Treme: Season One (Blu-ray Review)

Treme is a show created by David Simon (The Wire) and it takes place in New Orleans three months after the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina. This dramatic show has a lot to say about life in New Orleans and shows the anger and desperation of the people who are still struggling to survive there.  The show focuses on the lives of regular people trying to rebuild their lives, their businesses, and their homes after the costliest natural disaster to ever hit the United States.


Treme is a tough show to watch as the show is filmed in New Orleans and much of the destruction is still present.  In fact, it’s even mentioned in the special features that some residents were paid by the show not to start their repairs so the location could be filmed as it was.  Since the show takes place three months after Katrina, the production mostly films in areas of the city that even now, have not been repaired or have been left to rot.

When Katrina hit New Orleans in August 2005, with winds measured at 125 mph, the effects were catastrophic.  80% of New Orleans was flooded and the property damage from the storm has been estimated to reach $81 billion dollars.  Once the poorly built levees gave way to the rising water, the destruction was amplified by floating cars, boats, and barges crashing into buildings and caused even more damage to the flooded properties.  With 1,836 people confirmed dead, and many more people displaced, New Orleans would never be the same.

In Treme, we see musicians, cooks, professors, lawyers, Mardi Gras Indians, and residents of New Orleans attempt to rebuild their lives in the wake of such a terrible event.  While the show has an enormous scope that covers the entire city and population of the city, it does focus on a large ensemble cast to drive it’s points home.  There’s a lot of sensitive topics that the show covers such as the lack of Federal help, the criminal justice system, public housing, corruption, and the bitter clash between the remaining police and the Mardi Gras Indians.

For Antoine Baptiste (Wendell Pierce),  he is a trombonist always looking for another job.  Since he lost his car in the storm he has to get rides from friends or cabs to make it.  At the start of the show, we him a negative light since he is cheating on his girlfriend and the mother of his new child, and he frequently doesn’t pay his cab fare.  With traits like that, the audience is pre-disposed to not like him, but Pierce brings enough charm that we can’t help but like him and forgive him like everyone else does.  Antoine’s arc through the first season where he transforms from a irresponsible and selfish rogue to a man who puts others before himself is one of the best on the show.

His ex-wife Ladonna Baptiste-Williams (Khandi Alexander), has re-married since divorcing Antoine but she still has fond feelings for him.  Ladonna runs a damaged bar where a lot of the musicians including Antoine hang out.  But ever since the storm hit,  she has been trying to find her brother who had been in police custody before the storm and has disappeared.

Helping Ladonna find her brother is her friend Toni Bernette (Melissa Leo) who is a civil-rights lawyer.  Toni is married to Creighton Bernette (John Goodman) who teaches English at Tulane University and she has a teenage daughter named Sofia (India Ennenga).  Creighton has never been the same since Katrina and alternates between rage towards the government for its lack of assistance and a crippling grief for what New Orleans has lost as far as culture, lives, and landmarks.

If there is one person determined to believe that New Orleans is still the best city in the world, it’s Davis McAlary (Steve Zahn), who is a part-time DJ and musician on the side.  Davis is convinced that New Orleans is the greatest city in the world and he revels in every facet of it.  When he learns that his on-again off-again chef girlfriend Janette (Kim Dickens) is thinking of moving to New York City, he mounts a one man campaign to prove to her how special the city is.

Another person who’s convinced that the city is worth saving is Albert “Big Chief” Lambreaux (Clarke Peters).  Albert not only returns to the city after the storm but stubbornly insists on rebuilding his home despite the damage.  As the “Big Chief,” of the area, Albert sets an example for the rest of the people who make up his tribe that dresses up in lavish and ornate Indian costumes that are designed to honor American Indians.   Albert also raises awareness of possible public housing that’s available but cordoned off by the Federal Government.  When he breaks into a building to prove his point to the media, it puts him at odds with the New Orleans Police Department.

As the face of that police department, Lt. Terry Colson (David Morse) has the unenviable job of trying to maintain order in a city of chaos.  Between looting, missing persons, and civil disobedience, the police have a lot to do.  It doesn’t help that some of the officers are corrupt or racist, which only makes it harder for good cops like Terry to do their job and keep the city from getting even worse.

For a lot of people like street musicians Sonny (Michiel Huisman) and Annie (Lucia Micarelli) who work the French Quarter for tips, it’s just a new way of life.  Together, they make pretty good music and are seeing each other, but Sonny’s drug use and serial infidelity make him a complete scumbag with no redeeming values and it’s a mystery why Annie sticks around with him.  While Annie can’t bring herself to dump him as a boyfriend, she is smart enough to realize she should play with other musicians to make a name for herself and more importantly – some real money.

Treme does a good job balancing the stories between the characters but it focuses on too many characters and you get the feeling that a lot of padding has been added to fill out a lot of these episodes.  The missing brother storyline took far too long to resolve itself while Creighton’s spiral into depression was as abrupt as it was illogical.   I think the show could completely eliminate the Sonny and Annie characters and not suffer at all as it would devote more time to far more interesting characters like Albert, Antoine, and Davis.  Even the show’s newly minted Academy Award winner Melissa Leo doesn’t have much to do on the show as she spent the entire first season looking for a missing man and by the end of this season has even less to do due to the season’s resolution.

What the show does right, is capturing the atmosphere and culture of New Orleans.  By using local musicians and making sure that the local music and food are included in every episode, the show might as well serve as a tourism ad for New Orleans.  There were many episodes that made me hungry just from watching the show!  Another thing that show benefits from and cannot be understated, is the fantastic cast they’ve assembled.  Every actor on the show is extremely good in their roles, and even the characters that I didn’t like are completely believable and true to life.  Treme is not only a tribute to a great city, but it’s also a reminder for all of us that even five years after Katrina, New Orleans should not be forgotten.  There are still thousands of people living in temporary shelters while reconstruction slowly continues.


Like all HBO shows, this 1080p (1.33:1) transfer looks amazing.  With a focus on capturing reality, you would think that the quality would suffer to achieve that goal but it really doesn’t.  Whether the action is taking place in a dimly lit smoky club, or a mildew encrusted house that still bears water marks on the walls, the detail is always incredible.  Black levels and contrast are fantastic while the flesh tones are spot on perfect and consistent.  While a lot of the show is filmed at night-time or in dark clubs, whenever colors shows up they are bright and dazzling.  The Mardi Gras parade especially offers a kaleidoscope of colors with the Indians colorful costumes.  This is a superlative transfer made even more impressive when you consider the conditions that the show is filmed in.


The show’s DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix is even better than the video quality!  For a show that depends a lot of music and atmosphere, this mix perfectly captures all of that and it gives the viewer the sense of being there.  Every scene is filled with the sounds of every day life which gives the show an extra layer of verisimilitude that only enhances the stellar cinematography.  I especially love hearing all of the different styles of music presented in the show with each instrument clearly heard without any distortion.  Dialogue is sharp and clear and is balanced extremely well with the musical sound-scape.  There’s some nice directionality that will convince you that you are in the club with Antoine.  This lossless mix is extraordinary!

Special Features 

There’s a multitude of extras on the set that provides something for everyone.  Want to know more about the music, cuisine, location, or what the definition for the slang of the area?  Then click on the fact track option that’s on every episode.  More traditional options like commentaries and featurettes are also included to complete the experience.  As an added bonus all of the extras are in high definition.

  • Audio Commentaries – There are five cast and crew commentaries that include the show’s creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer, Wendell Pierce, Khandi Alexander, Alan Sepinwall (Hitfix.com’s TV Critic), Anthony Hemingway, George Pelecarios, John Goodman, and producer Nina Noble.  All of the commentaries are interesting and some of them are also very funny while others are more serious.  Simon and Overmyer cover the genesis of the show and their intentions for it and also talk about New Orleans itself and filming there.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • The Making of Treme – A talk with the cast and crew about the show and how it reflects New Orleans as honestly as possible.  There’s also some discussion about shooting on location and the scripts and how the show has tried to be as authentic as possible. At fourteen minutes, there isn’t a whole lot to it which is unfortunate, because this could have been real interesting.
  • Treme: Beyond Bourbon Street – This is the most comprehensive featurette in the set and it covers mainly New Orleans and it’s culture.  From the Mardi Gras parades, to an explanation of what makes up “the second line,” this extra covers it all well with comments from the cast and crew.  While there were too many clips for my taste, this is informative and a lot more substantial that the other featurettes.

Final Thoughts 

Initially I wasn’t sure if I would like the show or not, but much like New Orleans itself, it has a way of enticing you to take a closer look.  With remarkable performances from all of the cast and even more amazing musical performances, Treme is a one of a kind show and unlike anything else on television.  HBO has put together another impressive show and a quality box set that I highly recommend.

Treme arrives on Blu-ray March 29, 2011 so pre-order your copy today!

DVD/Blu-ray Trailer


3 Responses to “Treme: Season One (Blu-ray Review)”

  1. Gerard Iribe

    Sean, you’re right. I’m hungry just reading that review! I got a place right down the street called “Louisiana Fried Chicken!” I’m putting this show in my queue.

  2. Gregg

    Sounds like some pretty powerful material. I’m with Gerard. Into Netflix it goes. What’s the word on a debut of a second season?

  3. Sean Ferguson

    The next season starts up April 24. I think you both will enjoy the show!