Some of the stories we are introduced to in this pilot are conventional television ones: a missing person, bruised and broken relationships, rebuilding houses and lives, but they are all unique in where they take place — one of the world's singular cities. Restaurant owner Janette Desautel's (Kim Dickens) attempts to soldier on with a quality menu seems a small anecdote in the larger swirl of narrative, but it makes for fascinating television and not just because I'm hooked on Top Chef. Good restaurants are the perfect storm of art, commerce, and cuisine, and as microcosms of larger society, I've often wondered why they don't make appearances in television fiction more often. Artie's restaurants in The Sopranos were always welcome respite from the horrors of Tony's home and business.
A warning: as in The Wire, the viewer must bring patience and fortitude. As foreign a subculture as the drug wars of urban Baltimore might have been to the audience, so are cultural aspects of the Treme neighborhood of New Orleans. Much of the dialogue is realistic, meaning undecipherable, and the cultural references can fly by unnoticed.
Perseverance will be eventually rewarded no doubt, and besides, I got a big kick out of seeing Sean Gormley (at right), the Dublin actor, portray the "f***in', Limey vulture" BBC interviewer who gets the worst of John Goodman. Imagine how many other inside jokes I'll get upon subsequent viewings.
Mr. Goodman as Creighton Bernette, the college professor who goes ballistic on an NPR reporter as well, not playing favorites, and Steve Zahn as a local musician and DJ based upon real life New Orleans institution Davis Rogan, round out the cast with added color as if more color is needed. A cameo by an inaudible Declan McManus (aka Elvis Costello) at one of Kermit Ruffins' gigs makes for sublime television, but the moment of being, as Virginia Woolf would say, in the episode was Clarke Peters in his Mardi Gras Indian costume. The dignified Mr. Peters in a substantial yellow outfit that would make Big Bird pause personifies the aforementioned swagger and joy; it is a musical note in a song that I hope plays for a long time.