A quick weekend update – I laid out all sort of lofty plans for what I was going to get accomplished during my weekend of no commitments and managed to accomplish pretty much none of it. I didn’t make it to the cinema or come close to picking up a book and I only managed to catch glimpses of the Hurricane Sandy relief telethon on Friday night. My pile of magazines remained untouched and my apartment continues to bear a closer resemblance to a fraternity house than the dwelling of a grown up. Turns out when you advertise that you have no plans for the weekend people are anxious to hang out, which is the best possible problem to have. So not much pop culture was consumed, but plenty of drinks and good company were.
I did, however, manage to make a serious dent in my quest to catch up on Showtime’s popular drama Homeland. In between football games and other festivities I was able to watch the entire first season, minus the season finale. I had that queued up to go last night, but the early scratchiness of a sore throat sent me to bed early (didn’t work – I feel pretty lousy today). I am looking forward to catching up on that tonight and seeing how they stick the landing. But with eleven episodes under my belt, I feel pretty confident in making an assessment of the series. While it did not live up to the lofty expectations I had for it, Homeland was a very well done and engaging show. Superb acting and complex storylines kept me invested in the show throughout the first season. I don’t know that I would automatically put it in the same league as Mad Men or Breaking Bad, but it is definitely in the same conversation.
Unfortunately I think my assessment of Homeland is slightly tainted by all the hype surrounding the show. Between all the Emmys it won this year and all the praise that it has received from critics that I generally trust, my expectations of the show were just too high. There was probably no way that it could live up to what I was expecting. That’s on me, not the show. But it was hard for me to separate all that I had heard about Homeland when I finally sat down to watch it. I was prepared to be blown away and that is a recipe to be slightly disappointed.
Despite the fact that the show couldn’t meet the (probably) unrealistic bar that I had set for it, I could immediately tell why so many people love it. The basic storyline – a troubled CIA agent (Claire Danes) tries to determine if a recently rescued American POW (Damian Lewis) has been turned during his captivity and is now planning a terrorist attack – in and of itself is pretty compelling and topical. Spies doing spy stuff is always pretty interesting and there are clear stakes involved. But what really puts this show over the edge from being merely entertaining to great is the work of the actors involved and the way that the writers keep you constantly guessing. It’s safe to say that on Homeland, you really don’t know what is coming next. I was surprised on numerous occasions and I am not one to easily be surprised. I figured out the big “twist” in The Sixth Sense five minutes into the film, much to the frustration of my friends. The twists generally feel organic and not forced; the plot developments don’t feel like they are surprises for the sake of shock, but rather are simply unexpected directions.
I will admit that I am not the hugest Claire Danes fan. I liked her OK in My So-Called Life (a program I need to revisit) and thought she was very good as Temple Grandin in the HBO film of the same name. But something about her has always bugged me. Maybe I hold a grudge from the whole Mary Louise Parker/Billy Crudup triangle. Something about her personally just doesn’t sit right with me, so I am generally not very excited to see anything that she is associated with. But there is no denying in Homeland that she is a fantastic actress. She brings real depth and honesty to her portrayal of CIA officer Carrie Mathison and makes that character much more nuanced. The back story that the writers have given Carrie is only enhanced by Danes’ quality work. Her depiction of Carrie’s mania was especially impressive. My only real beef with the character is that I have some trouble believing some of the actions that she takes in her pursuit of the truth. A few times I’ve questioned how an officer of her caliber and reputation could be so reckless. It didn’t necessarily ring false, but her decisions are occasionally difficult to reconcile, even with her flaws.
Damian Lewis is even more fantastic as POW Nick Brody. Again, Lewis’ wonderful work brings interesting new dimensions to an already complex character. While the viewer is privy to more information than the CIA officers, it is still hard to get a firm grasp on who Brody is and his true intentions. It is a credit to Lewis that you find yourself invested in Brody’s story line when it is not always clear his motivations and ultimate allegiance. His struggle to assimilate back into his family after being gone for eight years has been one of the more captivating aspects of the show and kudos goes to the actors that play his wife and children for how skillfully they have all depicted the vast array of emotions that they are experiencing. I’m still mad that Jon Hamm didn’t win the Emmy this year, but now that I’ve seen Damian Lewis in action, my anger has slightly abated (though the fact that Hamm doesn’t have an Emmy still kills me).
I’ve loved Mandy Patinkin since his days in The Princess Bride. How can you not love a guy who gave the world this?
As Carrie’s mentor Saul, Patinkin is unsurprisingly wonderful. He and Danes are great in the scenes that they share together. He really is a tremendous asset to the show.
Given my inclination to avoid giving spoilers when possible, I am limited in what else I can discuss about the show. The supporting cast is all very good, though it does freak me out a little how much Diego Klattenhoff’s voice sounds like Brad Pitt’s. Maybe that’s just me. Even the token angst ridden teenager isn’t too sullen and annoying, which is saying something. All the characters have interesting dimensions to them, even if they aren’t major players in the story. I’m now convinced that there is no way I could work in intelligence; I’m generally very good at keeping secrets, but to know what they know and not be able to talk about would be too much for me. Even my “vault” couldn’t handle information of this magnitude. Plus I apparently don’t have as good of a poker face as I think.
I’m extremely curious to see what happens in the season one finale and how they set things up for season two. It is a minor miracle that I have been able to generally avoid having anything spoiled for me up to this point. With the amount of entertainment news I consume and my connection with social media, I am thankful that I really have no idea what is going to happen. I have some suspicions, but they may turn out to be completely wrong.
Homeland is a very good show and my slight disappointment is my problem, not theirs. While I find some of Carrie’s actions questionable and occasionally the pacing too slow, it is still one of the best things on television. I do wish I had watched it as it was airing, partially so my expectations would have been more managed and partially so I could have participated in the dialogue about the show in real time. Definitely a show that I highly recommend checking out. Even the President is a fan.
Homeland airs on Showtime on Sunday nights at 10 pm (ET). The second season will wrap up on December 16, 2012