Theme: The genius of David Simon


First, no, “theme” in the headline isn’t a typo for “Treme.” :-)

David Simon, like me, is a former newspaper crime reporter. Unlike me, he has given birth to a number of brilliant television series. As an author, I’m always studying his storytelling to see what I can learn.

First, I definitely agree with many others that The Wire is the best television series ever made. It took us into the third-world enclaves that exist in 21st century American cities. He gave us a highly credible look at life there (I say credible instead of accurate, because West Baltimore is so outside my own experience, I have no way to know for sure — but it resembles forgotten, marginalized African-American communities I have covered in Florida and South Carolina). The Wire had great, memorable characters and lots of remarkable storylines. But over its five seasons, these all revolved around a single theme: How institutions — whether criminal enterprises focusing on illicit profits or governments and school districts ostensibly focused on a public good — exist mainly to perpetuate themselves and guard the power of those who run them, which serves as a powerful force to prevent anything from really changing. If he’d said in a pitch meeting that was what his show was about, the show never would have been made. But what a fascinating, important point.

Simon’s newest series is Treme., set in New Orleans immediately after Hurricane Katrina. We’re midway through the second season now, and I’ve been searching for the big theme. I think I finally have it. Treme is about plumbing the limits of human resilience. Just how much can a human being take? We see character after character dealt devastating blows, and nine out of ten of them pick themselves up and keep trying. (One, notably, ends the first season by giving up.) Not only does this theme come through in the lives of the individual characters, but in the character that is the city of New Orleans. Can crushing poverty, corruption, a natural disaster, and a shameful response by its country actually kill one of the most fascinating, culturally rich cities in North America? I am waiting for the hammer to fall as Season 2 reaches its climax, but so far, Simon’s characters show extraordinary heart and resilience and remind us how much a human being can cope with when she has to.

Click READ MORE and tell me what you think in the comments.

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This article has 1 comment

  1. Ellen S. 07/10/2011, 10:36 am:

    very nice read, your site is great I am going to bookmark it

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