In the US: Sundays, 10pm, Showtime
In the UK: Acquired by Channel 4
Ah, thank heavens for cable TV. Although network TV has been producing some perfectly acceptable dramas this fall season, the miss rate has been a lot higher than the hit rate. Cable, however, with the obvious exception of Starz, has a far better success rate.
You know what else? Thank heavens for Israeli TV. Although you could argue over the merits of The Ex-List and Traffic Light for a while, they were at least a cut above the normal fare, and Israeli TV has at least indisputably given us the basis for the surefire cracker that was In Treatment. Now Israeli show Prisoners of War has given us the basis for Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis and adapted for US TV by former 24 producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon.
Bearing more than a passing resemblance to AMC’s Rubicon, the thankfully faster-paced Homeland sees obsessive CIA analyst Danes convinced that returning war hero and former prisoner of war Damian Lewis has in fact been turned and is really working for al Qaeda. All she’s got to do is prove it, even though no one else believes her, not even her mentor, best friend and boss Mandy Patinkin. In fact, given she’s on anti-psychotic drugs, there’s a very good chance she actually is crazy. All the same, to prove her hunch is correct, Danes is going to do anything she has to – whether Lewis is innocent or not.
Here’s a trailer.
Who’s the hero – who’s the threat? When MIA Marine Sgt. Nicholas Brody returns home to a hero’s welcome after eight years in enemy confinement, brilliant but volatile CIA agent Carrie Mathison isn’t buying his story. She believes that Brody has been turned and is now working for Al Qaeda. What follows is a dangerous game of cat and mouse with nothing short of American national security at stake. Claire Danes, Damian Lewis and Mandy Patankin star in the provocative, suspenseful new Showtime Original Series HOMELAND, from Executive Producers of 24.
Is it any good?
It’s intelligent, it’s well paced and it’s reasonably engrossing. It’s certainly one of the best new dramas to hit our screens this fall. It certainly looks like it’s going to pan out into something excellent. But at the moment, it’s not an absolute must-see – give it time though.
This is, as many people have already described it, 24 for the Obama era, full of self-doubt and self-recrimination, without too much action, and most concerned with the intelligent analysis of data and suspicions rather than a clear and present danger that must be shot at a lot.
The first episode is largely concerned with the discovery of Lewis in captivity, his repatriation back to the US, and the effect of his return on friends and family. Since he’s been gone for eight years, his kids have grown up without him and his wife has taken on a new boyfriend. And Lewis needs to adjust to life back in the world again after years of (seemingly) solitary confinement and torture.
Meanwhile, we get to know a little about Danes’ character, who missed data that could have stopped 9/11 from happening and has been blaming herself ever since. She even wears a wedding ring so that only guys who aren’t interested in relationships will hit on her, since she doesn’t want to mess anyone else’s life up.
With her own intelligence source convincing her that an American soldier has been turned by al Qaeda, Danes becomes convinced Lewis is lying about what happened to him while in captivity and uses surveillance and interrogation techniques to try to expose his lies. This involves breaking quite a few laws and using some suspect people to do her dirty work. She is, basically, a female Jack Bauer, but one who doesn’t usual any actual violence.
Both Danes and Lewis turn in excellent performances, as does Patinkin (whose presence on the show reveals that TV networks will eventually forgive you, given enough time). Perhaps the show’s biggest flaw – and it’s not actually that big – is that it’s quite realistic for a spy show and therein lies the problem: as The Sandbaggers frequently pointed out, real spy work rarely involves the likes of James Bond, so it’s not actually that action-packed.
Eqully, there’s never that much doubt that Lewis is lying, although the show could still surprise us with a double bluff or two about what he’s really concealing, and as of yet, Danes hasn’t done enough of a Columbo impression to convince us that his lies with be eroded by intelligent probing, rather than just watching him on TV.
Nevertheless, there’s a lot of promise here. Homeland is intelligent, thoughtful and requires your attention. If you liked Rubicon, but wanted something a little faster paced, this should be right up your alley.