Treme Season 1 (Blu-ray)
Unfortunately, I never had the pleasure of experiencing New Orleans before the Katrina disaster in 2006. That means I never got to go to Mardi Gras, hang out in a jazz club or partake in some tasty Cajun food on Bourbon Street. So it’s tough for me to fully appreciate the deep love and passion anyone has for New Orleans as I’m an outsider that has little understanding of the tradition and history of the city. ‘Treme’ is a love letter in the form of a TV show to New Orleans as it focuses heavily on the music, food and tradition of the city, all the while having its characters deal with the aftermath of Katrina. The show would fail on any network but HBO and thankfully, the station has pumped just enough money into making it enjoyable rather than preachy and depressing.
There are several (possibly too many) characters that the show follows, each of which lives in the New Orleans neighborhood of Treme (pronounced tra-may). We have a restaurant owner trying to keep her place open, a lawyer and her professor husband who’s angry at the world for Katrina, a struggling musician, two out-of-town musicians, a bar owner, an older man clinging to tradition, a successful musician dealing with his stubborn father and a carefree DJ in love with the city. All in all, there are about 10 characters floating around the series that we spend significant time with. The surplus of characters is both a positive and a negative for ‘Treme’ as it shows us many sides of the city, but it prevents us from falling in love with any of the characters. Instead, each character is more of a casual acquaintance that you’re curious about, but that’s about it.
The strength of the show is with its music, which showcases a mix of classical and modern jazz, emphasizing the city’s rich tradition of musical legends and their continued influence on today’s musicians. I’ve learned more about jazz from watching the ten episodes in season one than I have my whole life. The show also does a good job of giving the audience history lessons into the city by pointing out what Katrina destroyed and how things used to be, which could get tired if not done properly. It also helps that the performances in ‘Treme’ are top notch and each actor seems to embrace the passion for the city that their characters require.
Where ‘Treme’ tends to fail is with the deeper themes of New Orleans. We get several rants by Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) complaining about FEMA, President Bush and a slew of other responsible parties, but his rants were short and poignant, and probably should have ended there. The series creators briefly touched on some racial issues in the city, drugs, as well as the clash between tradition and the police department, but the show got uncomfortable when those subjects were broached. Those kind of things need deeper exploration, but ‘Treme’ threw them randomly in the show, which broke up any type of rhythm that was being established. For a show focusing heavily on music, it’s ironic that the flow and rhythm of the show was off the entire first season. The audience didn’t get a chance to connect to the characters and the tones of each show fluctuated from storyline to storyline.
Despite its faults, ‘Treme’ does make you feel like you’re in New Orleans. I enjoyed the music immensely and I liked most of the characters. I’m not going to run out and get a subscription to HBO to see the second season, but I’ll definitely keep an eye out for it when it hits Blu-ray.
Video (1080p): ‘Treme’ looks great on Blu-ray and the format is challenged by the different settings and wide use of color in the film.
Audio (5.1 DTS-HD): The music comes blaring through, mixing nicely with the dialogue-heavy scenes.
Cast and Crew Audio Commentaries: There are five commentaries on five different episodes in the season. Each of these are really interesting to listen to and if you enjoyed the show I would recommend sitting down to watch.
Music Commentaries: Each episode has a partial commentary with WBGO’s Josh Jackson and NPR Music’s Patrick Jarenwattananon on a scene that is music specific. There are some cute anecdotes thrown in there but unless you are particularly interested in the music portion of the show then I would watch one of the other commentaries, although these are very short.
Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans: This is an interactive portion of the disc for each episode where you can get information about the music in the scene, check out the character bios, learn some vocabulary and really just explore New Orleans from a different angle.
The Music of Treme: Also on each episode, here you can tap on your remote to access some additional information about the specific songs in the show.
The Making of Treme (13:57): A typical making of featurette and full of show clips. This is more of a marketing tool than anything else.
Treme: Beyond Bourbon Street (28:58): If you can only watch one featurette skip the Making of Treme and go with this one because although there are still a lot of clips from the show, this goes more into the history of Treme, New Orleans, Katrina, Mardis Gras and a bit of other stuff. A lot of information is packed into this short featurette.