Creator David Simon (The Wire and Generation Kill) has never been a show runner concerned about cliffhangers or plot twists; instead he thrusts his viewers into the day-to-day life of the everyday Joe and shows that real life generates more conflict than most fiction can ever deliver. Ever since I first watched The Wire I’ve considered myself a fan of Simon’s work, and I feel it could be argued that what Simon did with The Wire is a large factor in why we have the quality of television that we do today. With Treme he has given us an array of fleshed-out characters; whether they be real or fictional, they all come together to present this allegory of greed and corruption upon the backdrop of a city that is arguably the heart and soul of music.
In the show it has been 25 months since Katrina has torn through New Orleans, and the residents of Treme who have survived the storm are treading their way through the aftermath. The new season kicks off with trombonist, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) showing up for a Second Line memorial that is soon broken up by NOPD. There has always been a disconnect between the police/government and the people of Treme, but post-Katrina seems to have opened the floodgates for more corruption among the members of the NOPD and the city officials. This corruption introduces L.P. Everett (Chris Coy), a young journalist who is trying to uncover the truth behind suspicious deaths that have happened after Katrina that may or may not be connected to the police. L.P.’s investigation seems to have a connection to a case Toni (Melissa Leo) has been working since season 2, which already uncovered enough dirty cops in the NOPD.
If the politics come off a little heavy-handed, don’t worry, because there is plenty of that New Orleans music to lift your spirits and toe-tap your way through scenes. The fiddle-playing street musician, Annie (Lucia Micarelli) has worked her way off the streets and into the bars playing real gigs with a band that she fronts. Of course we have DJ Davis (Steve Zahn) with a new scheme to make it big, and this time it centers on collecting all the old-school blues and jazz greats and putting them together for a blues opera. As for Antoine Batiste, he seems to have settled down with his ambitions of running his own band and has focused his attention to working with the school band he assisted in instructing back in season two. As for Delmon Lambreaux (Rob Brown) and Big Chief Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), they are coming off their Jazz/Indian album and are now being courted by city officials to help consult on a new music preservation center.
And for those who think I forgot about the taste of New Orleans, we have Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) still working for David Chang, but she continues to get offers to return to New Orleans to run her own kitchen. Before this show, I never could have imagined high-class cooking could ever be so engaging, but I believe that is due to the fact the show has renowned chef Anthony Bourdain on the writing staff.
In the wake of Hurricane Katrina, those who were ordered to flee their homes and livelihood make their return to New Orleans. The city the people would return to was in shambles, a city that no longer resembled the greatness of its former self. The National Guard policed the streets as crime ran rampant as those who returned struggled to pick up the pieces to their homes. This is where season 1 of Treme begins, from the creators of The Wire and Generation Kill.
The show wastes no time thrusting us into the heart of New Orleans as we meet trombone player Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) as he rushes to join up with a second line parade already in progress. He’s a hustler and a musician and does what he can to survive, and those are the qualities it seems to take to survive. We also meet Big Chief Albert Lambreaux (Clark Peters) who returns to find his home is deemed unlivable and he has to contend with FEMA and the government to simply survive. There is Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens), a chef trying to stay afloat as her customers are few and far between and her restaurant is on the cusp of closing on a daily basis. Fighting the good fight for New Orleans is Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) who has a full caseload, trying to help families separated by loved ones due to the storm and the treatment of inmates during the disaster. Every character has their own story of survival, and Treme is about just that, surviving when the odds are stacked against you, and when your home, your state, and your country seem to have turned their backs on you, it’s finding that extra push within to fight another day.
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 who 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.
Season 3 has the characters weaving in and out of one another’s lives in a much more fluid way, allowing us to see a clearer divide between our characters and the corruption and greed they are up against. There is so much going on this season that there is never a moment that feels as though it is filler; here every scene counts, and just about every scene is above all else that is on television. This is a show filled with brilliant writing, wonderful impactful performances, and direction that elevates the show to a caliber most dramas wish they could resemble for even a moment. Yet the show fails to gain in viewership, and that is frustrating. No, it doesn’t have the action of Breaking Bad or flesh-eating zombies, but it delivers more memorable moments and characters than most that is out there. Hopefully this is a show that will follow in the footsteps of The Wire and Generation Kill and discover its audience through the numerous other platforms that are available. This is a show that avoids sticking with the traditional conventions in storytelling and instead delivers an honest account of the aftermath of Katrina with some amazing music along the way.
It’s election time, when the United States is given its first opportunity to vote in a black president. By now we know the outcome of this election, but seeing the impact it has on our beloved characters of Treme is a whole other story. Big Chief Lambreaux continues to struggle with his cancer treatments and the sense of pride of surviving to see the day come that an African-American could be in office and that his vote could help get him there; this is a defining moment for the Big Chief. The celebration on the streets is under a watchful eye of the NOPD, but that’s fine, this too is a defining moment for all those who reside in the Treme.
With a condensed season, the writers use their time to wrap up their series by focusing on the stories that we’ve followed throughout, and they wisely don’t waste any time on simple filler. The scenes between Albert and his son Delmond as the two prepare for the inevitable is some of the best written and performed drama I’ve seen in years. The moments we get with them are precious as we watch Delmond try to compose a perfect piece of music worthy to be dedicated to his father as he awaits the birth of a child of his own. Even as the inevitable conclusion of their story arrives, it’s handled in such a way it’s hard to imagine a more fitting conclusion.
It’s not all doom and gloom in the Treme, as Janette continues to fight to make a restaurant of her own, and Toni Burnett makes headway on cases we’ve watched her work on from the opening episodes.
The character I feel makes the biggest arc throughout the show, seeing Antoine Batiste evolve from the womanizing trombone playing hustler to settling into the role of being a middle school teacher. This was the character where I felt the writers simply just nailed it in delivering a character for us to root for and enjoy watching him succeed as a parent, musician and teacher.
Has DJ Davis finally learned the error of his ways and accepted the responsibility of adulthood? Personally, I hope not; he’s a dreamer who though he’s around for a good laugh in the show, I felt his charm rested in the fact that he always ran the other way of responsibility, not because he couldn’t do it but simply because he accepted his lot in the world that he would always be around to chase the dream no matter how silly or noble that dream may be at the time.
Treme is presented in 16:9 in its original 1.78:1 ratio. The 1080p image is arrived at with an AVC MPEG-4 codec at the average of 25-32 mbps. This may be one of the best-looking shows out there, and they make it look so easy. The club scenes are warm and richly textured with plenty of depth and no grain that I could see. Usually you read about the attention to the black levels, but what got me to notice is how well the whites come through. When the cameras are in the kitchen there is so much white between the uniforms and the walls there would be concern for blowing out the image, but instead we get a detailed separation and still deliver natural skin tones. As for the exterior Mardi Gras parade scenes, all the bright, rich colors come through beautifully, where we can appreciate all the detail in the Indian costumes. Along with all the beautiful camera work throughout the show, where it is nearly impossible to tell a set from a real location; this is as good as it gets.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 is robust to say the least. The surround sound is immersive, especially during the performance scenes where not only do you get clarity of all the musicians, but everything is balanced well enough to hear the actors speak clearly. As for the scenes on the streets, what must have been a nightmare during the Second Line and other parade scenes, we get plenty of background noise but also the clarity of the performances. For the music lovers, this mix is a dream with this gumbo blend of music for your listening pleasure.
All of the features from the first three seasons are included. There are no new extras for season four except two commentary tracks.
Bonus Disc: On a special bonus disc in the set we get an assortment of performances from over the course of the series ranging from Dr. John, Elvis Costello with Allen Toussaint, John Hiatt, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers and many others. You get the option to play them all or you can scroll through to pick and listen to what you like. For the music lovers of the show this is a nice addition to an already great series.
These characters and so many more may come to an end for the show but as the final credits rolled I was left with nothing but optimism for them all. After all they all managed to survive this long, what really could knock them down at this point? Just as The Wire works as a piece to be viewed as a whole and not by its individual seasons or episodes, Treme is an achievement that is good from its opening to its final credits it is a celebration of survival and music. Despite the viewership, I hope this is a show that goes on and finds its audience whether it’s through Blu-Ray or Netflix; it’s a show that deserves its credit and to not be ignored.
Season 2 was provided by M.W. Phillips