TV Rewind: HBO’s Underrated Treme Is the Perfect Binge to Sate Your Appetite for More The Bear

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TV Rewind: HBO’s  Underrated Treme Is the Perfect Binge to Sate Your Appetite for More The Bear

Editor’s Note: Welcome to our TV Rewind column! The Paste writers are diving into the streaming catalogue to discuss some of our favorite classic series as well as great shows we’re watching for the first time. Come relive your TV past with us, or discover what should be your next binge watch below:

FX and Hulu’s The Bear scooped up a bunch of Emmy award nominations for its first season, and has just been renewed for a third. Praised for its realistic portrayal of a professional kitchen, The Bear’s basic components—the difficulties of running and restoring a restaurant, personal dramas of staff, the brutal physical labor required to support the ephemeral artistry of food—have all been present for more than a decade in HBO’s overlooked series Treme, which premiered in 2010. Set against the backdrop of New Orleans food culture and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, Treme never took off with audiences the way it deserved despite its creative team of The Wire’s Eric Overmyer and David Simon.

Treme is, no doubt, dominated by music, with major storylines following both newly-arrived street musicians and a beloved legacy trombonist living from gig to gig. Even the episodes that are focused on institutional corruption, Mardi Gras Indians, and opportunistic developers feature long stretches of music via concerts, jazz funerals, and studio rehearsal sessions.  

To be clear: there is a lot of music in Treme. This is true even if you love music. Even if you specifically love brass-forward New Orleans jazz music. Please be aware that there is a LOT of freaking music in this series. (Incidentally, there is also a lot of Steve Zahn, who plays Davis McAlary. A whole lot. Like, no matter how much you love Steve Zahn, there is so very much Steve Zahn on display here it will make you question the amount of love and devotion that you hold for Steve Zahn. And trust me, I love Steve Zahn.) 

The sheer amount of music in Treme may have been a barrier to entry for viewers, but tucked into this sprawling tale of a city’s collective grief and recovery is a full-on fairytale journey through the restaurant industry, complete with ogres, angels, and flames leaping from grill-tops. 

Treme’s various characters often overlap at Desautel’s, a charming and relaxed neighborhood restaurant serving accessible upscale cuisine created by its owner and chef, Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens). A recent entry in the town’s ever-expanding roster of lauded destination eateries, Desautel’s is nevertheless struggling upon reopening after the storm. The blessing of high customer demand at this time is undercut by staffing shortages and delayed flood damage insurance payments, while each week of operation involves begging meat and produce suppliers for credit, most of whom now demand cash on delivery.

Desautel’s remains open for business long enough for a surprise visit on a crowded night from a quartet of restaurant greats: Tom Colicchio, Eric Ripert, David Chang, and Wylie Dufresne. We get to see Janette’s quick thinking behind the kitchen door on how to instantly create something memorable for these VIPs while still keeping up with regular service on a busy night. As she tells her sous-chef: “We can’t out-New York a bunch of New York chefs—we lowball ’em!” A reworking of what’s left from the staff meal paired with grits, shrimp, and frozen rabbit kidneys (“They’re small, they’ll thaw fast”) forms the base of a meal that is well-received by the VIPs, and Colicchio’s offer to return the favor the next time she’s in New York becomes an important lifeline when Desautel’s is forced to shutter just weeks later.

Insurance money arrives too late to save Desautel’s but allows Janette to buy a trailer grill and do the “guerilla chef” thing for a while without worrying about employees or a mortgage. She cooks street-side at Carnival parades and backyard catering gigs, but when a sudden rainstorm completely washes out an outdoor event that she was already working at a loss, Janette decides to leave New Orleans.

Treme threads loss and betrayal through all of its storylines, conveying a compound interest-level network of grief that stems from the event of Katrina and attaches itself to each character’s life. Loss has followed Janette to New York, from getting her wallet emptied by a one-night-stand to learning that her flood-damaged house back in New Orleans has been broken into. Worse yet, she’s lost confidence in her chosen career. 

Janette seems to have put that business card Tom Colicchio gave her way-back-when to very good use, because her first job in New York is at the restaurant of Enrico Brulard (Victor Slezak), a meticulous artiste who is brilliant with food but abusive to his staff. Every cook in the kitchen risks becoming that evening’s punching bag for a chef who would rather lose customers by re-starting an entire order from scratch than send out one plate that’s less than perfect–seriously, Carmy would’ve had a meltdown every night of the week. 

In addition to stress, Brulard’s kitchen provides a necessary paycheck until a confluence of events involving a bowtied restaurant critic and an airborne Sazerac lead to Janette’s spectacular exit. 

Having experienced Hell on the line, Janette is due for a work environment closer to Heaven, finding it first at Le Bernardin (where Eric Ripert focuses on respect and craftsmanship), and later at Lucky Peach (where David Chang endlessly innovates with both food and swearing). 

There’s an electric delight in the scenes of new dishes being created, plated, and tasted, with fellow chefs freely giving their expletive-ridden congrats and best guesses as to what ingredients were involved; there is a true and infectious joy in the kitchen’s respect for artistry. Even so, Janette is still almost demure when presenting a dish, pushing it forward with a shrug and lowered lashes, but you can see how she always tries to watch that first bite taken, and see how it changes her demeanor—it’s the same wash of joy, relief, and pride seen on Sydney’s face when Sugar tastes her potato chip omelet.

New Orleans keeps calling to Janette, though; often literally, like when friend-with-benefits Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) calls to say Happy Mardi Gras, or that her former sous-chef’s been arrested. But the real message that comes through to her is realizing she wants her own place again.

Janette is eventually poached by a restaurant chain owner who wants her to run his new flagship spot in New Orleans. Knowing it is likely too good to be true but wanting to return home, Janette signs away more than she imagined and soon learns that money can’t solve every problem in the turbulent restaurant business. But even more than that, she learns how long a good meal can live in people’s memories, and how the chef who made it can gain a type of immortality from the effect food can have on even just one single person. 

Treme offers a fascinating, behind-the-scenes look at the restaurant industry with the added pressures of recovering from a catastrophic hurricane. Janette Desautel does indeed benefit from rare opportunities and benevolent mentors, but her journey retains more than enough grit to make Treme the perfect binge watch for foodies awaiting Season 3 of The Bear

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Paullette Gaudet is a Seattle-based freelance writer who loves TV and karaoke. You can follow her @PaulletteGaudet

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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