Ellen Gray: David Simon takes a journalist's view with new season of 'Treme' on HBO

Posted: September 21, 2012

* TREME. 10 p.m. Sunday, HBO.

ANYONE WHO thinks David Simon left journalism when he exited the Baltimore Sun might want to check out the new season of HBO's "Treme."

Or, for that matter, any or all of the five seasons of "The Wire."

Though it's this season of "Treme," Simon's post-Hurricane Katrina New Orleans drama, that finally made me realize how effectively he's married TV drama and explanatory reporting to tell stories lots of us might not take the time to read in printed form, assuming those stories made it into print in the first place.

So while the characters (and the music) would have been enough to make me happy to return to "Treme" - whose third season begins Sunday, up against the final hour of the Emmys - it's the too-bad-not-to-be-true stories Simon's telling about what the people of New Orleans were dealing with long after the waters receded that's kept my blood on simmer for the eight episodes I've seen so far.

Picking up in the fall of 2007, Season 3 continues to look at police corruption, not just from the perspective of lawyer Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo), who's going to be feeling more heat than usual, but from that of her sometime friend Lt. Terry Colson (Philadelphia's David Morse), who's increasingly frustrated not only by what's going on out in the streets, but in his own department.

Toni does get a sidekick of sorts, a young reporter from the investigative nonprofit ProPublica (which won its first Pulitzer Prize, in 2010, for a story from New Orleans). Played by Chris Coy, L.P. Everett is a fictional character whose work is based on that of ProPublica reporter A.C. Thompson, according to Simon.

Khandi Alexander continues her indelible performance as bar owner LaDonna Batiste-Williams, whose recovery from a horrific sexual assault continues to be challenging and Clarke Peters' "Chief" Albert Lambreaux faces a challenge of his own.

There's also a story line involving reconstruction and demolition of housing that I'd like to think would make any sane person crazy.

For those who could use a break from bad news, Simon's televised newspaper also has a features section. When chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens), who's been working in New York, gets another opportunity to front her own restaurant in New Orleans and Annie Tee (Lucia Micarelli) moves up in the music world, we learn every bit as much about the businesses they're in as we do about investigative reporting techniques watching Everett.

Yes, Steve Zahn's Davis McAlary continues to be the most annoying character on "Treme" - and possibly on any TV show ever - but then not every strip in the comics section can be a winner.

Other happy returns

Premiere week officially begins Monday, but that's not stopped NBC yet. Its Thursday night lineup is all new (if you count the clips that make up its "SNL Primetime Election Special" at 8 p.m. as new):

* Now that we know "The Office" (9 p.m. Thursday, NBC10) is ending this season, will those of us who've gradually fallen away return to see it out?

I'm still not sure I will after seeing Thursday's Season 9 premiere, which opens with a series of how-I-spent-my-summer-vacation-style updates on the remaining characters (and includes a Mindy Kaling cameo that, naturally, doesn't mention she's gone off to Fox to play a doctor in "The Mindy Project").

It does end with a very funny Creed Bratton moment.

I shouldn't tell you much about what happens in between except that there are a couple of new characters and Dwight (Rainn Wilson) finds a new focus for his dynastic dreams.

Oh, and there will be blood.

Reportedly this is the season we'll get answers to our nagging questions - like why a video crew's been taping these people all these years or what's going to happen to the major characters like Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam (Jenna Fischer) after they disappear from our TV screens.

Honestly, they've been gradually disappearing from mine for a couple of years, but I'll probably check in from time to time to see how they're doing.

Or maybe, like other former office mates, I'll just wait for their Facebook updates.

* On a more cheerful note, "Parks and Recreation" (9:30 p.m. Thursday, NBC10) manages to be in two places at once as Pawnee's new councilwoman Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) goes to Washington to do a little lobbying - and a little canoodling - in an episode that gives me hope that her long-distance romance with Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) might actually work out. (It also includes a trio of "Saturday Night Live"-level D.C. cameos.)

Meanwhile, back in Pawnee, Ron Swanson (Nick Offerman) tries to step into Leslie's shoes as the parks department's party planner-in-chief. So you know that's going to end well.

Contact Ellen Gray at graye@phillynews.com or 215-854-5950. Follow her on Twitter @elgray. Read her blog at EllenGray.tv.

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