“Won’t bow, don’t know how.”
More than any other show, Treme captures the very soul of the city it is set in. Where The Wire may have presented the city of Baltimore as one of the supporting players in the series, Treme is New Orleans. The haunting percussion and brass of the musicians, the lyrical shorthand of its citizens, the quiet desperation of pride after destruction, rampant political corruption and unchecked crime mix together to form an eclectic jazz tempo that makes up the heartbeat of the Crescent City.
If you are not familiar with the series, this isn’t episodic or serial television. It doesn’t neatly wrap up the story at the end of each episode or even at during the season finale. It is loose and undone, yet it flows like transcendent poetry enveloping the senses and carries you down its streets like a drunken parade. This is a visual and audible feast sweeter than King Cake on Fat Tuesday.
Treme: The Complete Second Season picks up not long after Season One, fourteen months after Katrina devastated New Orleans, most of the characters from the first season return, minus one suicidal major character; including struggling trombonist, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce), Mardis Gras Indian chief, Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), his son, Delmond (Rob Brown), civil rights lawyer, Toni Bernette (Oscar winner Melissa Leo), her rebellious teenage daughter, Sofia (India Ennenga), radio DJ, Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens), bar owner, LaDonna Williams (Khandi Alexander), French Quarter street musicians, Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Sonny (Michiel Huisman), and, in an expanded role, NOPD lieutenant, Terry Colson (David Morse).
A new character, Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), plays a Dallas carpetbagger coming into town to exploit the reconstruction effort. Unfortunately, his is the only character which really doesn’t hold our interest, and I found myself hoping his arc would run out quickly. However, he does well represent the predatory influences which, with the help of rampant political corruption, preyed upon the New Orleans weak and wounded.
These character’s stories swirl and intermingle like a funky gumbo. As in the first season, there isn’t a lead character or story, because the series serves as an avatar of the city itself, but if you allow yourself to take the trip, you will be immersed in a viewing experience as nuanced and inimitable as New Orleans itself. The pacing of Treme: The Complete Second Season, like the first season, is measured with a narrative so free-flowing it stimulates your senses like the Jazz, Blues, Latin, Cajun, and Funk music ringing out into the streets from New Orleans’ myriad nightclubs.
As usual, HBO’s MPEG-4 AVC 1080p/AVC-encoded presentation, running an average of 28 Mbps in the aspect ratio of 1.78:1, is absolutely amazing. Colors are vivid and warm, with natural skin tones and sharp, layered blacks. Details are crisp and refined. There is no distortion, and the grain is natural, giving the scenes rich character. This is another of HBO’s stunning Blu-ray releases. If you are a fan of the series, you will be deeply pleased with the HD quality.
HBO’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track is simply as good as it gets. The music commands the LFE channel. Minute details immerse you in the surround like you were being baptized in Lake Pontchartrain. The dialog is perfectly clear no matter how hushed or buried in live music. The soundfield is breathtaking. Pans and surround dynamics are so natural you will feel you are walking the streets of the French Quarter. Of course the music itself is as much of a star as any of the actors. It is emotional, powerful and moving, perfectly mixed to highlight every haunting performance.
- Cast and Crew Audio Commentaries: There are four full-length episode commentaries:
- Accentuate the Positive with supervising producer/director Anthony Hemingway and actors Kim Dickens and Lucia Micarelli
- Carnival Time with director Brad Anderson and music supervisor Blake Leyh
- What Is New Orleans? with writer George Pelecanos and actors Clarke Peters and Rob Brown
- That’s What Lovers Do with creator/executive producer David Simon, executive producer Nina Noble, and actor Wendell Pierce
- Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans (HD): An on-screen menu allows access to information about each episode, including song and artist details, character bios, New Orleans vocabulary and slang glossaries, locale breakdowns, and culinary cuisine highlights.
- The Music of Treme (HD): Pop-up windows identify song titles and artist names.
- Music Commentaries: Every episode of Treme: The Complete Second Season include scene-specific commentary tracks with WBGO’s Josh Jackson and NPR Music’s Patrick Jarenwattananon.
- The Art of Treme (HD, 33:00): Tulane University Associate Professor Joel Dinerstein hosts a Q&A panel with Treme co-creators/executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer and actor Clarke Peters Tulane University associate professor Beretta Smith-Shomade and New Orleans performance artist Gian Smith.
- Behind Treme: Food for Thought (HD, 9:00): John Besh, Alon Shaya and other notable chefs and culinary consultants explore the food and culture of New Orleans, the role of cuisine in the series, and share stories about how local chefs survived in post-Katrina Louisiana.
- Behind Treme: Clarke Peters and the Mardi Gras Indians (HD, 9:00): Clarke Peters and Mardis Gras Indian chief Otto Dejean talk about the Guardians of the Flame, the origins and traditions of the Mardi Gras Indians, and the secret language and subtleties shared by the Guardian members.
Treme continues to be one of the finest television series on the air, but it won’t be everyone’s cup of tea. I don’t recommend starting with the second season if you haven’t seen the first. If you are a fan of the series, you already understand the sublime experience each episode presents. If you are expecting neat story arcs and episodic wrap-ups you will be deeply disappointed. Treme simply moves at its own pace, the pace of New Orleans. If I have one criticism it is that the despondent nature of some of characters can be a bit depressing, but that is simply life in the Crescent City after Hurricane Katrina. Treme: The Complete Second Season is highly recommended, boasting great repeat viewing value, particularly if you are a jazz fan.
“Even if it isn’t as it should be, even if they make it hard, where else would we go? Who else would have us?”