As 2011 comes to its conclusion, it is no big surprise (for anyone who was watching anyway) that Showtime's "Homeland" is being recognized with major award nominations and critics' group prizes as one of the best programs of the season. Sophisticated, intelligent, complex, and rewarding--I had hoped for a lot from this intriguing and contemporary spin on the Manchurian Candidate theme, but the show served up that and so much more as well. From the executive producers responsible for "24," the show is a stunning and surprisingly realistic drama about family, an incisive look at modern terrorism, a bold political thriller, and a study of obsession all rolled into one gloriously produced entertainment. Add one of television's best ensemble casts, and "Homeland" easily earns its reputation as must-see TV. Showing up on numerous top ten lists, cited by TV Guide as the best show of the year, and getting Golden Globe nominations for Best Drama and for leads Claire Danes and Damian Lewis--this is only the beginning of the recognition and accolades that, I'm sure, will continue (Emmy nominations won't be announced for months).
I won't do a disservice by digging into the specifics and plot points of "Homeland." This is a show that unravels at its own pace, much like a fine novel. Anyone who divulges too much is really just ruining the complexities of the ever-evolving narrative. Danes plays a CIA analyst in Iraq who receives an open-ended warning about a planned attack on American soil by a "turned" POW. When Lewis, as a marine thought dead for eight years, is rescued from an Iraqi military compound and is thrust into the limelight, Danes starts to feel that this vague warning might have real merit. The early episodes play out like a sophisticated game of cat-and-mouse as Danes becomes obsessed with the target of her rogue investigation. The first half of the season, in my opinion, is absolutely riveting as both of the deeply flawed protagonists have their share of issues. By necessity, the show develops a more complicated mythology for its central mystery as the season progresses--but it is never better than when Lewis and Danes are trying to figure one another out.
In addition to the stellar work by Danes and Lewis, the show also features some great supporting roles in the side plots. Morena Baccarin, as Lewis' wife, is a compelling mix of strength and vulnerability. Her world, and that of their two kids, is completely upended by his return and the reformation of the family unit is filled with powerful and poignant moments. Mandy Patinkin scores as Danes' boss and mentor. Danes is suffering from a psychological condition (which, in reality, would be virtually impossible to hide in a top CIA position) and as Patinkin becomes apprised of her condition, it provides some of the best and most heartbreaking work he's done in years. The show expertly uses its cast to blend these elements of drama in with the escalating tensions of the main story thread. And as the episodes move forward, the stakes just keeping ratcheting higher until the ultimate goal is revealed in exciting fashion.
Season One consists of 12 episodes of approximately an hour each with the finale of extended length. While it seems improbable that the show could match the intensity of this season, it has already been approved for another year. It used to be that HBO ruled the roost with premium cable drama, but Showtime keeps narrowing that margin with its expanding roster of smart adult shows. Season One of "Homeland" is easily one of their best efforts to date. After one episode, you'll be hooked. And every time you think you've got things figured out, the show takes another unexpected turn. I really loved this one! KGHarris, 12/11.
on September 30, 2012
The first episode is available for free download from the ShowTime website, [...], so if you're not sure you're interested, watch that one first.
on January 1, 2012
2011 was a great year for television, with lots of established shows doing some of their best work ever. But in my view, the best thing going on TV was a new show that quickly ascended to the top of the heap, Showtime's sinister psychological thriller HOMELAND. The central storyline revolves around CIA agent Carrie Mathison, still haunted by the events of 9/11, and her belief that returning war hero Sergeant Nicholas Brody has in fact turned against his country as an al-Qaeda operative.
You know they had to be aiming high with the cast they assembled. The star is Claire Danes, making a long-awaited return to TV after a decade and a half in Hollywood. Given Danes' acting résumé, you might expect her to play a straight-laced CIA agent, but this character is anything but. Her Carrie Mathison is brilliant, fearless, determined, but also reckless, abrasive, unstable, and totally unpredictable. It's a tremendous piece of casting, as we've never seen Claire in a role anything like this, and you'll be stunned at how great she is here. Her performance alone makes Homeland a must-see.
Damian Lewis plays the other lead character: Nicholas Brody, a Marine returning home with a lot of baggage after spending eight years in hell as an al-Qaeda prisoner in Afghanistan. He battles PTSD, struggles to re-integrate with his family who had long assumed he was dead, and.. is Carrie right about him working for al-Qaeda? No matter which way you're leaning, Damian and the writers go a great job of planting seeds of doubt in your head. Lewis brings a world-class performance to this role as the mysterious Brody.
The supporting cast is also stellar. Mandy Patinkin is particularly notable, playing Carrie's mentor, in a role that is less prominent and also more subdued than his usual starring roles. His subtlety is a great contrast to Claire Danes' out of control intensity.
With all these actors in place, along with superlative directing and writing, Homeland becomes a thriller of the highest order. Do note that despite the fact that the show was created by "24" alumni, this is not an action series. It's smarter, more cerebral and more about the characters. This is not to its detriment- Homeland is as exciting and suspenseful as anything you'll see. All I can say is that I was constantly on the edge of my seat, and always left dying to see the next episode.
Season 1 of Homeland gets the highest possible recommendation.
Howard Gordon, the co-showrunner of 24, and Alex Ganza, also a veteran of 24 as well as THE X-FILES and ENTOURAGE have crafted an extremely realistic, compelling, and tense journey into the hunt for a terrorist who may or may not have allies on US soil. There have been several comparisons to 24 in that both shows are about hunting terrorists, but that is where the comparisons end. 24 was an adrenaline blast of gunfights, car chases, explosions, conspiracy, super-technology and an indestructible government agent from a fake government agency named Jack Bauer. And while I miss Jack Bauer, I welcome the addition of CIA Case Officer Carrie Mathison (the INCREDIBLE Claire Danes) to the hunt. I also welcome the distinct lack of orgiastic violence (not knocking it, necessarily) and chases and "action". What THE WIRE is to most cop shows like SVU or CSI or NCIS, HOMELAND is to 24, but the main difference is while shows like SVU and CSI are lame and cliched procedurals, 24 was actually quite a powerful show. HOMELAND and 24 are both terrific shows, but for different reasons. We like 24 because it gives us that immediate sense of satisfaction of knowing that the bad guys are going to end up very dead just about every episode; we like HOMELAND because it takes the same concept to a much grittier, much smarter and MUCH more realistic conclusion.
With this show, we have Mathison, informed years prior by someone on the inside of a terror network, that a U.S. soldier that is being held prisoner has been turned by master terrorist Abu Nazir (Navid Negahban, another veteran of 24) and intends an attack using this soldier. Years later, Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Masterfully played by Damian Lewis) is rescued from an Iraqi compound after eight years. Not only does this affect Carrie, who has kept her ear to the ground ever since, but it also affects the family of Brody, who some time ago were told that he was dead. Just recently, his wife Jessica (the talented and extraordinarily beautiful Morena Baccarin of FIREFLY fame) started dating Brody's best friend and comrade-in-arms Mike (Diego Klattenhoff). His kids Dana (an excellent Morgan Saylor) and Chris (Jackson Pace) have largely not even known him. Before he gets to see them, though, he has to be debriefed by the CIA, and naturally Carrie is there to confront him indirectly about his captors. She is certain that he is the lynchpin to Nazir's attack. So certain that she has her friend Virgil (THE SHIELD's David Marciano, great here too) install illegal surveillance in his home. Virgil discovers also that Carrie has been taking anti-psychotics because of her rather severe bi-polar disorder. She obsessively watches Brody and his family, and then her mentor/father figure/superior Saul Berenson (the always fantastic Mandy Patinkin) finds out about her illegal surveillance. She pleads with Saul to allow her to keep it but only for a short time since he had to blackmail a federal judge for the warrant. Carrie then begins her obsessive watch of Brody, looking for any clues about his behavior that might give him away as a sleeper agent while also avoiding her superior, the bureaucratic, scheming David Estes (excellent work by David Harewood).
Meanwhile, Brody seems to be exhibiting all of the classic symptoms of a soldier released from years of captivity and torture, both physical and psychological. His behavior is erratic, and there are definitely things that he's hiding from his loving but guilt-ridden wife. He's trotted out in front of the cameras to present himself as some sort of recruitment poster-boy at first, but it soon becomes apparent that the government and the present administration have different plans for him. While all this comes at a surprise to the family, there may be a bigger scheme at work here. Really the question becomes: Has Brody truly turned, or is there simply nothing there other than a human being whose suffered a great ordeal?
Seems simple enough from a plot perspective, and maybe a little reminiscent of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, and that actually works in its favor. The existence in the popular consciousness of THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE causes people to look at this show and the character of Brody in one direction, but the show is really going somewhere else with Brody. Gordon and Garza are smart enough now to keep things mostly contained to the major plotlines, without allowing (as we saw several times in 24's run) several different and unrelated subplots to arise. They're also smart enough to contrive a situation in which Carrie and Brody have to meet with one another that seems totally organic and not just a total deus ex machina.
The best episodes of the show and the best moments for Danes and Lewis are their characters in the outside world with one another. They're essentially reflections of one another: both living and lying to one another and the people around them, and they're both broken people. Danes plays Carrie as strong and confident in her work, fully aware of her abilities, but also is seriously damaged and isolated in every other aspect of her life. We're also briefly introduced to her family and particularly her father (the great James Rebhorn), who is also suffering from the same condition. After seeing people in manic states, I can honestly say that her portrayal of bi-polar disorder is absolutely flawless. I'd never been particularly enthusiastic about seeing Danes in anything due to her more teen-oriented roles, but after seeing her in HOMELAND, I can honestly say that her performance is genius. Lewis also plays Brody with an earnestness and believability that is almost unmatched in current television. Patinkin plays Saul with the kind of wisdom and world-weariness that you'd expect from someone who's been in the game for as many years as he has, but he refuses to ever become a cliche. Just when you think he's going to say or do one thing, he does the other and it's another great performance from him in a career full of them. The supporting cast, being particularly impressed with Baccarin and Saylor, is also excellent. By the end of this season, you really understand the characters and you get a real understanding of them as well aso sometimes feeling for them, which is a very fine line to walk when you're doing a show about terrorism.
The directorial team behind the series with directors like Clark Johnson (who directed the feature film S.W.A.T., but also did some of the best episodes of THE WIRE as well), Michael Cuesta (who has worked on DEXTER, TRUE BLOOD and a terrific indie feature called L.I.E.) and Jeffrey Nachmanoff (who made a very similar feature film called TRAITOR with Don Cheadle and Guy Pearce) keep the show moving at a very good clip all throughout. Stylistically, this is a rather straightforward program with the exception of when it delves into Brody's period of captivity. Harsh lights and dull focus is used primarily, giving the viewer a good feel of disorientation.
All in all, the only complaint that I could make about this excellent first season is that I think they could have really shaken things up in the finale, but it became more about preserving the narrative of the program rather than taking a real chance to do something that would cause even more interesting potential plot lines for the future. That's not necessarily a complaint, but more of a personal preference.
HOMELAND is one of the strongest new shows on television and hopefully Season 2 will be, at the very least, on par with this season's excellent work.
on February 11, 2016
The plot, Supporting cast, and Damien Lewis are superb. Claire Danes and her character are annoying verging on infuriating, constantly breaking the suspense with her brand of bipolar. It's bad enough I have to sit through her struggles but to add her screeching, whiny voice and temper tantrums destroys any enjoyment gained by the show. No matter how much I want to find out what happens next, sitting through Carrie's crazy is a deal breaker.
on November 16, 2014
Am shouting into a wind storm given the over-the-moon popularity of this series but I grew weary and then irritated with the two characters by the end of Season 1 and have no interest in pursing further installments despite the teasers and inducements of friends. Plot twists I love but the vacillations of these two characters endlessly back and forth and the inevitable affair, a mix of oil and a matchstick, produced only relief when the season reached its non-so-cliffhanging inconclusive conclusion.
on January 22, 2015
This series is absolutely AMAZING, perfectly cast, compellingly written, superbly acted, heart-pounding, edge-of-your-seat -- OMG!! In my 50-something years this is, hands-down, the best TV I've ever seen -- feels like film-quality all around. Each season, including the first one, has a different feel/flavor but all four seasons are unbelievably good. I bought all 3 seasons available here and watched the fourth on Showtime. I wash't sure the show would find a way forward after the end of Season 3, but mid-season 4 things got EVEN BETTER. Best writing ever; best cast ever. If you like the first episode, you might as well get all available seasons because you're going to be drawn into a world more tense, exciting, and morally ambiguous than you could possibly imagine. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE this series!!!
on December 25, 2014
Not just another "soap." The writing, acting, and production are all excellent. Impossible to predict what will happen or what the characters will say. The story-line is always engaging and meaningful and while there are violent scenes they always seem to be appropriate to settings and circumstances, not just gratuitous. The themes are all very contemporary, totally relevant to today's world. BEST SERIES ON TV.
on September 23, 2013
Watched all the episodes within just a few days, it's like a book you can't put down. I don't watch all that many shows regularly, but this one is truly special. The writing is superb, the actors are all beyond superb. My favorties are Damian Lewis, Clare Danes, and the wonderful Mandy Patinkin. And don't forget Mona Baccarin, she's also exceptional. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger than makes you want to watch more. Truly the most riveting series I've ever watched. Only problem is that since I don't subscribe to Showtime, I had to wait a year to see Season 2, which was just as good. Now I'm hungering for Season 3, which is about to start. Unfortunately, on top of the regular Dish rates, Showtime is just too much more for me to get, unfortunately for me.
on November 20, 2013
From the beginning, the actors and the story had me hooked. It isn't like most where it is more about violence and action and sex, though at times this may play some role in the scene. This is what could actually happen. It also has great characters with actors who can make the people they play so very real. I have become a big fan of Damien Lewis and Clare Danes because of this series. I have seen Damien Lewis in two other series. His ability to become the character and bring it to life are outstanding, in my opinion. I also love Sol's character. I have not watched one episode that my mind drifts as so many movies or series become so predictable after a while i.e. the series 24.