Ok, so I watched the first episode of Treme on Tuesday and I've pretty much spent the past few days thinking about what to make of it. I know from experience of previous David Simon pieces (The Corner, Generation Kill & The Wire) that the first episode of his works is going to be a slow build that throws you into a story that feels like it's already in progress.
The Wire - Simon's 'head and shoulders above all else' show - was a show which took me exactly fourteen episodes to click with, until the start of the second season I was wading through a show with a dense plot and hard to understand dialog that occasionally was unbelievably brilliant and at other times real hard work to keep up with. Of course, I'm now at the point where I can pretty much name all of the minor bit part players by sight - thanks to repeated viewings and of course my Watching the Wire series (currently on hiatus).
The first, and most important thing, is to immediately familiarise yourself with the characters. Lets face it, you're not going to get anywhere if you're only able to name the actors by either their own name or the names of the characters they've played in the past.
So here's the core cast introduced in the first episode (HBO Page here):
Ladonna Batiste-Williams - Khandi Alexander (Fran - The Corner)
Toni Bernette - Melissa Leo (Kay Howard - Homicide: Life on the Street)
Albert Lambreaux - Clarke Peters (Lester Freamon - The Wire)
Antoine Batiste - Wendell Pierce (Bunk Mooreland - The Wire)
Davis McArly - Steve Zahn (He's one of those guys you'll recognise without knowing where from)
Creighton Bennet - John Goodman (The Big Lewbowski, amongst others)
Annie - Lucia Micarelli (First appearance)
Sonny - Michiel Huisman (De co-assistant, no I haven't heard of it either)
Janette Desautel - Kim Dickens (Deadwood)
Delmond Lambreaux - Rob Brown (Finding Forrester)
If you're going to follow the series you'll need that list - I know I will, Simon doesn't give traditional character introductions, he just throws you in there and expects you to swim. Which, I must admit, was a little tough with Treme. There's no doubt already that it's a fantastic show that's going to bloom into a must watch for critics and culture vultures, but there's also no doubt that it's a show which is going to be inaccessible to many viewers. I'm OK with that, but it is a shame that so many viewers will miss out because they're unwilling to put the effort in.
Treme is also a little bewildering at this stage because I don't know much about the city, the neighbourhood or the disaster. I know I can trust David Simon's writing to change all of that, he's an authentic storyteller with a real eye for enlightening and bringing home truths to the viewer.
Until that point I'm just going to enjoy watching Clarke Peters dressed up as a Mardi Gras chieftain.