DVD Review: Treme – The Complete First Season

It’s pronounced “Tre-may”. It’s one of the oldest neighbourhoods in New Orleans. It’s being hailed as one of the best new television series in production today. And it has yet to be seen on New Zealand television. Fortunately, the first season has just been released on DVD.

Treme is the product of David Simon and Eric Overmyer. Both men worked as writers on Homicide: Life On The Street and The Wire, the highly-acclaimed series that Simon created. But fans expecting another police drama full of violence, drug deals, murders and edge-of-your-seat tension, will be in for a shock.

Treme is set in New Orleans, beginning just three months after the devastating floods that washed away a good portion of the historic city in the wake of 2005’s Hurricane Katrina. The city’s residents are still in a state of shock, returning to find their neighbourhood virtually uninhabitable. In the first episode we’re introduced to the city, it’s music and the show’s very fine ensemble cast. Some like Oscar winner Melissa Leo and Wendell Pierce have appeared on Homicide or The Wire, others, such as John Goodman and Steve Zahn are established actors who fit perfectly into the characters Simon has drawn out for them. Still others like Kermit Ruffins and Phyliss Montana LaBlanc are untested New Orleans natives whose limited acting experience seems to add to their credibility.

Rather than being plot-driven, Treme feels more like watching one day following another as the various characters deal with the aftermath of the flood. Goodman plays a University professor who is writing a book and is married to Melissa Leo, a hard working lawyer who looks out for blue collar types like the bar owner played  Khandi Alexander who is searching for her brother who disappeared just as the storm struck and hasn’t been seen since.

Steve Zahn plays an ebullient part-time radio D.J., part-time musician who is dating (part-time) a restaurant/chef played by Kim Dickens who is struggling to keep her business running with limited funds and fresh food. Wendell Pierce plays a free-lance trombone player and ex-husband of Khandi Alexander’s character who is now married to Phyliss Montana LeBlanc’s character. Additionally there is a Mardi Gras Indian chief (Clark Peters), a couple of street musicians and various politicians, policemen and musicians.

The main character of the series, however, is the music of New Orleans. It’s everywhere. Music fans can spot such legendary New Orleans artists as Dave Bartholomew, Allen Toussaint, Lloyd Price, Dr. John and Irma Thomas. Some have major speaking parts; others can just be glimpsed in the background. But the music is always front and center…in a pub, in the streets, in the air or in a studio.

I should warn you that it takes a little time to get used to the strong accents and for the storylines to settle in. Once they do, you’ll be hooked.

This DVD release contains 10 episodes over 4 discs. There are plenty of bonus features; docos and commentaries to add historical context and top help you recognize all those cameo appearances.

It’s a shame Treme hasn’t found a home on New Zealand television. Don’t miss out on this fine production.

Marty Duda