"Play for that money, boys, play for that mother-fuckin' money."
David Simon's followup to The Wire which has garnered just as much critical love right off the bat.Beginning three months after Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, the series follows several residents who are struggling to put their lives back on track, particularly centered around the titular neighborhood (which is pronounced "tre-may"). Ladonna Williams tries to keep her bar running while searching for her brother who has been missing since the hurricane. Her ex-husband Antoine Bastiste plays his trombone in any gig he can find to stave off poverty for his new family. Civil rights lawyer Toni Bernette helps Ladonna in her search, while her husband Creighton vents his anger at how the crisis was mismanaged at anyone who crosses his path. Alternative DJ Davis McAlary is enraged at the changes his station has been forced to make, and his "friend with benefits" Janette Desautel runs a high class restaurant on dwindling funds. Albert Lambreaux is driven to return to town to resume his position as a Mardi Gras Indian Chief, but faces opposition from both members of his tribe and his own children. Street violinist Annie faces the dissolution of her relationship when her boyfriend Sonny becomes envious of her superior talent.Season two skips ahead several months and begins on All Saints' Day 2006. More than a year after Katrina, more and more people are returning, but unfortunately this includes a good deal of criminals, plus one new major character in Nelson Hildalgo, a Texan with a very vaguely defined job who's looking to make some money off the rebuilding efforts.Despite the show sharing several similarities with Simon's previous opus (wide-ranging cast of characters, brutally realistic stories, and a complete lack of artificial music), it distinguishes itself with a far more optimistic tone. Despite the bleak circumstances for many of the characters, they mostly hold onto hope that things can improve and the city can regain its former greatness.
The example offered by producers is Janette serving a Hubig's pie to Creighton in the pilot. At the time, Hubig's was still closed, meaning either it was a pre-Katrina (stale) pie, or, in David Mill's words, "a magic pie."
When Davis takes a job as a tour guide, he finds himself forced to admit how many of the important places in the city's history have been torn down. Finally someone in the group asks him "Do you people preserve anything important?"
Former New Orleans city councilman Oliver Thomas plays himself, all the way up to the part where he's indicted of corruption and resigns, and even when he's in prison.
Restaurant Critic Alan Richman also plays himself in season 2, and his scathing review of New Orleans cuisine is featured. Fair play to him, he allowed David Simon to have Janette the chef throw a drink in his face.
AuthorAppeal: Inverted in the case of Anthony Bourdain, who has made appeals to write for the show, and finally got his wish with a story co-credit in Season 2.
Author Existence Failure: Writer David Mills died of a brain aneurysm while on set. Mills also worked on acclaimed series like The Wire, NYPD Blue, Homicide and was the creator of the tv series Kingpin
Also happens in-universe: After Harley is murdered, Annie discovers a large collection of unfinished songs in his apartment, and attempts to finish them herself.
And an actor one, as Michael Showers, who played Captain Guidry in season 2, was mysteriously found dead in the Mississippi River.
Bad Cop/Incompetent Cop: The NOPD does not look very good in this series, though given the creators' pervious work, the subject was bound to come up. Offenses include brutality, stealing property, and attempted bribery. Even before Katrina, this sort of behavior was far from out-of-character for the NOPD. Several characters say as much throughout the series. New Orleans natives might say this is Truth in Television.
David Morse's character, an 8th District watch commander, seems to be set up as the exception that proves the rule. (Although this being a David Simon production, something terrible could always happen.) This is also Truth in Television, as the 8th District covers the French Quarter and NOPD makes an effort to staff it with competent, honest cops.
Based on a True Story: In addition to the Real Life musicians, at least one character (John Goodman's professor Bernette) is based on a real person. Also subverted; fans speculated that Sonny and Annie were based on a real musician couple who broke up a few months after the hurricane, followed by the man murdering the woman and then jumping off a hotel roof a few days later. The producers have thoroughly denied it, and the real event is mentioned in season two.
Davis is based partly on Davis Rogan, a neer-do-well DJ who, as one of the commentaries points out, has been explicitly banned from at least one bar with a sign saying "If you are Davis Rogan, please leave." It was Rogan who actually wrote many of Davis' songs as well.
Berserk Button: The British TV reporter pushes Creighton's when he insults New Orleans by calling it a provincial city with outdated musical tastes. His microphone ends up in the river (and his camera almost does too).
Big Applesauce: The narrative switches away from New Orleans sometimes, as a few characters work and/or reside in New York for a while.
Can't Get In Trouble For Nuthin': After two fellow musicians become popular after being (not really) arrested for an unpermitted parade, Antoine tries to get arrested at a follow up event. The police show up, but this time they're there to escort the musicians. Even worse, Antoine WAS arrested right after the first parade, but nobody saw it happen.
The Cast Showoff: Wendell Pierce mimed his trombone playing in season one, but learned to play for real starting in season two.
Cool Loser: Davis thinks he is this, when he's probably the latter.
Cultural Posturing: While many regard their city as a shining example of historical and cultural riches, Davis brings up the subject quite often, even with his neighbours, who unbeknown to him are also native of New Orleans. Creighton is also very vocally proud and touchy of his heritage.
Put any bereaucratic roadblocks in front of Toni, and you'll just make her try harder to get to the truth.
Davis' relentless moxie makes up for his lack of talent, more or less.
Dramatic Irony: Some characters in the Season 1 finale flashback -particularly Davis and Creighton- discuss that the Katrina will amount to nothing or won't affect the city, as it's usually the case with most hurricanes.
Driven to Suicide: Creighton. Especially brutal as we're given a tour of all the warning signs that none of the other characters notice before it actually happens.
And much of the first season leads up to Mardi Gras 2006 near the end, then continues to St. Joseph's Day. The show is realistic, though, as festivities and preparations begin (and are shown) in January.
It Is Pronounced Tro PAY: The title and the neighborhood it comes from is pronounced "Tre-MAY", "TRE-May", or "Tremmy" (in the documentary Cutting Loose)
Annie's first scene features her giving a subtle lesson in how to say New Orleans ("Or-lens," not "Or-leens," as it's sometimes pronounced in songs for a better rhyme).
Locked Out of the Loop: In season two, it bizarrely seems like everyone in town except Sophia knows about her father's suicide.
Meaningful Echo: David Simon works in quite a few of the most famous lines from The Wire. Examples include Davis saying "and all the pieces matter" and Terry saying "the game is rigged" in season 3.
Mood Dissonance: It's in the blood of New Orleans, its inhabitants will always find the time to cheer up and celebrate during the direst circumstances, come hell or high water. Not being able to would be the biggest of the tragedies. Second line funerals are a prominent example.
No Place for Me There/But Now I Must Go: Terry leaves New Orleans in the finale after rationalizing he's burnt a big bridge. As he drives away from Luisiana, its music radio station becomes garbled, marking the sad end of an era.
Again, Davis. Or so he thinks, until he ends up getting the crap kicked out of him by someone who overheard him. Ironically, in the scene where he gets punched out for this he was quoting Antoine word for word rather than throw it around casually.
Delmond is offended by New Yorkers saying the same negative things about New Orleans that he always does. "I get to say that. They don't!"
Not What It Looks Like: Davis says this when Annie walks in on him sitting in a room with a shirtless Sophia passed out in front of him the morning after Mardi Gras. Seriously, it's not.
Real Men Wear Pink: Albert Lambreaux seems to command respect from the neighborood and isn't above beating two-bit hoods within an inch of their life. He also prances around in an ostentatiously garish feather costume every year.
Reality Is Unrealistic: The commentary on the pilot has David Simon discussing how some locals criticized the show for a shot of the Superdome which showed an undamaged roof, despite the roof having been repaired by the time the show starts.
This is because the repair in place at the time of the pilot was very temporary. Local viewers are recalling the much longer permanent fix that was done after the pilot.
Terry: I've come to believe that there's a big difference between vice and sin. New Orleans gets it. The rest of the world... Well, vice... you know, vice, it's human. It's one drink too many. It's an illegal smile in a coat pocket. It's a bet on a wrong horse. It's a wrong prick rubbing against a wrong piece of ass. Sin is those bodies over in Central City, the ones that we just keep rolling up on and doing so goddamn little about.