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Treme: The Complete First Season Blu-ray Review

by March 23, 2011

Starring: John Goodman, Wendell Pierce, Steve Zahn, Melissa Leo, David Morse
HBO Home Entertainment
Release Date: March 29, 2011

Treme is a new drama series on HBO, sprung from the mind of David Simon, creator of the The Wire. Set in New Orleans not long after hurricane Katrina, Treme brings us average people as they rebuild following the worst man-made disaster in American history. But don’t expect a somber look at life in the Big Easy. Instead you’ll find Treme populated with colorful characters of indomitable resilience as they pick up the broken pieces of their lives in this musical city.

Treme switches effortlessly between subplots and unique perspectives, woven together with a thick thread of New Orleans’ unique culture, food and most of all music. You’ll not only forgive this series for breaking into a song – the music is what keeps you coming back. Finally, television that rewards your musical sound system!

It’s been said that music is what feelings sound like, and New Orleans has more music than most. That’s what makes Treme more than just a TV show. It’s a journey of equal parts struggle and celebration, traversing settings so meticulously detailed you’ll feel the New Orleans summer humidity. Through Simon’s high standards in script and screenplay, it earnestly brings us inside the culture of Louisiana, exposing it from a variety of nuanced perspectives. You don’t just drive by New Orleans Ninth Ward like a common disaster-tourist - you learn what it’s really all about.

The early episodes of Treme are a forced march through almost too many characters. It’s also a forced march through product placement. The first two episodesAntione Trombone seem almost comically brought to you by a brand of beer that seems never far from being ordered aloud or having its label appear on screen. Since learning about in-content advertising, I’ve become all too aware of it, but if that’s what it takes to produce this kind of HBO-quality I’m all for it.

Eventually, the shock and confusion of all the subplots, characters and beer brands wears into a groove, and you get the rhythm of switching back and forth between the lives of the characters. I admired the grit and realism throughout Treme. - From crumbling fences to moldy interiors, the camera doesn’t flinch or ever try to polish. Even the characters are weathered and hardened by their times, but that only adds to the unfettered joy when Antoine (a main character played by Wendell Pierce) lets loose one of his trombone solos.

Video Features

  • Video codec: MPEG-4 AVC
  • Video resolution: 1080p
  • Aspect ratio: 1.78:1
  • Subtitles: English SDH, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Dutch, Finnish, Norwegian, Swedish

While it doesn’t reach the evolutionary standard set by previous HBO release The Pacific on Blu-ray, Treme is consistently striking in its 1080P presentation. The video quality is consistent with the minimalistic look of the show’s cinematography. The extra effort found in The Pacific that made every edge clean with blazing contrast is not present in Treme - the extra polish is just not there.  But that’s not disappointing because the more subdued video quality fits the material. Considering the everyday feel Treme was going for – it works.

Most importantly, the video quality holds up remarkably under darkness. Shadowy recesses of smoke-filled clubs are common in Treme. While bright colors fail to dazzle with the bigger-than-life quality we look for in our flat-panels these days, it’s a fair trade for the subtle detail the discs provide in the murky darkness.

Audio Features

  • English: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
  • French: DTS 5.1
  • Spanish: DTS 2.0New York Jazz Club

How does Treme sound? Glad you asked! The audio should be the show’s forte, and I am pleased report that it exceeds high-res audio expectations with a soundtrack so alive you may want to charge it room-and-board in your Blu-ray collection. Every moment you’ll hear environmental queues that tell you where you are and where the action is, complete with stray sounds of the goings on all around you. It’s a busy, busy soundtrack.

But the live musical performances really make the show. Treme brings me back to when I was a kid watching that old black-and-white Superman show with George Reeves. You know how you waited and waited, even though you just couldn’t wait for Superman to show up that episode? Treme gives us the same anticipation, but for its music. Sometimes you wait awhile for a musical performance to show up, but sometimes it surprises you by blasting through a window, like an acoustic-caped Kryptonian.

Most Blu-ray discs give us the lossless, high-resolution DTS 5.1 treatment. But Treme doesn’t just stop with remarkable, detailed sound - it adds a layer of subtlety that would be lost in a two-channel stereo presentation. The rear channels are put to magnificent effect providing sound fields that mimic the on-screen environment. In other words, when you’re hearing a marching band cake-walk outside on the street, it sounds clear, open and airy. But find yourself enclosed in a tiny club venue at night, and you’re treated to sound so intimate you may get claustrophobic.

If you love music, especially New Orleans jazz you’ll love Treme just for the sound. 

Special Features

  • Down in the Treme: A Look at the Music and Culture of New Orleans: An alternate viewing mode for all episodes that provides background information in text format.
  • The Music of Treme: Another alt-viewing mode that lets you press the remote to learn more information specifically about the music.
  • Various Audio Commentaries: for each episode, with Creators / Executive Producers David Simon and Eric Overmyer, Josh Jackson (WBGO) and Patrick Jarenwattananon (NPR Music), John Goodman, executive producer Nina Noble and Writer George Pelecanos.
  • Treme: Beyond Bourbon St. (29 minutes) documentary.
  • The Making of Treme. (14 minutes) documentary.

OverallTreme rebuilding home

Treme has become one of my favorite new shows and it’s positively made for the Blu-ray format. The video is more than adequate to present the show’s gritty realism and detail. But the acoustic quality is where it really shines with a fanatical devotion to clarity and environmental effects.

I’ll wait for season two to hit Blu-ray before trying to watch the coming season. I won’t trust a digital stream or even my over-compressed HD-cable box to present this show, after being been spoiled by the Blu-ray screener. The audio quality is far too important to trust to digital compression, and I can say with no hesitation that it has inspired me to start saving money for a visit to New Orleans in the near future – hopefully just in time for the next Canadian blizzard.


About the author:
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Wayde is a tech-writer and content marketing consultant in Canada s tech hub Waterloo, Ontario and Editorialist for Audioholics.com. He's a big hockey fan as you'd expect from a Canadian. Wayde is also US Army veteran, but his favorite title is just "Dad".

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