Treme: The Complete Second Season

by Kilian Melloy

EDGE Staff Reporter

Tuesday April 17, 2012

The DVD and Blu-ray release of the second season of HBO's marvelously rich drama media "Treme" lets you bring home all the music, color, culture, and flat-out fun of one of television's best shows.

"Treme" is set in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, and the series offers an eye-opening look at the corruption that beset New Orleans as the city struggled back from the brink. But, as was true with David Simon's earlier HBO drama "The Wire," set in Baltimore, the characters here are not so much woebegone as savvy, scrappy, and determined. As one main character puts it this season, "Where else would we go? Who else would have us?"

Where "The Wire" spent five seasons delving into Baltimore's police department, criminal underworld, political scene, school system, and media outlets (all of deeply them interconnected in a flawed, sometimes dangerous, web of human ambition), "Treme" celebrates New Orleans' cultural scene: "Musicians, chefs, and Mardi Gras Indians," as one of the show's creators puts it during a panel discussion, which is included among the set's special features.

These 11 Season Two episodes advance the storylines of the major characters in the way that a novel would; indeed, the show has been referred to as a "visual novel," and it is, much as was "The Wire" before it. Melissa Leo reprises her role as a now widowed lawyer with a soft touch for civil rights violations cases that don't pay anything (and she tackles a doozie this season, dragging her potential romantic interest, a NOPD lieutenant played by David Morse, into a dark and messy conspiracy); thank God her 2011 Oscar win for Best Supporting Actress didn't price her out of the show's range.

Steve Zahn continues his antics as Davis "DJ" McAlary, former disc jockey and wannabe hip-hop star. (Though white and profoundly uncool, Davis holds tight to his dreams; when reminded of his shortcomings, he defiantly retorts, "Work in progress!") Davis' new girlfriend, Annie (Lucia Micarelli) continues her steady ascent on the music scene; both of them face the realities of how hard the life of the artist can be, and how fickle the fates often prove to be. Meantime, Davis' former lover, Chef Janette Desautel (Kim Dickens), having lost her restaurant, looks for a place to fit in on the New York restaurant scene; a fit of temper involving a food critic and a Sazerac (a native New Orleans cocktail if ever there was one) gives her the sort of infamy that can only help boost her profile in a world of temperamental gourmands.

The New Orleans food tradition is deeply tied to its drinking culture, so it's a given that bar owner Ladonna (Khandi Alexander, never anything less than astounding in the role) will be back for this season and beyond. A brush with the sort of lawlessness that plagued the city's streets after the disaster leaves Ladonna to deal with personal demons, even as her former husband, Antoine (Wendell Pierce, formerly of "The Wire") gradually learns to accept responsibility for himself and others--the flipside of an artist's life.

Clarke Peters, another veteran of "The Wire," plays Albert Lambreaux, a Mardi Gras Indian chief struggling, like many others, to piece his life back together in the face of bureaucratic indifference and institutional incompetence. His plight affects the life of his successful musician son Delmond (Rob Brown), who finds new inspiration in the sort of old-school New Orleans music that his father helps preserve as part of the Mardi Gras Indian culture.

Music is so much a part of this series that there are two special features devoted to it. One is a set of audio commentaries specific to the music showcased in each episode; as with the Season One DVD set, NPR's Patrick Jarenwattananon and Newark, NJ jazz station radio WBGO's Josh Jackson guide the viewer through an endlessly diverse array of musical talent. An in-episode pop-up guide to the music handily informs the viewer of the title of each episode's songs, and not an hour of this show goes by that's not stuffed with stellar material. Separate audio commentaries by show's cast and crew also accompany a number of Season Two episodes.

The special features also include several featurettes. "Behind Treme: Food for Thought" examines the city's cuisine; another featurette takes a closet look at Clarke Peter's role and the Mardi Gras Indians. "The Art of Treme" is the aforementioned panel discussion, and features Peters along with creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer.

All these special features are also included on the Blu-ray release, along with an in-episode feature called "Down in the Treme: A Look at Music and Culture in New Orleans."

Fans of superior television, music lovers, and foodies will all have reason to love this program, which will be back in the fall for a third season. Yes, everything can be streamed on your laptop these days--but shows like this one are why you have the superior sound and vision of a real television set and, ideally, a home theater audio setup. Enjoy this series as it was meant to be seen, heard, and cherished.

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Associate Arts Editor and Staff Contributor. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.