In his critique of Treme at Slate.com, Josh Levin writes:
If Simon is aiming to persuade his audience that New Orleans is unique and worth preserving, he’s going about it in a strange way. I’m assuming that the average Treme viewer is someone who isn’t from New Orleans, was transfixed by Katrina and its immediate aftermath, and is curious about what’s happened to the city since. In Treme‘s universe, the closest analogues to people of that ilk are the house-gutters from Wisconsin—folks who care about New Orleans even if they’ve never heard of a second line. When these characters get mocked, Simon is essentially mocking his audience.
Much of the Treme criticism has, like Levin, assumed the purpose of the show and responded accordingly. I suppose that’s fair in a way – if Simon and Overmyer’s purposes are so obtuse that people miss them, then that’s their failure – but in many cases, I suspect those suppositions are based on what people want or expect the show to be – here and out of town.
Levin’s critical of the way the Wisconsinites are depicted and mistreated by Sonny, but my recollection of that time is that many of those who came to help had a glowing, well-scrubbed do-gooder nature to them, bringing a simplistic “I’m here to help” to an emotionally complicated situation. And my attitude toward them fluctuated from appreciation to profound irritation, so I appreciate Sonny’s riff if not the clunky writing that forced the famous Preservation Hall sentiment into the scene. I’ve always resented the way the city became a social petri dish after Katrina, where people tested theories like charter schools and mixed-income neighborhoods on us, and at the time depicted, I was often annoyed by people who seemed to have no idea what was going on. They understood that floodwaters devastated the city, but they didn’t seem to know what that meant, and they often didn’t seem to realize that even a wiped-out city has pride.
Whether those attitudes are reasonable or not, I know I’m not the only one who had them, and I wonder if they will resonate with people who didn’t go through Katrina. Will those subtleties play in Des Moines?