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From David Simon, creator of The Wire and Generation Kill, and Eric Overmeyer, writer-producer of Homicide and Law & Order, Treme is set in post-Katrina New Orleans. It chronicles the struggles of a diverse group of residents as they rebuild their lives and their city. Treme, pronounced Truh-may, takes its title from the name of one of the city's oldest neighborhoods, an historically important source of African-American music and culture. (From the HBO synopsis)

 Treme: The Complete Second Season
There's a beautiful moment in the opening scene of Treme's second season. A young boy passes by a graveyard playing his trumpet. Again and again, he plays the opening four notes of 'When the Saints Go Marching In'. It doesn't sound quite right and he never progresses further in the song, but he persists without wasting a moment. Nearby the Mardi Gras Indian Chief, Albert Lambreaux, is working to restore a gravestone. He stops working to watch the boy for a moment, captivated, and then gently nods to himself. No words, narration or character interactions are necessary to convey the feeling. At that precise moment, he understands the young boy's heart and how he embodies the city of New Orleans - imperfect and struggling, but slowly getting better, and more soulful and proud than ever. Treme is a show filled with great dialogue and character interactions, but its perceptive moments like this one that stick with me long after the season ends.

My first experience with Treme was during the 2010 Austin Film Festival when creator David Simon came to the Alamo Drafthouse with an uncut version of the pilot. I wasn't sure what I thought of it. At the time it was my first encounter with the work of David Simon, and it's clear that his work needs to be viewed in its entirety to develop a full understanding and appreciateion for it. I corrected my crime of not having seen The Wire shortly after. Much like that series, Treme is a painstakingly authentic and detailed look at how a city operates on multiple levels. It's a love letter and a critical look at a uniquely proud culture on the mend. Simon populates his take on post-Katrina New Orleans with a varied cast of characters that span every class and cover multiple aspects of the cities rich heritage. Season one had the stubbornly proud Mardi Gras Indian Chief (Clarke Peters), a slew of musicians (Lucia Micarelli, Steve Zahn, Wendell Pierce, Rob Brown, Michiel Huisman), a struggling chef (Kim Dickens), an outspoken writer (John Goodman), his lawyer wife (Melissa Leo) and many more developed characters performed effortlessly. These characters all have some sort of pain in their lives, and Treme is an engrossing exploration of their rehabilitation process and a testament to the healing power of culture and community that resonates with a clairty few dramas ever achieve.

 Treme: The Complete Second Season
Season two continues the trend and resumes following the lives of these characters, but now there is more focus on the rising crime in the city, some time devoted to the school system and the way politicians and contractors look for opportunity in the wake of the storm. Lieutenant Terry Colson (a David Morse at the top of his game) becomes a bigger character in this season, and it is a very welcome change to the show. He plays an honorable lieutenant who wants to do his job effectively but leave the culture of New Orleans intact. Another interesting new character is Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), a playboy businessman from Dallas who is making a lot of contracting money by buying up properties. You're initial instinct is to be suspicious of him, but there's a genuine side of him that surfaces from time to time as he samples the culture and begins to fall for it. It allows the writers to explore the business opportunities in post-Katrina New Orleans and create an interesting enigmatic character at the same time. I was reminded of Carcetti from The Wire. David Simon is an expert craftsman, and his greatest strength is making characters feel so real. I'm guilty of wondering how the characters are doing when the show isn't airing. I want to follow up more on what is happening with characters and rant about how much I love them, but its difficult without spoiling revelations in season one.

If I remember clearly, David Simon said that he made this show specifically for the people of New Orleans, and what they thought of it was ultimately what mattered to him. I'd love to hear what some people from New Orleans think of the series. As an outsider, it makes me want to visit the city to soak in some of the local music and cuisine that has thrived for many years, but the show does right by the city by exploring the flaws as well. At one point a character watches some happy citizens strolling out of a bar in celebration. "That's pure New Orleans right there", he tells his friend. Cop cars race by with their sirens on. "That's New Orleans too", he replies. For a while, when people were returning to New Orleans just after Katrina, crimes weren't happening as much. There was a pride and dignity among those who returned that left no room for it. There was some crime in season one, but it is evident right from the beginning that crime is on the rise in season two. The school system and the politics of the region weren't in ideal shape. Citizens and politicians alike were optimistic that this could lead to positive change - that they'd been given a clean slate after Katrina. The writing poses questions to insurance companies and politicians who have let the people down in a way that doesn't come off as preachy, and that's a difficult feat. It's this balanced world view where there are good and bad people in every walk of life that made The Wire so rich and authentic. Treme carries over that trait and manages to have a personality of its own; focusing much more on the culture of the region instead of exploring the political infrustructure. Some will be drawn to it naturally. Those who love southern music and are already fans of New Orleans culture will find plenty to like. Every episode is loaded with a wonderfully diverse array of blues and jazz music, so if that's your genre you'll eat up this lively celebration of the culture. This is the kind of television that deserves to be rewarded. It isn't fueled by gimmicks. There are no serial killer blood analysts or family man drug traffickers; just fantastic writing and character-driven stories that are all too rare in modern television.

 Treme: The Complete Second Season

Video


Treme arrives with a strong 1080p video transfer that lives up to the standard HBO has set with recent releases. Each hour-long episode is approximately 14 GB on the Blu-ray disc. Like Mad Men and Boardwalk Empire, the show is filmed in 35 mm, and I love the look of it. Compared to most film, it mostly looks very clean. There is some very light grain during most scenes that becomes much more noticeable in the darker scenes or against the big blue sky. Colour is a big part of the culture. The sea of purples, yellows and greens during a Mardi Gras parade look great, and there's enough extravagant costumes to make sure every colour makes an appearance; sometimes in the same shot. The lighting is all very natural. There aren't many stylistic touches to the show. You'll find no colour filters or shifts in formats. Things look the way they should. Skin tones have a very natural look and whites look pure and bright. Black levels aren't perfect, but they're close. You occasionally see some blocking and unattractive blotchy artefacts in the darker indoor scenes with the harsh stage lights (see the bottom left of screen cap 6). Blocking aside, the picture is free of any other flaws and digital tinkering. It looks great and does its job bringing the colourful city to life.

Audio


Treme is a busy and boisterous show. There's tons of music, loud club scenes and street parades. There's also a lot of quiet drama. This DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track represents both with incredible clarity. It's louder than most DTS-HD tracks, especially during songs. Instruments sound crystal clear and separate from one another. Brass horns, drum beats and guitar solos all blend wonderfully into a spacious sound scape that could've easily been just a bunch of layered noise. It makes soaking in the passionate musicianship on display so much easier. It's a pure joy to listen to. Surround channels are almost constantly at work during busy scenes with background chatter, passing vehicles, distant sirens and more. During a street celebration you can hear a lot of appropirately leveled racket going on behind you. Dialogue is never drowned out by the loud music, always keeping to the front speakers and sounding extraordinarily clear. It's everything you could want from an audio track, and a wonderful representation of the show's exceptional music.

 Treme: The Complete Second Season

Extras


Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans is a neat in-episode feature that basically gives you an encyclopedia of information for each episode. It works like your average Blu-ray pop-up menu, but it has listings for the Music, Players (Characters), Lexicon (cultural terms), Locale (locations filmed) and Cuisine contained in each episode. So if a reference flies over your head or you hear the name of a food dish you don't recognize, this is your go to. Simon has admitted that he puts a lot of jokes and references that are unique to the locale of New Orleans in the show, so this is a valuable tool for anybody looking to comprehend every detail.

Music of Treme, much like the previous feature, is an in-episode guide that provides on-the-fly information about a song currently playing in the episode. With so much rich music from a variety of under-known performers, this is an excellent supplement. Hear a song you really enjoy? Turn this on and get all the information you'll ever need for it.

 Treme: The Complete Second Season
Cast and Crew Audio Commentaries vary from episode to episode. Episode 1 features Supervising Producer/Director Anthony Hemingway, Kim Dickens and Lucia Micarelli. The audio is split up in an unusual way, with Kim Dickens speaking from the left, Lucia Micarelli speaking from the right and Anthony Hemingway in the center. It bugged me at first, but I grew used to it quickly enough. It's a pretty laid back track full of laughter and reminiscing about the locals they filmed with, but there's never a dull moment in it and Hemingway speaks with a contagious enthusiasm about the project. Episode 7 features a commentary with director Brad Anderson and music supervisor Blake Leyh. Episode 9 has one with writer George Pelecanos, Clarke Peters, and Rob Brown. Lastly, Episode 11 has a commentary track with creator/executive producer David Simon, executive producer Nina Noble, and Wendell Pierce. I didn't have time to check out every audio commentary track in it's entirety, but the variety of crew, writers and cast members is nice.

Music Commentaries are available for every single episode. They serve a very educational purpose. WBGO's Josh Jackson and NPR Music's Patrick Jarenwattananon comment on select musical performances and provide some insight into the musical style on display. There isn't much happening on the audio track during other scenes, so its best just to switch over when there is a song playing you want to know more about. It's a very valuable feature for those interested in the music.

 Treme: The Complete Second Season
The Art of Treme (HD, 33:03): Is an interview hosted at Tulane University with creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer, along with actor Clarke Peters. The discussion focuses mostly on the origin of the show and what it is going for, as well as the portrayal of politics and culture in the show. Clarke Peters talks about how he researched his role as the Indian Chief and brings a lot of comic relief to the proceedings. They also discuss some plot points from season one. The audience asks some questions which the creators answer with great insight, and everything wraps up with a cultural performance.

Behind Treme: Food for Thought (HD, 09:21) is a short but sweet exploration of chefs from New Orleans and the importance that food plays in the culture of the region. Chefs and food consultants talk about how chefs got back on their feet, and were back into New Orleans as soon as they could be; cooking on the streets in the wake of Katrina's destruction. It's a nice tribute, and I wish it was longer.

Behind Treme: Clarke Peters & the Mardi Gras Indians (HD, 08:56): This is another small featurette that focuses on actor Clarke Peters, who plays Mardi Gras Indian Chief, Albert Lambreaux. He speaks with an actual chief about the real Mardi Gras Indians, and Peters speaks about the intensive practice he did to get the role right. He seems very honored and devoted to his role. They also discuss just how tedious putting together the Indian suits is. Every detail, from the way the feathers flow to the sizes of each bead is heavily scrutinized. It's a quick special feature, but it serves as a nice little history lesson on a big part of New Orleans tradition.

 Treme: The Complete Second Season

Overall


With most shows it is really easy to compare two seasons and pick which one I like more. With Treme, the characters are so wonderfully written and consistently believable that I just feel like I'm visiting another chapter in their lives. It's a beautiful, well-rounded show that deserves to be seen and embraced by a large audience, whether you love New Orleans or just have a hint of curiosity (as I did prior to season one). If you're already a fan of New Orleans traditions and music, you have no excuse to miss it. HBO delivers a top notch Blu-ray release as usual, with crisp video and some of the best audio I've heard in a long time. Special features feel just shy of greatness, but there are some neat in-episode referencing tools and enough educational extras to satisfy those looking to learn more.

* Note: The above images are taken from the Blu-ray release and resized for the page. Full-resolution captures are available by clicking individual images, but due to .jpg compression they are not necessarily representative of the quality of the transfer.


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