Monday, September 10, 2012

Treme: The Complete Second Season Blu-ray Review

Reviewed by Sean Ferguson

Continuing to focus on New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina, the second season of the critically-acclaimed HBO series Treme tells the colorful, interwoven stories of a group of ordinary people who endure in the midst of unthinkable loss and hardship.  It’s now fourteen months post-Katrina and residents of the Crescent City are finding it harder than ever to rebuild their lives, much less hold on to their special cultural and musical identity. Some have left to become expatriates in places like New York City; others have been forced to sell their homes to outside developers. Those who remain cope with high crime levels and dwindling federal support.  Still, the proud, even defiant spirit that defines the city lingers among its faithful inhabitants.

Film (4 out of 5 stars) 

Having already reviewed the first season of Treme, I was curious to see where the second season would go since the first season was largely depressing.  The first season ended with the suicide of a major character (and a fan favorite too) and with the city of New Orleans struggling to return to normalcy after Hurricane Katrina.  I was glad to see that this season was a happier one albeit not without its share of tragedies and deaths too.  Despite those challenges, overall this was a much happier and entertaining season to watch.
Much like the first season, the show is focused on a group of current and former New Orleans residents as they continue to navigate the bureaucratic maze of government and insurance agencies to recoup after their losses from Hurricane Katrina.  For some like Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters), the never-ending experience of fighting the insurance companies has taken a toll and left him much more bitter and sullen since the last season.  His musician son Delmond (Rob Brown) spends the season trying to cheer him up and get him involved in his latest musical project with Dr. John, but Albert’s heart just isn’t into it.
Life is going much better for my favorite character on the show, Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) whose personal fortunes have improved much in the intervening time.  No longer taking cab rides that he can’t pay for, Antoine is getting regular gigs and gains enough confidence to start his own band.  Part of the joy of this season was watching the loose and carefree Antoine deal with band-members who share his attitude, which makes him complain about behavior that essentially matches his own.  Watching him bitch and moan about his musicians was the highlight of the season for me and reaffirmed my love for his character.  Antoine’s ex-wife Ladonna however, doesn’t fare as well this season.  She is beaten and raped in her own bar one night and spends the rest of the season trying to come to grips with it.
Attorney Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) and her teenage daughter Sofia (India Ennenga) are still in shock over the loss of Creighton’s passing.  While Toni is aware that her husband committed suicide, Sofia believes that it was a drowning accident which will cause problems for her when she discovers the truth.  Toni is still friendly with Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse) and their relationship teeters on the edge of friendship to the possibility of something more. That future is jeopardized this season by Toni’s unrelenting quest for the truth for her clients.  Her investigations keep getting Colson in tough predicaments every time he tries to help her.  He quickly learns that her clients mean more to her than he does.
D.J. Davis (Steven Zahn) is now in a happy relationship with fellow musician Annie (Lucia Micarelli) and he too has started a band.  Davis dreams of being the highly politicized front man of the group but when he invites a local rapper to join him, he discovers that he is no longer the main draw.  Davis’ ex-girlfriend Janette (Kim Dickens) has moved to New York to ply her culinary trade as one of the line chefs in a big restaurant.  While she misses New Orleans, she also loves being exposed to new dishes and ideas, but she hasn’t lost any of her protectiveness towards her home turf.  When a critic who had panned New Orleans cooking arrives at her restaurant, Janette can’t resist throwing a drink in his face which starts a chain reaction which may lead back to home for her. There’s also outsiders arriving in town like Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda) who is there to make some money off of the reconstruction efforts by greasing a lot of palms in the process.
There’s a myriad of other characters on the show, including some real life musicians who appear as themselves and they all keep Treme real and grounded. The show’s focus on food and music is still very much in effect and there’s no way you can not keep from tapping your toes during the many musical interludes.  The only drawback is that there’s so much music in the show that the show-runners keep cutting away from it which can be frustrating since you rarely ever get to see a complete performance.  I guess with this many characters to cover there’s only so much time you can devote to New Orleans lifestyle.   All of the actors mesh perfectly with their roles that it all feels unscripted which is the highest form of flattery I can bestow on a show that is in actuality a tightly woven and intricate story-line. Watching Treme is like taking a trip to the French Quarter and hanging out with old friends.

Video (5 out of 5 stars) 

This 1080p (1.78:1) transfer is another example of HBO’s exemplary efforts to offer the best picture possible.  For a show that is at times deliberately made to look rougher than it should for creative reasons, Treme’s transfer is still amazing.  Colors are rich and vibrant and they really jump off the screen during the Mardi Gras celebration that showcases a explosion of colors.  Detail is magnificent, with every feather, wrinkle, whisker, and more visible clearly and completely life-like.  Black levels are deep and rich and flesh tones are natural and consistent.  There’s no blemishes to speak of as this is a beautiful transfer that looks better than the original high definition broadcast.

Audio (5 out of 5 stars) 

Treme’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is just as impressive as its picture quality.  This mix is so good that it completes the illusion of feeling like you are there. This stunning mix utilizes every channel to its maximum potential which all combine to provide a completely immersive experience.  Dialogue is crystal clear and intelligible no matter what else is going on, directionality is dead accurate, environmental effects are realistic and well placed, and the fantastic music sounds incredible.  I think the music this season is even better than the last one so I was especially happy that this mix sounds so good.  It doesn’t get any better than this!

Extras (3 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

This set offers a decent amount of extras although I would have liked more. Not every episode has a commentary track but the ones that do are fun to listen to.  These extras are very similar to the first season’s offerings and most fans will enjoy them.

  • Cast and Crew Audio Commentaries - Four episode commentaries are included: “Accentuate the Positive,” with director Anthony Hemingway, Kim Dickens and Lucia Micarelli; “Carnival Time” with director Brad Anderson and music supervisor Blake Leyh; “What Is New Orleans?” with writer George Pelecanos, Clarke Peters, and Rob Brown; and lastly “That’s What Lovers Do” with David Simon, Nina Noble, and Wendell Pierce.  These commentaries offer more fun than information but I enjoyed listening to them.  It’s obvious that the cast enjoys working together and their time making the show.
  • Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans - This is an interactive experience that helps you understand the show better.  It allows you to explore the neighborhoods and their cuisine, music, and slang through the click of a button.  If you are planning a trip to New Orleans, this could be quite handy to check out before going there.
  • The Music of Treme - This is an optional text-based interactive will display information about the music when a button is pressed when prompted.  A nice bonus for the music lovers of the show but it’s limited.
  • Music Commentaries – There’s also a music commentary for each episode by New Orleans by WWOZ FM-90.7 alum Josh Jackson and NPR Music’s Patrick Jarenwattananon who talk about the songs, musicians, and various types of music that have been incorporated into the show.  There’s a nice option that allows you to hit the arrow button on your remote that will let you skip parts or silences if you choose to.
  • The Art of Treme – A Q&A with Tulane University Associate Professors Joel Dinerstein and Beretta Smith-Shomade, David Simon, Eric Overmyer, Clarke Peters, and Gian Smith.  At a little over thirty minutes, it offers a nice look at the show with most of the key people involved in the show.
  • Behind Treme: Food for Thought – A short talk with some chefs from New Orleans that includes: John Besh, Alon Shaya and others who talk about the difficulties they faced after Hurricane Katrina and how they overcame them.
  • Behind Treme: Clarke Peters and the Mardi Gras Indians – There’s a reason that Clarke Peters is so believable as a Mardi Gras Indian and we learn why.  Mardi Gras Indian chief Otto Dejean and Clarke talk about Clarke’s efforts to learn all about the customs and practices of the Mardi Gras Indians.

Summary (4 1/2 out of 5 stars) 

Treme has only gotten better over time and I enjoyed this season a lot more than the last one.  The show offers great writing, excellent acting, and some great music as well so if you aren’t watching it yet you should.  This set has the best audio and picture quality you will find and I highly recommend it!
Order your copy today!

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