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Originally published September 19, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 19, 2007 at 2:06 AM

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"K-Ville" captures reality of post-Katrina New Orleans too well

When Fox first announced that it was developing the TV series "K-Ville," my thinking was: I'll watch it until it ticks me off, then I'll never watch it again.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune

On TV

"K-Ville," 9 p.m. Mondays on Fox.

NEW ORLEANS — When Fox first announced that it was developing the TV series "K-Ville," my thinking was: I'll watch it until it ticks me off, then I'll never watch it again.

I assumed that my intolerance mark would be reached before the first commercial break, if not during the opening credits.

Was I worried about the message? Worried about the collective effect on my city? Worried about clichés and misrepresentations?

Worried about the accents?

Well, yes, yes, yes and definitely yes. But, to allay any of these fears, I also assumed "K-Ville" would be what every other New Orleans TV series (with the notable exception of "Frank's Place") has been, which is really bad TV, so its net effect on psyche, mood and tourism would be pretty much moot once it got canceled after three episodes.

And now, funny — I'm worried that it might get canceled after three episodes.

The problem is this: I liked the show, which premiered Monday night. I liked it a lot. The producers promised us when they started filming this thing that they were working hard to "get it," and when you watch it, you realize they came close.

Maybe too close.

Yeah, there are some stupid names (A rich man named Rex Dubois? Are you kidding me?) and there's a voodoo shop scene and a few other minor offenses that drive locals crazy, but if you watch this thing — listen to this thing — you realize maybe creator Jonathan Lisco and the other producers and writers, maybe they got the reality of post-Katrina New Orleans too much.

I remember when the show was announced, it was described in some quarters as a New Orleans version of HBO's "The Wire," watered down for prime-time network broadcast. This worried me. I've seen "The Wire" only once, and I found it compelling, provocative, extremely edgy and inarguably entertaining, but I also realize that no one who ever watched an episode turned to his or her significant other afterward and said, "What say we go visit Baltimore sometime soon?"

"The Wire," quite frankly, makes Baltimore look like hell on earth. And "K-Ville" indeed does a yeoman's job of showing just how messed up everything and everyone around here is and somehow manages to do it without making the characters look like pathetic victims.

The star, the cop — Marlin Boulet — is our everyman, the true believer, the guy who bleeds New Orleans. He's angry that his neighbors are moving away, and he's angry that his partner deserted during the storm, and he's angry that the kids he knows are reduced to petty crime (I have a feeling that stealing cypress trees won't be the worst thing kids do on this show) and, more than anything else, he's angry that his wife wants to live somewhere else.

She says, "I'm not having the conversation for the 82nd time."

He says, "What's so great about Atlanta?"

She says, "Nothing. But at least it isn't here."

She says their child gets terrified just when it rains now, and he says, "There's weather in Atlanta."

I have heard this conversation myself 82 times. It falls around me like rain, in coffee shops, schoolyards and grocery stores.

The show's opening scenes of the rescues and chaos in the levee breaches' immediate aftermath sent me reeling. Its wild visual ride from heartbreaking scenes of physical and emotional wreckage to uplifting images of jazz fundraisers and neighborhood "gumbo parties" left me searching, reeling, remembering. Not quite crying, but if it pushed more buttons, I could have been.

Admittedly, I watched Monday's premiere episode twice and still don't really have any idea what the connection was between the evil socialite real-estate baron and the casino security mercenaries, but I was chilled to the bone when Rex's daughter said this:

"We're supposed to rebuild their neighborhood? Rebuild their pathetic schools and their crappy homes? Why? So we can bring home all these people who have no value for human life? The storm wasn't a disaster; it was a cleansing."

Only on fictional TV can someone utter aloud a despicable sentiment that so many silently hold true.

Her dad tells her, "Just stop talking."

Yeah, I guess.

Discomfiting TV, indeed.

I have no idea how "K-Ville" will play in Peoria. My guess is that there are more appealing entertainment vehicles out there for the American public — starting with "Monday Night Football," which airs directly opposite "K-Ville" — than a couple of broken cops finding their footing in post-Katrina New Orleans.

Marlin Boulet's partner tells him: "You've got issues, man." And that's sort of the underlying theme of the show — cops with issues. Katrina issues. And it might just be too New Orleans for general tastes.

It provoked me, and truthfully, very few shows can do that. Largely, I am an elitist who thinks TV is mostly stupid and lacks the ability to reach the emotional core. "K-Ville" reached mine.

For now. My general disdain for prime-time TV is such that I'm resigned to the inevitability that in episode two or three or somewhere along the line, "K-Ville" will descend into ignominy and become a wincing parody of New Orleans' crime and politics.

Maybe it will turn out like the Saints: What I thought I saw at first is not really what's there.

I don't know. Perhaps I've lost perspective. I admit to falling into that category of person that makes most of the rest of this country uncomfortable: I'm not over it.

But I know that I like this character Marlin, the cop, because he is us, writ large for TV: a simple, troubled man in a morally ambiguous world that, on its surface, seems to hold so little promise, just trying to get by, sustained by and helping to sustain a people who hold together and refuse to surrender.

I know the feeling. I just wonder if anyone else in America cares.

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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