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QUIET FURY Khandi Alexander's performance is one of the jewels of HBO's Treme.
From the beginning, Treme has been too much — too many stories, too many angles, too many scenes. But I guess that's like New Orleans, the city it purports to cover in the weeks, months, and now years after the city was hit by Katrina. In his previous masterpiece, The Wire, creator David Simon bit off one sub-culture at a time and built outwards — the drug dealers, the cops, the schools, the press. But what choice did he have with the story of New Orleans after Katrina but to start big and stay big — a holistic view with just too much going on. Forget the linearity of a crime drama, this was the melodrama of an entire metropolis, with drugs and crime and corruption, but also food and music. In fact, if you want to try to reduce season 3 at all (which begins this Sunday at 10 on HBO), you could say it's all about food, music, and real estate.

It's 25 months after the storm, and the money is starting to come back. The Wire gave us the beautiful ambiguity of making us sympathize with bad men — who didn't want to be as cool as Stringer Bell or adopt the motto "Omar don't scare"? Here, the truly bad guys — the murderers — are plain to see. What's more insidious are the civic boosters — they want to help the city and make a buck, too. It's sometimes hard to suss out these sleazebags — I mean, they're really trying to help rebuild the city, right? "A lot of money changes hands, a few people get rich, but nothing get's done," says one character about the city's intractable corruption.

A lot of the third season is about selling out. Erstwhile chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) is lured back to town by an entrepreneur promising her name above the door. Young jazz man Delmond Lambreaux (Rob Brown) gets a chance to go in on a new jazz center at the city's historic Congo Square and Armstrong Park. And roots musician Annie Tee (Lucia Micarelli) sees her chance for the big time. There's ambivalence in all these temptations — who's holding out the apple, after all? Or, as someone says in the season finale, "When people start thinking that money is the answer, then you get a whole other set of problems."

There's heavier stuff going on here, too, and the threat of violence sustains narrative tension throughout the season — bar owner LaDonna Batiste-Williams (the magnificent Khandi Alexander), wants the men who beat and raped her to go to jail, and a too-vulnerable looking young white freelance reporter (Chris Coy), may be getting in over his head trying to implicate the police in two unsolved suspicious deaths from the time of the storm.

At times, the web of corruption, the sleazy practices of contractors and developers, becomes almost overwhelming. And that's another element to this story: a muckraking narrative about an American city. (In fact, the story of fictional freelancer L.P. Everett is based on the work of Nation contributor A.C. Thompson.) As if you didn't understand the broader implications of this story in 21st century America, one character even anticipates one of Elizabeth Warren's complaints: "The game is rigged."

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