Why You Should Be Watching 'Homeland'
A few months back, I came across a new TV show that was just starting to create some buzz. It was Showtime’s Homeland, starring Claire Danes and Damian Lewis in a modern-day espionage story set in Washington, D.C. Fast-forward to now: I’m hooked on the show, and the industry is giving it some recognition. At the Critics’ Choice Television Awards last night, Homeland won best drama series, and Danes was named best actress in a drama for her work as Agent Carrie Mathison.
Those of you who are just hearing about the show now should definitely start playing catch-up. With last night’s win, Homeland could very well unseat Mad Men in the drama category at the Emmys this year. Read on to find out why you should be watching!
Homeland is based on a premise that seems eerily plausible. Nicolas Brody (Damian Lewis), a Marine who went missing in action with his sniper partner in 2003, is rescued in a raid of an insurgent hideout eight years later. Brody becomes a national hero, but CIA officer Carrie Mathison is informed by one of her sources that an American prisoner of war has been turned by Al-Qaeda.
Mathison immediately suspects Brody, and must go up against her mentor, her government superiors and the whole tide of public opinion to prove that Brody is a terrorist hiding in plain sight.
The fact that this show is on TV at all highlights how tired America is with the ongoing conflict in the Middle East. Fortunately, Homeland is about more than beating audiences over the head with an anti-war message. It also calls up themes of mental illness, family strife, sexual politics and modern surveillance. Homeland is far more layered than its genre predecessor 24, and should appeal to anyone looking for a more subtlety on TV (shocking, I know).
It’s no surprise that Claire Danes won last night’s acting award. As Carrie Mathison, she believably struggles with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which should be an impossible barrier for an intelligence officer. Before this series, I had only ever seen Danes as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s modern take on Shakespeare, Romeo + Juliet. By contrast, Carrie Mathison is a mature, tortured role that will definitely surprise viewers who, like me, typecast Danes as quiet, delicate characters.
It’s hard to be brief about a cast that includes standout performers like Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin. But I’d be cheating you if I didn’t mention Damian Lewis’ work as U.S. Marine Sgt. Nicolas Brody. The English actor, like Danes, dives headfirst into a demanding role. Lewis finds himself in more emotionally and physically compromising scenes in one season than some actors do in their entire careers. As the central figure of suspicion, Lewis’ Brody character also kept me guessing a lot longer than I expected.
Homeland isn’t for the faint of heart. Similar to Game of Thrones, there’s a good deal more violence, nudity and language in this show than in your average TV drama. But unlike the HBO fantasy, the mature content never feels gratuitous – the production team doesn't add extra nude shots or more curse words just for effect. The vulgarity is only there to make the already intense material that much more realistic.
I mentioned that the Nicolas Brody character was full of surprises – I think you’ll find that describes Homeland as a whole. Every time I thought I had the plot figured out, the show turned everything on its head. The creators seem hell-bent on running a series that doesn’t take its cues from any one place.
There’s also a confidence in the story: the writers appear to have an overarching game plan, and that allows them to do bold things in the finale that keep Homeland from falling into a “return to the status quo” pattern.
Shows like Homeland prove that all the best series exist on cable. Along with Mad Men and Game of Thrones, I have a feeling that this series has just the right blend of performance, writing and direction to keep broadcast TV feeling fresh for a few years more. Get caught up now before the second season starts in September.
Have you been watching Homeland? What do you think? Can the show oust Mad Men for the top drama at the Emmys? Does the intense style of the series make it too real? Sound off in the comments section below. If you liked this post, check out some of my other TV-related articles: