Amid the ruins of an American city, ordinary people – musicians, chefs, residents – find themselves clinging to a unique culture and wondering if the city that gave birth to that culture still has a future. From the creators of The Wire comes a new series about adversity and the human spirit, set in New Orleans, in the aftermath of the greatest man-made disaster in American history. Welcome to Treme.
Three months after Hurricane Katrina laid waste to the great Gulf Coast city of New Orleans, American sentiment about the tragedy started to wane. The national television crews dispersed. The federal government all but moved out, and help was even harder to come by. In short, America at large moved on to other pressing matters and forgot about all those displaced, unfortunate souls still living in New Orleans. Still trying to rebuild. Still struggling to survive.
Cue the critically acclaimed show creator from David Simon, who brought the widely popular and much-loved 'The Wire' to HBO. With his newest creation, 'Treme', Simon has set his sights on an all-but-destroyed New Orleans and its residents, who are fighting for the survival of their city and its deep-rooted culture. He uses the storm's aftermath as the backdrop for his wide variety of infinitely likable and relatable characters.
Ladonna (Khandi Alexander) is a woman who's looking for her brother who's been missing since the storm. He may have been locked up in police custody when the storm hit, and now with all the records washed away, no one seems to know where he's gone. Ladonna's ex-husband Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) is a struggling trombone player who makes his living from one gig to the next. Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) is a lawyer who pops in and out of each character's life, helping them with their legal problems. She's intent on finding Ladonna's brother. Toni's husband Creighton (John Goodman) is an English teacher at Tulane University, and he's fed up with the way the federal government mishandled the Katrina disaster. Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn) is a local radio jockey who loves each and every little thing about New Orleans, and makes it known where ever he goes. He's dating a local restaurant owner named Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) who's struggling to keep her business afloat in the wake of the hurricane. Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and Sonny (Michiel Huisman) are poor street musicians who play together on the corners of town for spare change. Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) has come back to New Orleans to keep the tradition of the Indians alive. He's a voice for the downtrodden, and wants the government to open up the projects that weren't damaged in the storm.
I know it seems like a mountain of characters to keep track of, but Simon and his writing crew effortlessly weave their stories together into a narrative filled with soul and heart. I haven't watched a show before where I've felt so invested in the characters. They come alive, and Simon is wise enough to let them speak for themselves. Following them through the first eight episodes is a treat, but it isn't until the last two episodes that the full weight of the series hits you like a gale-force wind. During those final two episodes you realize that this is indeed a masterpiece of characterization. A beautiful brush stroke of humanity coming together when everything else seems lost.
The beauty of 'Treme' is also in the culture and tradition displayed throughout the series. New Orleans is steeped in culture, and by the time you're through with 'Treme' you may feel – like I did – a strange connection to the place even though you've never been there. Jazz music and parades fill the show. The New Orleans food looks delicious. It's all there to show us that it truly is an original place worth saving. Full of friendly people worth helping.
Simon doesn't pull any punches. He makes it clear what he thinks about how the government responded to the crisis, especially through Creighton's numerous YouTube rants. But, he doesn't focus solely on the mistakes that were made. He focuses on the will of the people to triumph over adversity. He draws our attention to seemingly ordinary people doing extraordinary things. That's not to say the show views life in the Big Easy through rose-tinted glasses. At times the show is tough, almost excruciating, to watch. These characters suffer injustice after injustice. They're depressed, and fighting for survival. They want their city to be great once again, but the deck is insurmountably stacked against them.
I'd never watched 'Treme.' Now I know what all the fuss is about. This show isn't just a show, it's a treasure. It's a journey into a world that many of us know nothing about. It's a beautiful, but unflinching look at humanity. It will suck you from the very first episode and when the credits role on the last episode you may – like I did – feel physically and emotionally drained. When we finished the season, I turned to my wife and saw her gently sobbing. 'Treme' is a personal and emotional investment. This isn't a show to be taken lightly. It requires something from you. It requires you to care.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Treme' comes housed on four discs. Disc one and four have two episodes each while discs two and three each have three episodes. They come packaged in a cardboard foldout that gives a disc hub for every disc. The foldout slips nicely into a cardboard sleeve.
HBO constantly puts out great looking Blu-ray video presentations, and 'Treme's 1080p presentation stays true to that track record.
The show is wonderfully detailed, peppered with the bright colors of Bourbon Street which are contrasted by the gloomy look of the outlying neighborhoods. The destruction of the Hurricane has washed away many of the houses, and we're left with earth-colored rubble. The earth tones are rich and bold, even though the destruction isn't pretty to look at. However, when the parades start marching all sorts of colors pop off the screen with vibrant clarity. Purple, green, and gold are present almost everywhere. The feathery Indian costumes are simply amazing to behold. Chief Lambreaux's purple and red suit is both intimidating and eye-catching. The colors are stunning.
Detail is top-notch here too. Long, elegant feathers that make up many of the costumes are clearly defined. They ebb and flow with the movements of their wearers, creating a trance-like effect. Tiny specks of powdered sugar on benyas are visible. Close-ups hold marvelous facial detail. Blacks are deep, making delineation superb. Skintones always seem natural even though many of the characters spend their time in the sun-soaked outdoors.
Artifacting is kept at bay. In the second episode there is a scene where Chief Lambreaux is driving into town. There are a couple shots of him that seem to harbor an inordinate amount of noise crawling over his face. This is the only instance of this happening during the presentation. The only other minor gripe I had with this presentation is that on more than a few occasions suit jackets or tightly-lined shirt patterns flicker and shimmer constantly when they're on screen. There's a moment in the final episode where Creighton is talking to his class and his tiny checkered sport jacket throbs incessantly. It's a bit distracting at times. Although, with those two things being my only real complaints, the rest of this video presentation will please anyone who watches it.
HBO's DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is, in one hyphenated word, demo-worthy. This is as good as audio quality gets on Blu-ray. It helps that the show is packed full of wonderful jazz performances, marching bands, and beautiful vocals.
Dynamics are stunning. Listening to this track is like being smack-dab in the middle of a rocking jazz club. Trumpets blare and trombones blow as each distinct instrument is mixed perfectly. Music seep through all the channels giving the soundfield an immersive environment. Large crowds, busy restaurants, raucous concerts, reveling partiers, and surging parades will all test the limits and fidelity of your rear channels. Gulls caw in the distance when Creighton and his young daughter visit the coastline. The audio presentation is just as detailed and nuanced as the video presentation.
Dialogue is perfectly presented through the front and center channels. Directionality is spot-on, keeping track of a wide variety of people and sounds that are constantly coming in and out of frame. LFE rumbles to life during the opening credits and never lets up. Whenever someone runs along a bass line with their cello or beats a bass drum, the sub pumps out full-bodied low-end sonics that seem to only exist during concerts.
Like the show itself, the audio presentation here is nothing short of perfect. This is definitely a set that you'll use to show off your system.
Spread across all the discs there are commentaries for a select five episodes in the season. The first episode "Do You Know What it Means" features David Simon and co-producer Eric Overmyer. Here they introduce how the show was originally thought up. When the two of them were working on 'Homicide' they wanted to do a show set in New Orleans, and they finally got their chance. They're a quiet duo, often pointing out obvious things, which gets a little tired after a while.
The next commentary comes on episode three where actors Wendell Pierce and Khandi Alexander are joined by TV Critic Alan Sepinwall. The commentary starts off on a light-hearted note as Pierce exclaims that the sex scene that begins the movie was a "gift". The two actors talk about their relationships with David Simon and how they worked with him in 'The Wire'.
The eighth episode, is where you'll find the next commentary. Overmyer returns, this time accompanied by producer/director Anthony Hemingway. They talk about shooting locations, and how they had to shoot the music live instead of being recorded in the studio. They talk about the difficulties that involved. It's a pretty sparse track actually. Both of them are pretty quiet leaving stretches of silences. They also point out pretty obvious things happening on scene instead of describing them.
Both episodes nine and ten have commentaries. The ninth episode features writer George Pelecanos and John Goodman. One of the most interesting aspects of this commentary is they talk about writer's block and how difficult it is. I was disappointed in this commentary because the episode is very personal to Goodman's character, but not a lot of description is given during important events.
The last episode's commentary is given by Simon and executive producer Nina Noble. Another quiet commentary. Simon gives cursory information about the episode and the music used in it like "My Indian Red". They also talk about the very important flashback sequence, and how they didn't want it to feel like an unrealistic dream sequence.
What else is there left to say about 'Treme'? It's one of the most moving television shows I've ever watched. It draws you in with its characters and doesn't rely on engineered suspense to keep you intrigued. It's a beautiful portrait of humankind and what American culture can overcome. Its video is superb, but it's audio is out-of-this-world amazing. There's a good helping of informative special features that fans will love. This set comes highly recommended for anyone who wants to get into one of the best shows on TV.