Good television starts with the script

Posted in Duff 'n Stuff

Duff ’n Stuff, Dec. 4, 2012

In one of my all-time favorite movies, Woody Allen’s “Hannah and Her Sisters,” Mia Farrow plays Hannah, a sometime professional actress who is now in love with her life as a stay-at-home wife and mother.  In one scene, she refers to having just played Nora in Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” to great acclaim. When her family congratulates Hannah for her recent achievement in the role she says something like, “Well, it was just television.”

With that one glib remark, I got the impression that Allen considered television less than formidable. I would have agreed back then in 1986, except for maybe some of the shows that PBS was producing at that time.

Things have changed.

I often find myself (in this 21st century) much more excited by the scripts that are being written and produced for television dramas, than I am by what Hollywood has to offer.

Have you seen HBO’s “Treme?”

Mardi Gras Indians create elaborate costumes every year for the February parade in New Orleans, LA. (Photo courtesy of ibtimes.com)

I’ve learned more about the culture of New Orleans and what happened directly following Hurricane Katrina from that show than I could have even if I lived there. It also has some of the best performances I’ve ever seen on television from John Goodman, Melissa Leo, Wendell Pierce, Clarke Peters, Khandi Alexander and a cast of others too long to name here.

David Simon is the show’s creator. Eric Overmyer is its writer and producer who chronicles the struggles of a motley mix of residents in the heart of New Orleans as they rebuild their lives and their beloved city. Treme, pronounced “Truh-may,” takes its title from the name of one of the city’s oldest neighborhoods, an historically important source of African-American music and culture, and among all I’ve learned about Mardi Gras, the city’s indigenous people, the culture of its Cajun and Creole food, the music is a big focus of the show. The producers are smart to use real musicians instead of actors, except for Pierce, who is tremendous in the role of a struggling trombonist.

Many of the musical performers that are featured on the show are from Louisiana, and some are national acts. They include artists such as Dr. John, Juvenile, John Hiatt, Lucia Micarelli, Steve Earle, Shawn Colvin, the subdudes, the Radiators, Henry Butler, Wanda Rouzan, Cyril Neville, Christian Scott, Donald Harrison Jr., Ron Carter, Kermit Ruffins, Rebirth Brass Band, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Tom McDermott, George Porter, Evan Christopher and members of the Pineleaf Boys and Redstick Ramblers, among many others. Every time I see an episode of “Treme” I come away with the feeling that I’ve learned something new about the American music that is rooted in New Orleans jazz scene, or about Mardi Gras Indian culture or how the food of New Orleans is so closely tied to its traditions and people.

This show is an amazingly informative, dramatic, poignant and inspired program, and I recommend it to every American who cares about what happened to the residents of Louisiana, and especially New Orleans, after that disaster. If you don’t have HBO you can rent it at Sno-Isle Libraries or on Netflix.

Here are some other television drama series that have caught my eye in the past couple of years for excellent writing, acting and entertainment:

Downton Abbey

Damages

Nurse Jackie

The Wire

The Good Wife

Sherlock

Breaking Bad

Six Feet Under

Mad Men

 

Here are some that have been recommended to me that I haven’t seen yet:

Boardwalk Empire

The Newsroom

Homeland

Boss

 

Who knew we wouldn’t have to kill our televisions after all?

Time to make some popcorn.

From the heart,
Patricia Duff

 

Patricia Duff is an award-winning journalist whose most recent kudos include several wins in the Washington Newspaper Publishers Association 2011 competition.

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