David Mills, an Emmy-winning writer and producer who worked on acclaimed shows including NYPD Blue, Homicide: Life on the Street, The Corner and The Wire, died yesterday at age 48, of a brain aneurysm. His death comes less than two weeks before his newest series—Treme, co-created by his longtime colleague and friend David Simon—premieres on HBO. In addition to these series, Mills created the mob drama Kingpin for NBC, wrote the incisive pop-culture blog Undercover Black Man and was a reporter for The Washington Post, perhaps best known for his controversial 1992 interview with Sister Souljah of Public Enemy.
Critic Alan Sepinwall, a personal friend of Mills’, posted a lovely remembrance at his blog today. I just saw Mills a few weeks ago in New Orleans, visiting the set of Treme, an excellent new series for which he wrote some episodes and was a co-executive producer. The scene they were shooting that day, ironically, was a jazz funeral, in a cemetery in Gretna. There are several such funerals over the course of Treme’s first season, and Mills had a perceptive, and now poignant, insight on the role of the jazz funeral–starting with a mournful procession, ending with a celebratory “cakewalk” by the brass band–in Treme’s narrative structure and in New Orleans culture:
Thematically, this is a show about that very thing. It’s about a city that’s been dealt a horrible blow. But it’s not about the horrible blow. It’s about the getting back up and moving forward with life, with your spirit intact. And that is what the cakewalk away from the cemetery represents. The dead person is buried and now this is about the moving on and the carrying forward and the maintenance of the community spirit.
An outsider might expect the tone of the funeral, and of Treme itself, to be more somber. But, Mills told me, “That just ain’t what New Orleans is about.”
From the first three episodes I’ve seen, Mills–with co-creators Simon and Eric Overmyer and the rest of the creative team–made a show wholly in that indefeatable spirit. In addition to being a celebration of an indomitable city, the season is now also a celebration of an outstanding TV writer who died too young.
RIP, David Mills. Strike up the band.