Several months have elapsed since the first season concluded. It’s now 14 months after Katrina, and the recovery has entered a new stage — one characterized by rampant crime, maddening bureaucracy, and corrupt dealings represented by a Texas carpetbagger (newcomer Jon Seda) seeking to cash in on the chaos.
Other characters, meanwhile, are still trying to rebuild their lives, with mixed results. Crusading lawyer Toni (Melissa Leo), for example, is struggling to handle a petulant daughter (India Ennenga) in the wake of her husband’s death; Antoine (Wendell Pierce) tries launching his own band; ex-wife LaDonna (standout Khandi Alexander) faces her own setbacks; and fiddler Annie (Lucia Micarelli) has moved on to a relationship with jazz enthusiast/professional screw-up Davis (Steve Zahn).
Meanwhile, two ex-pats have taken refuge in New York, with jazz trumpeter Delmond (Rob Brown) agonizing over career options, while Janette (Kim Dickens) — her New Orleans restaurant a post-hurricane casualty — has begun working for an imperious chef.
Usually, Simon’s commitment to authenticity is an asset, but in this case, having real-life chefs and musicians play themselves generally reinforces the impression they should stick to their day jobs. On the plus side, David Morse is a terrific addition in his expanded role as Terry Colson, a world-weary police lieutenant grappling with the overwhelming crime wave, which touches some characters in terrible ways.
“Topless walks,” Colson explains to a younger cop, referring to the unique rules governing Bourbon Street, “and bottomless gets the cuffs.”
Such highlights, however, are frequently offset during the five episodes previewed by less-appealing subplots (does TV really need another rebellious teenager?) and jazz interludes that — for those not steeped in appreciation of the genre — bring the drama to screeching and extended halts.
In one respect, “Treme” is the perfect HBO show, inasmuch as those who love it aren’t likely to get that itch scratched anywhere else. Like jazz, though, that’s a relatively narrow audience, one that Simon — perhaps even more so than in “The Wire” and “Generation Kill” — has chosen, for better and worse, to uncompromisingly serve.