Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Homeland - Season 1

Showtime is quickly becoming famous for green-lighting interesting television series with tricky premises, and then allowing those shows to continue airing long after those premises become strained and hard to take seriously. I can only hope that Homeland isn't destined for the same fate, because as of right now it stands as one of the most well-formed and intriguing first seasons of a new drama series in a long time. It's coming back for at least one year, and I think they could do a couple more after that. But I really hope in five years I'm not lamenting its continued existence right alongside everything else that the network has done. It's too good for that fate.

Homeland is produced by some of the same people who worked on 24, but while it's about similar themes of terrorism and how far people will go to protect their country, it is an altogether more intelligent and less sensationalistic series that manages to hit harder despite fewer fireworks due to its strong work making you actually care about its characters and what they do. Having half the number of episodes to tell their story in, there's less time wasted on plot tangents that become irrelevant and piling twists on top of each other, and we really get to the core of who the principal figures are and what they believe in. The overarching terrorist plot isn't without a couple holes, loose ends, or convenient leaps in logic, but it holds together well enough to support the story. And since the acting is so good, the flaws in the plot become unimportant in the face of what it means to the characters. The body count isn't very high, but every big moment in the show has enormous impact. It's not the best drama on television, but it's pretty special.

Claire Danes stars as a CIA operative, who like many such people, focuses almost entirely on her work, to the detriment of anything resembling a social life. When she hears that terrorists have flipped an American soldier who's coming home, she suspects it's Damian Lewis' character, a marine finally returning to his family after eight years of captivity. Her only real support is from her mentor played by Mandy Patinkin, another man who puts his job before anything else. At first it seems like the show will be about paranoia and surveillance, as Danes installs cameras in Lewis' house and watches his every movie. But it was fun to realize that was only the first part in the story, and the show was not afraid to blow through story developments quickly and move on to new ideas before the old ones even had a chance to turn stale. The three central performances truly are special, and they allow the show to get away with the slightly sillier parts in order to reach some great high points. By the season finale I was completely invested in the central conflict, and it was a wonderfully devastating episode, full of great little touches, memorable scenes, and more than enough justification for a second season. I didn't immediately latch onto the series as much as some others, but by the end I was a believer. Let's hope they really know what they're doing for next year.

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