On The Box: Which American Super-Series Do You Like Best?

New Orleans musicians

Richard Lutz looks at those big mega-strand US tv shows and tries to figure out which is best.

A recent chat around the campfire brought up the debate of which of those powerhouse US series was liked best. There are five that spring to mind: The Sopranos, The Wire, Madmen, West Wing and, most recently, Treme.

Of course, this is not to denigrate in any way the stuff coming out of British TV- or for that matter these days, Scandinavian broadcasting. But the Yank stuff from  HBO and NBC has really been in the ascendancy for the past decade.

Each corners the market on big US issues:

The Sopranos is about the unending power and thuggery of  crime syndicates.

West Wing is about the sheer allure of American democracy.

The Wire covers  major urban issues; Madmen peers into the world of corporate advertising and; lastly, Treme digs deep into the social context of post Katrina New Orleans.

Everyone, it turned out, has a favourite in this American genre of big time multi strand stories strung out over four or five years’ worth of series.

I voted for Treme at Numero Uno. And I seem to be the only one. Simply put, all the others have a default setting.

The Sopranos and The Wire, good though they are in themselves, always fall back on gratuitous violence to quicken the storylines. If something is lagging, whip out a gun.  West Wing uses the romance of The White House to put a sheen on things. Madmen is about rich people getting richer off the back of 1960’s New York boomtimes.

They are all about outsize people.

But Treme, whose third series will hit UK screens soon, is about small people. Little people and their struggles. As  producer David Simon pointed out recently, the plotlines can hinge on the incidental: will a cult parade get its costumes sewn up in time? Will a restaurant remain open? Will a musician get a decent break?

In the minute details of people fighting to get back to normal, it creates the stage for stories that you or I can relate to. What would happen if our city… your city… is partially destroyed by flood or fire? Would we survive? Would we get our kids educated? Would we get our job back? Would we move out…and if we did, what would happen when we come back?

These small stories come packaged by music from real life musicians- names like Dr John, Allen Toussaint, Kermit Ruffins and Steve Earle are tattooed all over the show along with dozens of Louisiana sidemen most of us have never heard of.

So, to me, Treme is the best of the lot. No doubt, few agree. And that’s the perfect way for a barroom debate to gather pace.

Bring on Series 3 of Treme.