As Treme opens, a group of New Orleans residents are celebrating their first “second-line parade” since Hurricane Katrina blew through the city and across the Gulf Coast just three months earlier. Folks are strutting and dancing, a brass band is blowing a joyful noise–it’s a celebration of “NOLA’s” resilience and proud spirit (“Won’t bow–don’t know how,” as they say). But there’s darkness just below this shiny surface, and anyone familiar with The Wire, cocreator-writer David Simon’s last show, won’t be a bit surprised to find that he and fellow Treme writer-producer Eric Overmyer aren’t shy about going there. The New Orleans we see is a city barely starting to recover from what one character calls “a man-made catastrophe… of epic proportions and decades in the making.” Many people’s homes are gone, and insurance payments are a rumor. Other locals haven’t come back, and still others are simply missing. The people have been betrayed by their own government, and New Orleans’s reputation for corruption is hardly helped by the fact that the police force is in such disarray that the line between cop and criminal is sometimes so fine as to be nonexistent. Bad, but not all bad. NOLA still has its cuisine, its communities, and best of all its music, which permeates every chapter, from the Rebirth Brass Band’s “I Feel Like Funkin’ It Up” in episode 1 to Allen Toussaint and “Cha Dooky-Doo” in episode 10. There’s Dixieland and zydeco, natch, but also hip-hop and rock; there are NOLA stalwarts like Dr. John, Ernie K-Doe, Lee Dorsey, and the Meters (as well as appearances by Elvis Costello, Steve Earle, and others), but plenty of younger, lesser knowns, too. Whether we hear it in the street, in a club or a recording studio, at home, or anywhere, music is the lifeblood of the city and this series, and it’s handled brilliantly.

Studio: HBO Home Video
Year: 2010
Release Date: March 29, 2011
Run time: 632 minutes
Rating: G

Audio: DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1
Disc Spec: 4 BD
Region: 1

This is certainly one of the most ambitious television series in years, not just for the attempt to deal with post-Katrina New Orleans, but the incredible scope of feelings and emotions and music that at times overwhelm these episodes. Of course we all know that David Simon and Eric Overmyer are capable of great things, after giving us The Wire and The Corner but given that their roots are in Baltimore, you might think that New Orleans is a bit of a stretch for them. Not at all, as it turns out. Thanks to some very thoughtful research, a great appreciate for the city and the Faubourg Treme in particular, they have produced one of the most insightful television shows of this generation.

The series is broken up over ten episodes with the first and last episodes directed by the incomparable Agnieszka Holland. She seems to capture the theme of the show the best, maintaining a looser style and letting the music carry the episodes. Other directors like Ernest Dickerson (Right Place, Wrong Time) and Anthony Hemingway (All on a Mardi Gras Day) tend to focus more specifically on certain characters. They all bring their unique brand of storytelling to the series, principally written by Simon and Overmyer.

The acting is a little uneven. The stories pretty much revolve around a nucleus of key characters, not much unlike Northern Exposure. These characters embody different characteristics of this great city, ranging from the Lower 9th Ward to the French Quarter to the Garden District. Khandi Alexander as Ladonna Batiste-Williams represents the strength and resilience of the badly ruined Lower 9th Ward, trying to rebuild her bar, while Wendell Pierce as her ex-husband Antoine Batiste struggles to find gigs, introducing us to the wealth of music in the city ranging from Kermit Ruffins, formerly of the Rebirth Brass Band, to the legendary Allen Toussaint, who all appear in the series. On the other side of the city we have Steve Zahn and Kim Dickens, as Davis and Jeanette, trying to build on a one night stand, while both of them struggle to regain their bearings after the flood.

Davis is a DJ at WWOZ, which does live streaming on the Internet, and Jeanette struggles to get her restaurant going again with the help of Ntare Mwine as JacQues Vaz. Anchoring down the Garden District is John Goodman and Melissa Leo as Creighton and Toni Bernette with their daughter Sofia (India Ennenga). Sonny and Annie cover the more familiar streets of the French Quarter, playing at street corners. Sonny (Michiel Huisman), a Dutch national has adopted New Orleans, bringing Annie (Lucia Micarelli) down with him from New York, but struggles to match Annie’s prowess on the violin.

Movie Quality: 9/10

Print/Audio Quality

The print is presented in 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 with a 1:78:1 aspect ratio. Colors are vivid and rich throughout the entire presentation. Fleshtones are natural without any digital work. Blacks also have an inky look to them. Details are exceptional showcasing what a great print that Paramount has put together. There is some grain throughout the film, which isn’t distracting at all.
Print Quality: 8.5/10

The audio is presented in a DTS-HD MA lossless 5.1 mix. his film is a dialogue driven film. Dialogue was clean through the center channel with a nice degree of depth. I never had to raise or lower the volume to make out what was being said. The soundfield does get a few effects into play, but nothing major. The soundtrack takes advantage of the soundfield with audio also lightly pouring through the rears. I found this to be more of a front heavy experience due to the type of film.
Print Quality: 8.5/10

Special Features

  • Cast and Crew Audio Commentaries
  • Music Commentaries
  • Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans
  • The Music of Treme
  • The Making of Treme
  • Treme: Beyond Bourbon Street

Special Features: 8/10

Final Thoughts

“Treme” is unique series and one that invest enormous and intricate detail into its warm and diverse set of characters. It is New Orleans Cajun culture writ large with its nuances, colour and language are at the heart of this show. At the opening point of one of his Internet rants “Creighton Bernette” proclaims “yes we are still here”. At this moment you feel the pain and the passion in his words and fundamentally its channelling that same pain and passion for this historic, flawed but vital city into the medium of TV that gives “Treme” its big beating heart.
Overall Rating: 8/10