Treme - The Complete Third Season
HBO's critically-beloved, but vastly under-wtched series "Treme" traces the revival of New Orleans in the years just after Hurricane Katrina, following a large, tangentially interrelated cast of characters as they pursue their individual goals: Professional success, money, justice, or simply the rebuilding of a great American city and a way of life.
Season Three, now available in a complete Blu-ray edition, pushes all of the show's narrative strands forward. Chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens) returns to her beloved New Orleans with corporate backing, but soon finds her work, her image, and her name co-opted and owned by people she doesn't trust and cannot respect. Big Chief Albert Lambreaux (Clarke Peters) faces a health crisis, even as the music he makes with jazz recording artist son Delmond (Rob Brown) continues to reach new heights of success. Perpetually frustrated musician Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), by contrast, can't catch a break -- mostly because he's his own worst enemy. McAlary's girlfriend Annie (Lucia Micarelli), however, pursues her talent (and a trunk full of songs she's come to possess after the murder of a friend) to the verge of stardom, even as Annie's ex, Amsterdam-born street musician Sonny (Michiel Huisman), forsakes gigs and drugs for responsibility, and settles down with someone new.
The others in the sprawling cast continue along similarly dramatic arcs: Crusading lawyer Toni Bernett (Melissa Leo) works with a young journalist to nail corrupt, violent members of the local police force, while good cop Terry Colson (David Morse) presses from within departmental ranks to bring a coverup to light -- at risk to himself. Elsewhere, justice proves just as elusive, as sexual assault victim LaDonna (Khandi Alexander) strives to regain her confidence. The carpetbagging Nelson Hidalgo (Jon Seda), frozen out of local politics, refuses to surrender in his attempt to make millions from the city's rebuilding efforts; and trombone-toting Antoine Batiste (Wendell Pierce) actually starts to grow up a little, after spending the school year teaching and mentoring a high school band.
All the city's major cultural streams (music, food, history) wash through this season with as much color and richness as in previous seasons. The set's special features celebrate this, with featurettes commentaries that focus on the music, the musicians, and the culinary artists in front of the camera and behind the scenes. (Typically for the creators of this series, a number of real life chefs appear as themselves, along with a plethora of actual musicians.)
Creator David Simon talks about the show in one featurette, obliquely addressing the show's dismal ratings by referencing his earlier, much-acclaimed series "The Wire," and noting that more people watch it now on DVD and On Demand than ever saw it during its five-year run. "I'm not supposed to be in TV," Simon says; I admit it." This is not a lament so much as an acknowledgement that what he does -- bring a novelistic style to a televised story -- isn't what most viewers are conditioned to expect or want. (Indeed, much like the historically-rooted and complex "Boardwalk Empire," this home release edition offers a feature that allows for in-episode access to informative footnotes about the characters, New Orleans jargon and customs, and other nuggets that will help you keep track of what's what and who's who, while adding depth to the viewing experience.)
To its credit, HBO has stood by "Treme" for four full seasons and, though the ratings have not justified it, provided the show with a final fifth season -- or rather, half-season, of five episodes, set to begin airing in December.
If history is any indication, today's magnanimity will pay dividends down the road: "Treme" can dip, from time to time, into soap opera, but its overall themes and the grandeur of its vision carry the series where very few shows have ventured. This overlooked gem is a classic -- if only a mass audience knew it.
"Treme: The Complete Third Season"