Treme is the most under-rated television series that I have ever seen. By the way, I'm not stating that to be hyperbolic. The series is legitimately one of the most under-seen productions by HBO (where a lot of the best television series get made) and it's been eclipsed in ratings and reviews (though it is certainly no slouch in that department) by the likes of True Blood, Boardwalk Empire, Game of Thrones, and series on other networks (such as Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Homeland, and The Walking Dead).
Treme is so breathtakingly good I can't imagine how anyone who loves television could actually miss out on it. Treme is every bit as good as any of the usual candidates for 'most acclaimed TV series' and yet it's audience is significantly smaller (so much so that it was considered a surprise when the series was renewed for its third season - and again when the show was given a fourth season of five episodes to wrap things up). The series is so unique in voice, so distinctive, and so sublime. I would argue that it's one of the best series ever made and anyone who considers themselves a serious fan of great television is missing out on one of the best shows out there without having the Treme experience. With the release of the complete series on Blu-ray in one package, now would be a perfect time to dive into what is unquestionably a masterpiece creation.
Over my many years of watching television, there are not a lot of instances of a series taking me so completely by surprise as Treme does (or, I suppose, did... now that the series has concluded). Treme is a series unlike anything else that I have seen and it breaks away from the typical series expectations in several ways. I certainly did not expect to find a show that was almost entirely character based and where anything resembling plot is an extension of what is going on in the world of the characters. Nor did I expect a series that would so deftly combine music, history, and culture into such a wonderfully complex package. Yet the series continually managed to amaze, fascinate, and surprise me all the way to the richly layered ending, when the series concluded with an absorbing and emotional final five episode run that brought viewers an enormous dose of closure to the character journeys.
From creators Eric Overmyer and David Simon (The Wire), Treme was and will remain as one of the most ambitious and novel-like television series ever made and it is the kind of program that has helped define HBO as an entirely unique place for the medium. It takes place in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and follows the lives of several New Orleans character who rarely interconnect directly through the show but who all live meaningful and complex lives. Eric Overmyer and David Simon are both brilliant writers who make the show all the more compelling because of the immense quality of their storytelling. The series feels organic in development, flowing from one moment to the next with a sort of ease rarely seen at all in television. When it comes to the series direction, the show was consistently well directed from the pilot through to the series finale, from the director that both started the series and ended it with brilliance (Agnieszka Holland) to the main series director, Anthony Hemingway. This is unquestionably excellent direction and I feel as though it was always consistently done throughout the show.
When the series began, the structure of the show was a loose connection of interwoven stories connecting the otherwise unconnected stories of several characters in New Orleans following such tremendous difficulties. In the beginning, Treme seemed to be mostly concerned with how the characters cope following the aftermath of the devastating results of the hurricane. However, as the series develops, it becomes clear that the main focus was on these character's lives beyond the tragedy of Hurricane Katrina. The series reaches far beyond that and is about these characters day to day lives: daily struggles and victories that each encounter at different stages in their lives. The series is often 'accused' of being plot-less. To a degree, this is a accurate description. It's big goals are mainly character based. It's as though the characters drive the story instead of the other way around.
One of the joys of watching the show is simply is seeing how these characters change: growing and developing from the series premiere to the series finale. The cast of characters includes the energetic Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), who at the start of the show is a free-wheeling DJ and slouch who works only part-time and has no prospects or ambitions. As the show progresses, Davis grows in his personal relationships, he works hard to expand his career, and by the end Davis considers his 'legacy' and tries to 'grow up'. He has a fascinating life, too, running in a political campaign (that he quickly drops out of), forming a record label with his aunt that is home to many great New Orleans jazz artists... and himself. He becomes a sort of magnet to many of the characters and is one of the most surprisingly charming and lovable characters throughout the show. Zahn delivers the finest performance of his career as Davis McAlary, something that seems to stand out as he is an actor I have long cherished but thought of as receiving less-than-perfect parts. This was the role of a lifetime for Zahn.
Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) has a long off/on relationship with Davis and is at the start of the series a struggling cook who is barely paying her bills and who enjoys being with Davis because they can be 'friends' without getting to issues like commitment. At one point in the series, she leaves New Orleans. The series follows her on the journey. Yet the passage of time ultimately brings her back. Janette also begins her own restaurant and goes through some significant ups and downs in the process and deals with an obnoxious business partner who gets in the way, causing her to have to decide how she wants to cook: on her own terms or someone else's? Janette is a fiercely independent spirit and someone who makes the world of Treme seem significantly more special with her great cooking and resonating warmth. You get to see seriously impressive growth as she learns how to successfully operate her own business. Throughout the series, Dickens delivered a tremendous performance as one of my favorite characters.
Annie (Lucia Micarelli) begins on the show as a jazz violinist who is only doing odd-jobs working with other musicians on street shows. At the beginning, she did covers of other's songwriting. As the series progressed, she began to write her own songs and perform at significantly bigger venues. Annie also becomes signed by a major label. Yet she must ultimately decide on how to go about making music: does industry success or euphoric joyfulness from creation matter to her most? Can these things coexist?
On the subject of characters: Family is a core theme of the series. There is the relationship between Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) and his son Delmond (Ron Brown). Albert is someone strong-willed who won't back down from a challenge. He stands up for what he believes in and encourages his son to do the same. Albert also creates full-body costumes designed for New Orleans ritual dances, a sacred art and what is part of a tribe experience. Delmond doesn't seem to understand or appreciate this when he is younger, or his father's stubbornness, but as the series progresses the two become more intertwined. Delmond also expands his abilities as a musician and works to perfect his own art craft. Eventually, he is capable of seeing some of the same things in life that his father did. This understanding is something that leads to his increasing strength in life.
Albert's life also undergoes immense difficulties before the series end and he finds solace by meeting LaDonna Batiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander). Both of them have faced enormous difficulties in life yet both are fighters who live their lives to their fullest with determination. LaDonna had to struggle with her own fears and significant horrors before meeting Albert. Together, these characters find a way to bring peace to each other that is emotionally rich, rewarding, and demonstrative of pure love. Each is stronger because of the experience of knowing the other. They form a deep connection in life.
The Bernette family is also full of strength that is explored throughout Treme. Toni (Melissa Leo) and her daughter Sofia (India Ennenga) face significant changes over the course of the series. The subject of family continues to be explored through these characters. They face a unbearable loss that they must come to terms with together. These characters also learn to be closer to each other over the course of the story. Toni always fights for what she feels is right, working as a lawyer and fighting for those who need help where she sees injustice. Sofia is a student who begins the series as a kind spirited kid but who seems to lose a piece of herself during difficult times. By series end, Sofia has found her way back to being a kind, loving daughter to Toni.
Over the course of the entire series, there is also the strong relationship between Toni and Terry Colson (David Morse), a police officer who seeks to help her where he can when he sees the injustices carried out by some of his fellow officers. He is as strong-willed and determined as Toni. Together, they make a terrific pair, and both go through significant circumstances which they can both relate to. Each character seeks justice where they can find it to make New Orleans a better place.
Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) begins the show as a musician who barely takes in any income from his shows and who has divorced, has two sons he barely sees or supports that he had with LaDonna, and cheats on his second wife. He has a friendly demeanor from the beginning of the show but doesn't seem that concerned with taking life seriously. By series end, Antoine becomes more involved with both of his children, is a better (if still imperfect) husband, and becomes a school teacher with a steady job. He becomes a character who cares deeply about his students and even fights for them when needed.
Another character who goes through a major upheaval is Sonny (Michiel Huisman). Sonny was with Annie at the beginning of the series as a fellow street-music performer. Yet he cheats, he regularly uses drugs, and shows no ambition or drive in life. It destroys his relationship. But Sonny has a good side, too. He helped save the lives of some stranded New Orleans people following Hurricane Katrina. During the show, Sonny works to clean himself up and he is someone who fights for the person he falls in love with before the show closes. At the end, Sonny winds up a respectful married man and he manages to keep music in his life.
Lastly, I will mention the character Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda). At the start of the time this character spends on Treme, Nelson is a pretty uncaring individual who doesn't consider the countless ways in which his business partnering affects the lives of those in New Orleans. He sees the green in working in New Orleans on a series of rebuilding projects that take away the homes and venues and heritage of the area. In his eyes he also sees it as doing something that is going to still offer some improvements to the area. Yet over the course of the show he becomes intertwined with some of the series other characters and learns a thing or two. Davis and Janette school him on some aspects of New Orleans he hadn't appreciated, and by the time the series is over he even does a good deed for Janette.
Treme is one of the most memorable and iconic representations of a place in any television or film production. The series was so significant in representing the rich culture and heritage of New Orleans and the people that reside in it that it always seemed to feel like a richly written love letter to the city. Even with the struggles these characters often face the brightness that resides within the New Orleans culture and history is clearly apparent on Treme. The many locations that are authentic and genuine add to the ability for the series to become entirely enveloping in its tapestry. You feel as though you get some of the history of the culture throughout the series.
The show peppers itself with fantastic performances from acclaimed New Orleans musicians, showcasing the diverse music of the city. The music is so closely connected to the heart of Treme that it is a driving force. Many scenes and moments take place around concerts and performances and it adds a certain charm and appeal to the series that simply would not be possible without the attention given to music. For those who consider New Orleans music essential listening (especially in the jazz and blues genres) the series is a must-see from a musically-inclined perspective. The performances are entertaining and lively. The music undoubtedly adds a lot to Treme and is one of the main reasons the series works so well.
At its core, Treme was a show about people. It was always about people. Regardless of the fact this is a fictional television series this is a show that really manages to say something about the struggles we all face. It's about the ability for us to overcome and to find peace within ourselves and in our relationships. It's about relationships through our families, friendships, and love. The compassion that can be powerful enough to bring real progress. The heart and soul of the series is one that is inherently good. It has a positive warmth and a message of unity and overcoming differences that is significant, meaningful, and heartfelt. Even with the darkness that resides in Treme's many subplots and less positive character moments, by the time that final episode has finished it's quite clear and apparent that the message the creators always intended to leave was positive. It ends on a hopeful note.
I was immensely moved by the conclusion and found that the final five episodes added more to the story and experience than most series can manage with full season orders. It took me a while to let the thought of the series being over sink in for me. In fact, that's still sinking in. Yet I know that this is going to be a series I will want to return to from time to time: for the characters, for the music, for the New Orleans experience, and for everything else that added up to one of my favorite television series of all time. Treme is a gem; a masterpiece of television. The series goes out on a perfect note with a satisfying and memorable swan song of sorts: the kind of farewell song that you could listen to again and again... always finding something new to appreciate.
Treme is not the flashiest looking series around, but it's one of the most faithfully reproduced television series on the Blu-ray format. The Blu-ray discs present a vibrant picture that is occasionally grainy, with filmic cinematography preserved with impressive MPEG-4 AVC encodings and strong bit-rates that provide great clarity, detail, and depth from the show's pilot all the way to the series end. Sometimes the colors also seem to 'pop' with amazing clarity. Certainly, the look of the series benefits from the fine presentation effort made by HBO. Treme is presented in the broadcast aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and in 1080p high definition.
This is easily the area where Treme always shined the brightest throughout the four seasons. The audio performance is astonishingly great with crystal clear dialogue reproduction, worthwhile bass, and some of the most immersive surround sound usage for any television series. This is especially notable as the series is famous for having long sequences of music performances: actually, this is something of a trademark of the show. The dynamics are always vibrant. It certainly never disappoints. Viewers will feel the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio consistently improves the experience of watching (and listening) to Treme, especially with these 24 bit encodings.
Please Note: Blu-ray Screenshots in this review are from Treme's Fourth Season.
The Complete Series Blu-ray collection release contains all of the supplemental materials that were included with previously released season sets, including a total of 16 commentary tracks. Extras cover the making of Treme with a series of 8 different featurettes about various aspects concerning the show's behind-the-scenes production. Additional extras provide information on the music and culture within New Orleans.
Season 4's new extras include two commentary tracks with creators and executive producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer, along with select cast members. One of the commentaries provided on the fourth season is for the series final episode.
The Complete Series release contains an exclusive bonus disc that consists of 15 music video performances. These seem to be a mixture of both unique music videos and selections pulled from the show itself, though I imagine all were released at some point from HBO's publicity (though certainly not altogether). I was quite pleased by this inclusion, which showcases the performances with good high definition video quality. Unfortunately, the audio is limited to compressed DTS audio (albeit in 5.1) and I also noticed a few instances of audio distortion, particularly during introductory snippets pulled from the show itself (of DJ Davis and crew introducing performances). It's a decent inclusion and it's worth checking out but the quality of the disc could have been better than what is provided.
Treme is one of the greatest television creations that has ever graced any network and it's one of the prime examples of why the medium is currently in its golden age. HBO has done the series and it's dedicated fans proud by seeing it through to the end with creators Eric Overmyer and David Simon bringing a satisfying conclusion to the screen with the final five episodes that comprise the fourth season. The final season also features a backdrop of the 2008 presidential election that elected Barack Obama as President and this adds another element to the historically-based storytelling approach.
The Complete Series Blu-ray package contains the entirety of the series across four Blu-ray multi-disc cases, with one set dedicated to each season, and all of it is contained within a attractively designed cardboard slipbox that also contains the exclusive bonus disc. For a dedicated Treme fan who already owns the individual seasons, the question is: is it worth purchasing for the added bonus disc and different packaging? I can't answer that question. Ultimately, it depends on what a fan is looking for in this set. The one thing I can say is that the complete series release contains the entire contents of the individual sets on fourteen 50 GB Blu-ray discs, a consistent packaging design for the four seasons, and content exclusive to this set. Regardless of whether or not a fan decides to shell out for the individually released seasons or the Complete Series set, Treme is one of the most noteworthy Blu-ray releases on the market with almost-perfect PQ/AQ, a good assortment of extras, and because it is one of the best television series ever made.
Treme is one of the most profoundly moving and beautifully realized creations I have ever seen, and for that reason alone this set is a must-own for anyone who cherishes good storytelling and what filmmaking can bring to the table. This is a series that deserves to be seen by anyone who considers themselves a fan of great cinema and the art of television storytelling. It's like picking up a great novel: you need to have the complete experience from beginning to end to realize its full effect. Treme is a unique, powerful, and complex creation and if viewers are willing to give it a fair chance and stick with the show to the emotionally significant ending the rewards are deeply humane in nature and the entire experience is highly satisfying.
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