1:55AM EST
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    alynch Glad to hear that David Morse will be a major player next season. Not exactly a surprise considering that it was unlikely that they cast an actor like him for just three scenes spread out over three episodes, but still good to know.

    June 21, 2010 at 12:40AM EST Reply to Comment
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    arlington Wonderful interview. Many thanks. I recognized that the show had captured me in ways that weren't immediately apparent when I started asking myself how I would feel if I lost my house, neighborhood of 15 years, favorite local hangouts and businesses, my son's public school system and everything he values. My ability to walk down the street and shoot the breeze with the owner of our nearest seafood market. In other words, rather than feel threatened or insulted by the show for not living in New Orleans, I connected more deeply to where I do live. Trauma is trauma -- we're a few miles down the road from the Pentagon. I used to get angry and upset at the constant appropriation of 9/11 by New York and most of the rest of the country. It seems silly now. I totally got Creighton pointing out to his daughter the various lakeside joints that were gone forever and what this meant for him, what it did to him. At a time when it feels like the USA is basically over, it's fantastic to look at a television program and experience a full-fledged, balls out work of art. Feel the same way about Mad Men. And about The Sopranos.

    June 21, 2010 at 1:28AM EST Reply to Comment
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    Kyle With regards to Delmond and Janette sitting near each other at the airport and not meeting, and Simon's response to people expecting them to meet - It kind of reminded me of what Creighton said in the penultimate episode. I forget the exact quote, but something along the lines of in life there is no beginning and end, no closure.

    June 21, 2010 at 8:49AM EST Reply to Comment
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    Carrie Great interview. I especially find his opinions on the nature of critiquing television on an episode-by-episode basis interesting, if a bit frustrating. I understand that as a creator, he is telling stories that can only be fully understood at the conclusion of the arc. Still, his dismissal of people who desire to talk about the show as it is in progress completely disregards how people watch television, and how that viewing process is different than reading a novel or watching a film. I don't think his goal should be to change his style to fit the telvision model, as that would take away the gorgeous stories he tells, but I do think he should take television's unique viewing experience into consideration.

    I think one of the great things about television is the opinion you have of an event or a character can change as the story progresses. That doesn't mean your feelings on the character at an earlier point were wrong, or stupid, or pointless to discuss.

    June 21, 2010 at 9:27AM EST Reply to Comment
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      DB Cooper I agree. He should just release the series on DVDs, if that's how he intends it to be watched.

      June 21, 2010 at 10:12PM EST
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      jacklaughing That's an idiotic comment if you know anything about the economics of TV production. I agree that Simon is unnecessarily defensive here but at the same time, reviewers and viewers should *by now* understand that serialized TV is not episodic TV. When you read a book do you evaluate each chapter individually or the storytelling as a whole up to the point? I think that is the message he is trying to convey.

      June 25, 2010 at 4:57PM EST
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    Andrew I loved the first season, and I wish Simon had spent less time in this interview batting down dumb criticisms (too much music, bad acting, I want more of this character, judging the arc before it's finished) and more time expounding on the show and what it meant. My take: The Wire was Greek tragedy with the institutions as Greek gods, and "fate" played a huge role -- every arc was written with this in mind, to illustrate the Simon/Burns view of how the world works. Every character was somehow part of an institution and every character's arc was written to tell us something about how that institution works. "Regular people" played no role.

    Treme puts the "regular people" front and center. I think a lot of people have trouble dealing with the show because of its lack of conflict between people -- the difficulties the characters face are not caused by "villains" but by larger forces. Many of the systemic forces that cause so many problems in the Wire's Baltimore are present in New Orleans, just like they are in any American city. These forces of course affect the Treme characters' lives, but since we're looking more at "regular people," these forces have less of a "predestination" feel in Treme than the Wire -- they are usually in the background and sometimes come to the foreground.

    The Treme characters each have something they want to do in this world (be a musician, own a restaurant, be a Mardi Gras Indian chief, etc). But their paths are made difficult by two separate forces. The first force they conflict with is the immediate aftermath of a momentous event, a thing that happened that upends their plans and lives. The second set of forces they conflict with are more about the intrinsic difficulties of pursuing the paths they've chosen, hurricane or no hurricane.

    Janette and LaDonna's arcs were more about challenges presented by the immediate aftermath of the hurricane, while Antoine and Annie/Sonny were more just about being a musician. Albert's arc had both elements. And Katrina depressed Creighton, but like Simon points out in the interview, his suicide was not predetermined by Katrina, but resulted from his inner struggle.

    I was a little disappointed by the characters of Delmond, Annie, and Sonny. They seemed like characters created to illustrate concepts that turned out to be too thin to support a season's worth of stories. I understand that Delmond was the New Orleans musician who made it big on the national circuit and has shied away from his roots, but his arc didn't go too much further than that. And when it became clear several episodes ago that Sonny's arc was about a musician who just doesn't have the talent to succeed in New Orleans in contrast to his talented girlfriend, I thought, "Oh, this is interesting." But I thought it got swallowed up by the "struggle to walk out on a bad boyfriend" aspect. If Sonny had some redeeming features, the intended arc Simon describes in the interview would have been more poignant, but he was so much of a shitheel that I just thought "girl, hurry up and get away from him!"

    June 21, 2010 at 10:55AM EST Reply to Comment
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    WheresWallace Whenever Sepinwall interviews Simon, I'm always astonished at how well Simon has considered the audience reaction. He always seems to have his bases well-covered.

    It's good that Simon acknowledged that the music coverage could be expanded. NOLA's scene is so uniquely diverse, it could be a good jump-off point to expand in the way The Wire universe did.

    Cajun and Zydeco are obvious paths from Season 1's foundation, but I'm surprised Bounce was left to casual mentions and the occasional name-drop/cameo.

    If the show really wants to be really ambitious: NOLA has a really exciting garage rock scene (anything King Louie-related) and while sludgy stoner metal is big in the South, NOLA's scene is particularly distinct (Eyehategod, Soilent Green, Down).

    June 21, 2010 at 12:39PM EST Reply to Comment
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    Charles C. The show gets a lot right, but he's incorrect when it comes to the "real" of the Superdome. I moved here after the storm, shortly before the time when season 1 ends. The torn pieces may have been removed, but the Superdome was NOT repaired until later. It was one of the most striking images in my memory. The thing looked like a crashed spaceship. Seeing the shiny, fully-repaired roof immediately struck me as out-of-place. But Treme isn't a show with a huge budget, and I can accept that anything they might have done to make that one shot accurate could have cost more than it was worth, when their resources could be put elsewhere. And if it's those decisions that made the show turn out as damn good as it did, then I'm glad they picked their battles.

    June 21, 2010 at 1:50PM EST Reply to Comment
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      On the other hand... The white temporary dome was intact by November 7, according to the Times Picayune archives. There were still additional repairs to come for more than a year, but the tornaway rooftop that everyone remembers from the storm had been replaced by a white temporary roof by early November. Your memory is your memory, but the TP's coverage is pretty explicit.

      June 21, 2010 at 4:50PM EST
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      Ray I took this picture on November 14, 2005. White roof:


      June 23, 2010 at 12:04PM EST
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    Hatfield What strikes me most about this interview--and it's a great one, as usual, Alan--is how defensive he is. That's not even a criticism, it just reminds me of the legions of Lost fans swearing vendettas against Darlton after their sometimes defensive interview after "Across the Sea." Maybe what we've learned is that showrunners are just like this. And of course they should be, because they wouldn't put it on our screens if they didn't believe in it.

    June 21, 2010 at 2:48PM EST Reply to Comment
  • Here's an interesting interview with "Treme" co-creator David Simon. NOTE: There are some "spoilers" in here, so if you haven't yet seen the show, you may want to tread lightly...

    June 21, 2010 at 4:11PM EST Reply to Comment
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    christy It actually never occurred to me to take Creighton's or Davis's opinions of outsiders personally. I remember once on Six Feet Under there was an episode where Claire gets drunk and yells at a mourning family of a veteran about how screwed up the war is. And there were people online who took that as the show pushing some kind of agenda and I remember thinking, Claire is a flawed character, and a fictional one at that. She did something that wasn't right, and it's part of her larger journey. To conflate a character's opinions and actions with those of the people writing that character is...well, it's a way of consuming fiction that makes no sense to me.

    But there were other moments, not when the characters talked about outsiders, but when outsiders themselves were being actually portrayed--some clueless tourists here and there, and especially the bus that stopped while Albert and his crew were mourning their friend--where it felt a little like the show (the show as a whole, not any particular individual) was saying something about us as viewers, because our gaze is not that different from the gaze of the people in that bus. It felt a little bit like "Look at post-Katrina New Orleans! Look at post-Katrina New Orleans! People who want to look at post-Katrina New Orleans are thoughtless voyeurs! Look at post-Katrina New Orleans!" It's not the same as accepting that a CHARACTER has a problem with outsiders. It is actually showing outsiders as an objective problem. At the same time, if that's part of the story, then that's part of the story.

    I mean, I get it. I get the 9/11 comparison. I was here, and I remember thinking, "stop talking to me about Disney World being closed when there are thousands of dead people down the street from me." And I also get that that sounds kind of obnoxious to someone who wasn't here. It's part of the experience of the last ten years in this country, for sure.

    And actually I appreciated that in the finale, Janette and Davis seemed to agree that Central Park was worth a damn. It's nice to think that maybe these characters, most of whom I like a lot, (even though I agree that it's OK to have hard-to-like characters), don't QUITE think I'm living in a totally soulless place. Let's face it--New Yorkers aren't used to thinking of it as anything other than the greatest city in the world. :)

    June 21, 2010 at 4:53PM EST Reply to Comment
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      Andrew I think you're projecting. The bus driver realized he was in the wrong for intruding on the service and apologized. The clueless tourists that annoyed Sonny and who Davis later helped out turned out to be good people who had a great time. Same with the contractor from Texas, etc...

      June 21, 2010 at 6:24PM EST
    • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

      MadisonAvenueWoman Christy,

      I really don't get the 9/11 comparison. David Simon should have compared the reaction of the American people to Katrina with another national disaster, not 9/11. Katrina was not an attack on The United States of America or a threat to national security. I am unfamiliar with the statistics, however I believe that Katrina received more support than any other national disaster, including the 1989 San Francisco earthquake.

      While Katrina is the worst national disaster that I can remember, it should not be compared with an act of war or terrorism like 9/11.

      I wonder what the comments would have been like if the comparison between the Katrina and 9/11 reaction had been made by an ordinary poster, instead of David Simon.

      Katrina was a national disaster. 9/11 was an act of terrorism/war.

      There is no comparison.

      June 21, 2010 at 8:47PM EST
    • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

      MadisonAvenueWoman BTW, I haven't lived in NYC for a long time. However, I do have a few relatives still living there. None of them ever had the opinion that 9/11 was a disaster specific to them. In fact, one of my nieces was attending high school at Stuyvesant, within blocks of The World Trade Center. I never thought of her as a victim of 9/11, nor did any member of my family.

      June 21, 2010 at 9:05PM EST
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      christy Andrew: Yes, but the bus driver apologizing doesn't really change my point. The point is that the act of wanting to look at the tragedy is something to apologize for, and that there is a parallel between those tourists' desire to see it and our desire to watch the program. To see that parallel may be projection, but I don't think it's much of a leap. It's a pretty straightforward interpretation. But in the larger context of the show, I don't think it was hostile to outsiders, overall. I was just making the distinction between the characters' opinions about outsiders and the portrayal of outsider characters. The interview addressed the former very specifically, the latter not at all.

      MadisonAvenueWoman: Yes, you made that same point above, and I read it before making my comment. No need to repeat. I don't agree at all. To argue about specifics would be veering WAY too far over the "no politics rule" line. Suffice it to say I disagree with almost everything you're saying. But what I'm saying is that I think the comparison was logical. You seem to be saying you think the comparison was offensive. I don't see why it couldn't be both. But the thing is I don't really care about the latter.

      Now I've gone and said latter twice. Goodnight.

      June 21, 2010 at 10:46PM EST
  • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

    MadisonAvenueWoman David Simon: "Those fuckers didn't give a shit when it was really happening and they were being preached to by people who had lost everything. They didn't give a fuck five years ago; why would I expect them to give a fuck now?"

    Many people in America "gave a fuck". My hairdresser here in Ohio went down there on her own dime to help. I am 65 years old, and I never before witnessed such a response to a disaster.

    June 21, 2010 at 9:22PM EST Reply to Comment
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      Wanda MadisonAvenueWoman,Think about WHY there was such a response to the disaster that was Katrina by average people. It was first,musicians,and then actors,artists and other creative folks that began giving benefit performances,holding fundraisers and telethons,etc. Whatever one may think about Kanye West and his comment about "George Bush not caring about black people" the reality was that the federal government was slow to act. Even though his comment may not have been expressed in a p.c.way,it was nevertheless,a feeling many people could empathize with.

      To me, one of the major points that Mr. Simon makes in Treme is that New Orleans began to recover because the musicians of that great city refused to give up. They knew that they are one of NOLA's greatest assets and that if the city was to recover and thrive once again,it would be because of them,and the regular folks like your hairdresser, not the feds,the state,or the local government. In much the same way,it was the nationally known musicians,stars, that stayed in the face of the American public,refusing to let them sweep this great city , under the rug or ignore what had happened to her people. That,at least in my opinion, is why there was such a response.

      June 21, 2010 at 11:44PM EST
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    DB Cooper Generation Kill doesn't get enough credit.

    And also, I don't think that show was *at all* like Treme or The Wire, in its accessibility. The Sixta character had a nice reveal late, but other than that, the guys were the guys.

    June 21, 2010 at 10:16PM EST Reply to Comment
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      Truck Generation Kill was a complete surprise to me. I really couldn't see myself getting into a miniseries that follows soldiers, but I ended up watching that over and over.

      June 22, 2010 at 6:37PM EST
  • __ewist__3u___kgrhqqh-eqetr_mnjlibldks90quw___7_talkback_profile

    MadisonAvenueWoman I can't believe that I'm the only person on the planet that doesn't think that 9/11 is not about New York!

    June 21, 2010 at 10:37PM EST Reply to Comment
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      Wanda I don't think that people in general think that 9/11 is about New York,but you have to admit that every time 9/11 is mentioned out comes the video of the planes hitting the twin towers,the Pentagon and the plane that went down in Pennsylvaia are rarely mentioned. Don't get me wrong,I worked in NYC at the time of the attack and I know how shell shocked the people were and how surreal it felt just walking around the city. But you can understand how people in other parts of the country might get the impression that ,because of the New York centric footage and Rudy Guiliani on TV touting his "heroism" that it was all about New York.

      June 21, 2010 at 11:56PM EST
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      Truck Is this blog too confusing for you to keep all your 9/11 rants in one thread? I keep skimming down to read conversations by other people, but it's just more complaining from MadisonAvenueWoman.

      June 22, 2010 at 6:17PM EST
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      Brandon @Truck, completely agreed! Jesus christ.

      July 5, 2010 at 2:21AM EST
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    Low Among the Unworthy "We're actually being true to the thing. In some ways, people outside New Orleans are prisoners of what they don't know... In the same way, people of New Orleans are prisoners of what they do know."

    Believe or not, Mr. Simon, Lord Omnipotent of the Knowblesse Oblige, you are a prisoner of what you know and your own aesthetic limitations and you've confused the values and cultural point of view of a white, middle-class, inner-city dwelling intellectual getting his cultural freak on with the truth about America. Good luck with that.

    June 22, 2010 at 1:57AM EST Reply to Comment
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      oops That should have been "Lord Omniscient" not "Omnipotent" ... thank God he's not omnipotent or we would be forever stuck listening to swinging quavers.

      June 22, 2010 at 2:17AM EST
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      Anon Care to elaborate? What's your "truth about America"?

      June 22, 2010 at 8:36AM EST
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      bbb Hear hear.

      June 22, 2010 at 1:56PM EST
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    Matt The interview resonates well with me. I'll be honest, I can't really stand the attitude of New Orleans and the work ethic in general, and I thought there was no way this show would sustain itself with the city as a premise. No real plot, as they discussed. However, I knew one thing, brilliant writing always shines through on everything, no matter what the premise. And it has.

    I don't understand why anyone would ever blame the actor if they didn't like the character, he/she most likely are doing their job if that's the case. I hate Sonny, but I don't hold that against the actor.. I just don't care to see his unlikable on screen performances, and I really didn't care for Zahn and Goodman's pretentious, condescending xenophobia, but that's New Orleans for you. "We're the best, you all suck, and if you don't know it, you're an idiot."

    Like it's impossible to have hometown pride and be respectful.

    The story is not great, but the acting and writing is top notch, so I'm on for the run.

    June 22, 2010 at 4:59AM EST Reply to Comment
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      Matt And I realize not everyone is like that in NO, and it's a TV show, but there's more than enough of it that I've witnessed in my life and visits to New Orleans. I've been all over the world, and they aren't even close to the rudest people, but they are hands down the most self-absorbed.

      June 22, 2010 at 5:03AM EST
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      My NOLA Soul Attitude and work ethic? It is a life's worth of work to become as good as even our mediocre musicians are, and the Chefs in the city work harder than most. The difference between NOLA and the rest of the country is not work ethic. It difference of opinion as to what is really important and valued. New Orleans shares that same importance with Europe in that the talents of our citizens and the efforts of our artisans hold more worth than that of a banker. It's okay that you don't get it, but be intelligent enough to recognize the profound difference in the type of work and the true value of the life work spent.

      Did the Mardi Gras Indians depicted in the show lack a work ethic because they were not shown swinging a hammer or punching a clock? Did Creighton lack a work ethic when teaching his students? Did Davis lack work ethic when he spoke out about the political absurdities? Mr. Simon nailed it. These are the hard working people of NOLA. Perhaps they do not meet your criteria, but they are hard working none the less.

      We value quality of life and living a bit more than the rest of the country, and it shows in how we love, eat, drink, share, and cry.

      June 22, 2010 at 7:37AM EST
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      My NOLA Soul Oh and bruthah, you are damn right we are self absorbed. I have been all over the world and there isn't a place out there quite like NOLA. I know a good thing and there isn't a place I would rather be. We are self absorbed because no matter how bad it gets, it never gets better than NOLA.

      On Mardi Gras day magic happens in the streets, while the rest of the country celebrates that it ain't Monday...

      and we won the Super Bowl. Just sayin...

      June 22, 2010 at 7:44AM EST
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      NOLA resident I'm a New orleanian, and we do have a terrible work ethic in the American sense. We just don't ascribe our value as people to what we put out in the workforce. We enjoy leisure, we enjoy company.

      And we're also pretty self-absorbed. Which is OK, because New orleans truly is a great city for many people. It's an easy place to live and be you, but it's a hard place to make a name for yourself - something that treme actually brings up from time to time

      June 22, 2010 at 4:50PM EST
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      khicks I think we Texans are probably as arrogant about our pride as New Orleanians (I see Texas tattoos on people all the time...not including my own). I don't see anything wrong with being unabashedly proud of where you live as long as it's not a means for treating other people like they're inferior. The only New Orleanians on the show that do that aren't actually born and bred locals.

      June 25, 2010 at 3:21PM EST
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    sepinwall Okay, folks. Unsurprisingly, given both the subject and some of the more volatile parts of the interview itself, passions have run a little hot in these comments. And that's fine to a point, but not when you start attacking other commenters for disagreeing with you. To quote the commenting rules for this blog:

    But there's a difference between arguing with passion and arguing with hostility. If you can't find a way to express your viewpoint without insulting other commenters, or getting strident and self-righteous -- say, equating your opinion with fact, and deriding other people for not seeing the truth of your words -- then either tone down your words until they're more respectful to other people, or don't comment.

    June 22, 2010 at 9:27AM EST Reply to Comment
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    blaseta Interesting interview, which is completely unsurprising given both the interviewer and interviewee. Simon's comments on a non-music lover's reaction to the show particularly hit home with me considering that I would count myself in that group.

    While I've enjoyed Treme, I am definitely a person that is just waiting for the music portions to be over so that we get back to the story, or more to the point the characters.

    The profusion of music as well as the overall value that the show inherently places on musicians really puts a ceiling on how much I can enjoy the show. While Delmond eventually changed his perspective, I fully support his comments that he had made before Mardi Gras along the lines of it would be better if everybody putting their efforts into Mardi Gras was instead working on getting the city back on its feet.

    So anyways, just wanted to raise my hand as someone who is frustrated with the abundance of time spent on music, and who fails to see why we should be praising those who do nothing but play an instrument with particular skill, but still enjoys Treme enough to stick with it.

    June 22, 2010 at 5:47PM EST Reply to Comment
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      JFain I'm impressed that someone as a"non-music lover" would even watch the show, when the music itself (and not just who's playing it, in endless combinations) is so predominant.

      What about the post-funeral second lines? When they "march for that money"? I teared up at the one at the end of the first episode, thinking "I don't even know the guy!" And the feeling at the end of the last episode, after the rather amazing flashback into Katrina... where before you know it the flood is upon you? Did you just get up and leave the room while that was happening?

      June 24, 2010 at 9:45PM EST
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      blaseta I enjoyed and was affected by the second line, particularly the one in the last episode, but not because of the music. I liked it because it is an interesting and unique way of mourning the dead, and because of the excellent acting that allowed me to catch of glimpse of the complex emotions involved. In that case the music is simply background to me. Which is preferable to when the music is the only thing happening, that's when I'm truly just counting the seconds until it stops.

      June 25, 2010 at 11:59AM EST
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    Matt Enjoyed the interview and I'll be back. Nice work.

    June 22, 2010 at 11:28PM EST Reply to Comment
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    jake Awesome read

    June 23, 2010 at 1:00AM EST Reply to Comment
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    Nils Hermans, Nijmegen, NL Great interview. Treme is a wonderful show. Exhausting, too (but so was The Wire).I love Simon's quote: "The most oversold thing in television is redemption." The Lost creators Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse must be crying their eyes out in a corner somewhere.

    June 23, 2010 at 7:02AM EST Reply to Comment
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    OY! if that was David Simon's intent with Sonny then he flat out failed. Sonny just read as an entitled, pathetic, unengaging waste of flesh and Annie eventually slipped into mental retardation from her inability to get rid of him. Their imbecilic friend Annie crashes with says "music is personal" well being a complete sack of crap is personal too. My friends would post different ways for Sonny to die. When he snorted the coke near the end we started chanting OD! OD! More importantly, it did not read how he intended, it read as another completely trite story of a jackass and the pretty lady who won't leave him for no reason that anyone can grasp. Another example of this was Antoine's poker game in the last episode, I've seen that story done 1000 times and better. Simon's a good dude and this is at least better than "John From Cincinnati" but don't think every painting you make with your own crap is a picasso.

    Also sort of amused by all of the New York City hate in the show...why is NYC the epicenter of all that's phony in his world? Maybe he should try living here and learning something about it.

    also, Davis's political subplot...completely thrown away because he gets a business card? Then he sells a ton of copies of a song criticizing W? and it was about becoming a musician, not about the CD helping the campaign? They changed courses 20 times in this storyline and only a few of the ideas were any good.

    I'm looking forward to a New Orleans-set show starring David Morse next year...but I'm not so sure I care much about what happens to the people from this year.


    June 23, 2010 at 8:35AM EST Reply to Comment
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      Vansterdam An i-wish-they-did-this critic has been detected.

      As Simon puts it:
      "people who react to what's on screen and how that reflects on the reality they know" can understand the way Sonny and Annie behave is as close as it comes to reality. Unlikeable characters are necessary, they exist in the real world too.

      I agree completely with your view on the Davis subplot though.

      June 23, 2010 at 4:56PM EST
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      nm Oh, I have to disagree about the Sonny storyline being a failure. I live among musicians (though not in New Orleans) and I see the Sonny/Annie dynamic over and over. Sonny is an annoying guy with delusions of grandeur, to be sure. A lot of musicians are. And they will never commit to anything or anybody except the music, not really. In fact, after the very first episode of Treme I realized that it was going to be (among other things) 101 Reasons Not To Date A Musician.

      June 24, 2010 at 11:13AM EST
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      OY! Unlikeable characters I don't have much of a problem with. Incredibly trite and uninteresting characters doing things I don't give a sh!t about I do have a problem with. you can't defend everything that sucks about a show by saying it's by design, some things just fail and suck. Case in point.

      June 25, 2010 at 8:29AM EST
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    LionelHutz God bless David Simon. Television, and the discussion that television creates, would be so much less interesting without him. I always enjoy reading your interviews with him, Alan. In the world of television, is there a better interview subject? Who else would say something like: "Those fuckers didn't give a shit when it was really happening and they were being preached to by people who had lost everything. They didn't give a fuck five years ago; why would I expect them to give a fuck now?" Fantastic!

    June 23, 2010 at 11:26AM EST Reply to Comment
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    Nissa I bet if we could take a look inside Simon's mind during the interview it would be something like this: "So I just created the most intellectual piece of television in years - heck, my other creations were the most intelligent since the invention of (expletive) tv - and you are criticizing ME? If you don't like it you obviously don't have the (expletive) brain cells nor the (expletive) attention span to properly enjoy, let alone comprehend my art. Just go back to your trashy CSI and leave my one-of-a-kind masterpiece alone."

    Seriously, Alan, he directly insulted you /twice/ and he felt the need to bring more than three television shows down as a "defense" for his own show (while answering a question like: "what did you intend to achieve with character x?" - which is obviously not even critique).

    His disdain of television and its viewers is just disgusting, as is his black-and-white view of the television landscape as a whole. It seems like he actually believes that everything besides his work is like 24 or Brothers and Sisters. That's just sad. Before insulting the legions of brilliant writers, producers and creators that are churning out quality work on a daily basis he should do his research. Or, if you were to take his hatred for the medium seriously, he probably doesn't even own a tv. That would probably explain a lot.

    June 27, 2010 at 11:33AM EST Reply to Comment
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      MadisonAvenueWoman You hit the nail right on the head, Nissa. This guy is some arrogant asshole. I got so used to reading interviews with nice guy AND brilliant show runner, Vince Gilligan, that I was totally shocked by Simon's idiocy. Treme is not so great that Simon should be so arrogant, and The Wire is in the past. Simon really needs to get over himself.

      June 27, 2010 at 8:07PM EST
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      MadisonAvenueWoman BTW, I just started viewing Friday Night Lights, Season 1 (c. 2006). I figured if Alan was still reviewing this show after four seasons, it must be worthwhile. This is one helluva great show by one of the "legions of brilliant writers, producers and creators that are churning out quality work on a daily basis".

      June 27, 2010 at 8:19PM EST
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    Guest Really good interview. David Simon is going to be attending Austin Film Festival 2010. If you live in the area, I recommend you look into it.

    July 2, 2010 at 11:35AM EST Reply to Comment
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    sedeyus I think David Simon is a brilliant guy, the Wire is probably the greatest television show ever, and this was certainty a good start for Treme. But it's incredibly frustrating that Simon's answers to all his critics is usually to attack their intelligence/compassion.
    And I got to ask Alan, does it ever get frustrating to interview the guy? Every interview I've seen you do with Simon, he pretty much comes out and says your chosen profession is worthless.

    July 6, 2010 at 10:39PM EST Reply to Comment

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  • All through his childhood, Alan Sepinwall's relatives told his parents, "All that boy does is watch television! How's he going to make a living doing that?" His career as a TV critic has been 14 years and counting of his attempt to answer their concerns. "What's Alan Watching" is a blog whose title is self-explanatory: Alan watches TV shows, then writes about what he watched.

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