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Our reviews of Treme: The Complete First Season (Blu-Ray) (published March 24th, 2011), Treme: The Complete Second Season (Blu-ray) (published April 24th, 2012), and Treme: The Complete Series (Blu-ray) (published January 28th, 2014) are also available.
Hurricanes. Floods. Exile. Crime. Corruption. Betrayal. Greed. Neglect. Is that all you got?
"There's a lot of 'used to be' around here."
Facts of the Case
As the third season of Treme begins, our characters are more or less where we expect them to be. Antoine (Wendell Pierce, The Michael J. Fox Show) has settled into his role as a music teacher, though he yearns to spend more time playing gigs. Annie (Lucia Micarelli) is really beginning to find an audience for her music, and spends her days searching for a manager and considering her next career movie. Delmond (Rob Brown, The Dark Knight Rises) and his father Albert (Clarke Peters, The Wire) are still riding high on the success of their collaborative album, but the former seems strangely restless and the latter faces some health problems. Janette (Kim Dickens, Deadwood) contemplates leaving New York to start her own restaurant in New Orleans. Sonny (Michiel Huisman, World War Z) has held onto his sobriety and started a new romantic relationship. Police Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse, Contact) has grown increasingly cynical towards his line of work and begins to contemplate retirement. Toni (Melissa Leo, The Fighter) continues her crusade to help the underprivileged of New Orleans and considers attempting to take down a corrupt police officer. Davis (Steve Zahn, Sahara) has hatched another ill-advised scheme to turn himself into a musical superstar, giving underwhelming tours of New Orleans to support himself in the meantime. LaDonna (Khandi Alexander, NewsRadio) struggles with having to share the same house with her judgmental in-laws. Nelson (Jon Seda, Bad Boys II) continues to navigate the murky political waters of the city and looks for an opportunity to make a name for himself. Welcome back to the land of dreams!
As the third season of Treme begins, we find Antoine bickering with a cab driver. The driver insists that he's owed sixteen dollars, but Antoine insists that the driver took a particularly inefficient route and that he'll only pay ten. "At this point, I'll take ten bucks just to have you shut the #$%& up," the driver snipes. Antoine chuckles, gets out of the cab and saunters over to a large crowd of musicians performing a tune in tribute to someone who recently passed away. Within a few minutes, the police come by and inform the crowd that they're making too much noise and that there have been complaints. Disgruntled, Antoine ends up arguing with a police officer and tossing his middle finger in the air. In the blink of an eye, the lovable trombonist finds himself being placed in handcuffs. That scene more or less encapsulates the whole show: it's funny, it's angry, it's unhurried, it's heavily defined by music and it offers drama of a less sensationalistic sort than most TV shows. Man, it's good to be back.
I completely get why Treme has never received a large audience. Heck, David Simon's The Wire is regarded as one of the greatest television shows of all time, but it never pulled in large crowds when it was on the airwaves, either. If so much television is junk food, then Treme is an expertly-crafted vegetarian dish: it's never going to be as popular or as immediately satisfying as most of the other stuff out there, but it's really so much richer and more rewarding in the end. I'm rarely dying to find out what's going to happen on the next episode, because it generally isn't that kind of show. Even so, there's so much pleasure to be had as you're actually watching it. At this point, the characters have begun to feel like old friends, the languid rhythms of the program feel more comforting than frustrating and the local sights and sounds are typically savory. Yes, there's political outrage around every corner, but the show is largely a celebration of how much New Orleanians have accomplished in spite of the B.S. they've been forced to put up with. David Simon has never been a man to mask the realities of life (in fact, he's done a better job than most at confronting viewers with those realities), but in many ways this is his most optimistic and joyous creation.
One of the things I love about Treme is the emphasis it places on music. I don't just mean that there's a lot of music in each episode (which there is, of course)—I mean that there are plenty of scenes that are solely devoted to appreciating a musical performance. The show has a lot of characters, which means we're cutting back and forth between different subplots on a regular basis. Every so often, the entire scene will feature nothing more than Annie performing her latest tune, or Antoine soaking in the sounds of the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, or Delmond doing a gig at a local club. The way we perform and listen to music says a lot about who we are, and this show understands that (in addition to understanding the value of a great song's ability to carry a scene). Plenty of New Orleans-set productions pay lip service to the important role music plays in that part of the country, but the rich musical heritage of the city is buried deep within the show's DNA.
I was contemplating which actors to point out as the MVPs of this particularly season, but honestly, the whole ensemble is pretty terrific. Nobody plays a lovable scallywag quite like Wendell Pierce, who has some of the best comic timing I've ever seen. Clarke Peters has his best season yet, allowing us to see deeper than ever beneath Albert's stubborn facade. Kim Dickens perfectly captures a woman on the fence between naïve hopefulness and exhausted world-weariness. Melissa Leo is the very embodiment of a tireless crusader. David Morse gives us a cop who seems directly imported from a great film noir, a gentle soul who's tired of all the garbage he has to witness every day. Khandi Alexander continues to demonstrate her dramatic chops in a season that finds her fed up with everything life has handed her. Steve Zahn may play an exceptionally irritating character, but there's no question that he has turned Davis into an entirely convincing figure. I could go on and on about every member of the cast, all the way down to the occasional bit players. The show is populated with a blend of well-known actors and New Orleans natives, but it's impossible to spot the seams. David Simon is a man who is acutely aware of the world we live in.
Treme: The Complete Third Season (Blu-ray) looks and sounds fantastic. This is a show with quite a few nighttime/heavily-shaded scenes, and it benefits from tremendous depth and shadow delineation. Detail is strong throughout, allowing you to see every bead in Albert's stitching, every strand of Melissa Leo's windswept hair and every bit of stubble on Sonny's face. The DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio track is a kick, delivering the music with punchy enthusiasm. As with the previous seasons, the music has an organic live feel that shifts depending on where it's being performed—it sounds crisp and sharp in the studio scenes and cavernous in certain club settings but it always sounds exactly the way it's supposed to. Dialogue is clear throughout, and the captured sound design is well-distributed. Supplements are generous: five audio commentaries featuring creators David Simon, executive producer Nina Kostroff Noble, directors Anthony Hemingway and Tim Robbins, writers Anthony Bourdain, Eric Overmeyer and George Pelecanos and actors Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Rob Brown and Clarke Peters, ten scene-specific music commentaries from Josh Jackson and Patrick Jarenwattananon, three featurettes ("Chef Dinner," "David Simon" and "Neville Brothers") and an interactive viewing mode called "Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans."
Three seasons in, Treme is still passionate, sobering, joyful and exceptionally well-crafted. It's the best show you're not watching.
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