The Emmys very last weekend ratified what everyone watching Homeland already knew: even in an era when the best TV has gotten so good it feels like an entirely different creature from the medium that brought us Hee-Haw and The Beverly Hillbillies—and I say that with all due respect to the rube-wallow cred of Here Comes Honey Boo-Boo—Homeland stands out as one of the era’s best-made, best-acted, smartest, and most entertaining shows. But better even than Mad Men, which Homeland, in something of an upset, beat out for best drama? Probably not, but even though both series center on psychologically disturbed characters with secret identities, they’re entirely different animals. That’s the problem with awards shows: they ask stupid, arbitrary questions, especially when they’re trying to hand out gold stars for a medium as broad and unruly as TV. Anyway, Matt Weiner can’t win every year and, along similar lines, wouldn’t it be cool if John le Carré won a Nobel one of these years?So: if you don’t already, you must watch Homeland, which begins its second season this Sunday on Showtime. (Here comes some spoiler-y stuff . . . ) My fear for the show at the end of previous season, when it concluded with Damian Lewis’s Sgt. Brody still undercover as a terrorist, was that, going forward, the plot would start recycling itself, that the cat-and-mouse game between Brody and Claire Danes’s C.I.A. agent, Carrie Mathison, would be drawn out to the point of contrivance, like the will-they-or-won’t-they sexual tension that so many sitcoms drive into the turf. (Sam and Diane, Rachel and Ross, Ernie and Bert.) The good news about Homeland’s second season (more spoiler-y stuff . . . ) is that the first two episodes, despite a couple of glaring implausibilities (unless I’m giving real-life high-level C.I.A. officers too much credit for not allowing Middle East terror cells to get access to codes for their safes), are as gripping as very last season’s best moments. Better still, the second episode ends with a cliffhanger that promises to pivot the series in a new and unpredictable direction.O.K., cheap dior perfume commercial music degree bait and switch: the show I really want to talk about is Treme, the series set in New Orleans, created by David Simon and Eric Overmyer, previously of The Wire, which began its third season on HBO previous weekend. Treme is my nominee in the much-beloved critical category of “best show on TV no one watches.” Set in the months and years following Hurricane Katrina, the series has never had a strong narrative hook. It’s got no great mysteries, no larger-than-life characters, no outsize stakes (beyond the stake of a unique urban culture’s survival). It’s a show that risks asking the audience to come to it—not a great ratings strategy, maybe even a little arrogant, but an approach that has rewarded viewers willing to stick things out.Honestly, I wasn’t that taken with the first season. Aside from lacking narrative drive, it was probably too consumed with anger at New Orleans’s losses, and at the bumbling city, state, and federal recovery efforts. That anger was righteous and justified, surely, but didn’t necessarily make for great drama; the series could at times feel more like something on Frontline than on HBO. Treme also spent too many of its early episodes cheerleading for the music, food, and culture of New Orleans, often veering into civic smugness (and as someone who grew up outside San Francisco, I know from civic smugness).I stuck with it, though, because 1) Treme has a lot of great music, if you like jazz, blues, and R and 2) as a fan of The Wire, I had faith in Simon and Overmyer, just as, because of Raging Bull and Goodfellas, I have faith in Martin Scorsese. In for a penny, in for a pound. Or Kundun. Or Treme.I fell asleep during Kundun, alas—and currently wish Scorsese would get past his Leonardo DiCaprio fixation—but somewhere in the middle of Treme’s second season, either the show got better or I finally tuned in to its rhythms, or probably both, and to my eye it began weaving its various strands into a compelling tapestry: a complex and fascinating portrait of a city in much the same way that The Wire was. But where the earlier series was a study in civic corruption and, to a very great extent, despair, Treme, though it has elements of all that, is at its best and most fascinating when it examines what draws people together, what binds them as a community, what makes them want to persevere as a community. With its focus on musicians and, in one case, a chef, it’s also about what draws people to art, whether as fans or as practitioners, and what makes them want to persevere as artists. It’s about hard work, craft, and small victories, whether in trying to rebuild a city or in trying to get a record made or a restaurant reopened or a Mardi Gras crew reassembled.The show’s ensemble is large and democratic, but to my mind its spiritual and emotional center is Antoine Batiste, the trombonist played by the superlative Wendell Pierce (he was Bunk on The Wire). Antoine has taken a lot of knocks in the series. He inhabits what seems to be the second-lowest rung on the city’s music scene, just above the buskers, and he’s gone from leading his own band to working as an assistant high-school music teacher; he likes the kids and all, but this isn’t what he really wants to be doing. Still, there’s a scene in the episode airing this Sunday where he and a student listen to an old “trad jazz” song together and we see what’s in it for him. Antoine is wry and savvy and at times cynical, but his love of music is palpable and redeeming, as is the parallel joy he takes in the student’s awakening to the song’s power, her own joy in listening. It’s a lovely moment, steeped in the character’s and the series’ history as well as jazz’s and New Orleans’s. What Treme is saying is: The show must go on, in all senses.