It's hard to keep Treme in perspective if you live in New Orleans. Seeing our daily lives from a few years back reimagined and recreated for an HBO television series can be a little disconcerting no matter how well show creators David Simon and Eric Overmyer do their jobs. That experience gets magnified if you happen to live in one of the neighborhoods where scenes were shot, often depicting specific cultural events in the exact same place. Three years or so after the cast and crew first arrived in town, they've woven themselves into the social fabric and become our neighbors and friends — many of us can no longer find a single degree of separation between ourselves and those who currently represent us to the world on television.
That's a lot to chew on when you're just trying to watch TV on a Sunday night. The annual release of the previous year's season of Treme on DVD and Blu-ray at least helps put the show back into proper context. Viewed marathon-style — or at least not spread out over three months — the show's strengths and weaknesses become a little easier to see.
Much of what there is to see in season two involves guns and dead bodies. Street crime returned to New Orleans with a vengeance from fall 2006 to spring 2007, the time period covered by Treme's second season, and the show never lets us forget it. Beloved characters are raped or murdered. And maybe because season one took place just after the storm, more screen time was devoted to illuminating the city's essential soul and giving outsiders some idea why many of us refuse to live anywhere else. All of this was a conscious choice by the show's creative team, but that doesn't make it any easier to take.
Season two seems a lot better balanced on second viewing, with the initial shock of the violence faded. It fulfills the promise of Treme's original concept as a realistic show about musicians with multiple storylines involving four distinct (and fictional) New Orleans bands. The dense dialogue and intimate visuals may get a little claustrophobic, but it's impossible to fault the ensemble cast — they're almost as virtuosic as the musicians. When was a big-budget dramatic series last allowed to devote itself to the cultural life of a city? Probably never.
The disc editions of season two also do a pretty good job of taking us deeper into Treme. Four of 11 episodes have running commentary from cast and crew if you want it, and all offer music commentaries that describe the series' every artist and song. Turn on the English subtitles and you'll even get full song lyrics as they happen in the show. And the hi-def Blu-ray edition reveals just how cinematic Treme's production values really are. The show looks and feels far more like a feature film than anything we're used to seeing on television.
Treme certainly has its faults. But there's no question that Simon and company take tremendous care with their depiction of the city, and that they do it in their own unique style no matter what anybody else thinks. There's nothing more New Orleans than that. — KEN KORMAN