Over the last 10 years, some of the best television drama has been produced in the United States. From crime dramas such as HBO’s The Sopranos to the fantastic original Showtime comedy Californication, these US imports have gained fans due to their attention grabbing storylines and consistently excellent performances.
My personal favorite has always been Fox’s 24, which I grew up watching. Admittedly a very silly show (I lost count of how many times Jack ‘died’); the constant tension, enhanced by the real-time concept, and the consistently electrifying performance from Kiefer Sutherland as Jack Bauer made 24 an unfailingly entertaining action drama. However, when 24 ended in 2010 it left a large, explosive sized hole in the schedules. Thankfully, some of those 24 writers returned to their keyboards and in 2011 Showtime unveiled Homeland, a new espionage thriller based on an Israeli series named Hatufim… and it’s absolutely brilliant.
Homeland follows C.I.A. agent Carrie Mathison, who is informed by an Afghan prisoner that an American soldier has been turned and is now working for an Al Qaeda leader named Abu Nazir. Enter Sargent Nicholas Brody, who after years of being presumed dead, is found as a prisoner at an Al Qaeda base in Afghanistan and repatriated to the States. As Mathison sets about investigating Brody, convinced he is the Al Qaeda spy, Brody himself tries to deal with returning to his normal life after everything he has experienced. Meanwhile the question remains as to what Brody’s motives really are.
Homeland, like all great television shows, remains consistently thrilling due to the excellent performances. Mathison is played by Claire Danes, an actress who for this critic has never done anything of any real merit before. Here Danes is a revelation; Mathison is a beautifully crafted heroine, always trying to do the right thing but going about it in the wrong way. She’s a woman constantly unhinged by her bi-polar disorder (which her superiors know nothing about), and the growing desperation of Carrie to stop a man whom the rest of America are treating as a hero is both thrilling and heart-breaking to watch.
Damian Lewis, one of Britain’s finest actors, is captivating as the mysterious Nicholas Brody. One of the great things about Homeland is that it is willing to keep you, as the audience, one step behind and this racks up the tension to the point where you go over the edge-of-your-seat and end up on the floor and a lot of this is down to Lewis’s performance. His consistently icy gaze holds a lot of secrets, which cause you to be constantly suspicious of his true motives. And yet, you can’t help but empathize with Brody, a man who has returned to a world very different to the one he left. Just how do you begin to start a relationship with your own children when you’ve barely known them?
Danes and Lewis always receive fantastic support from the rest of the cast. Notably from Morgan Saylor as Brody’s daughter Dana, a character who becomes more integral to the plot as the first season draws out, and Mandy Patinkin as Carrie’s superior and, at times, father figure Saul. Saul is a wonderfully written role, a man torn between doing what he believes is right and wanting to always trust and help Carrie. But it is the scenes involving his personal life, which is crashing down around him that are particularly memorable. During one of the later episodes when one of the most important people in his life drives away in a taxi, the pain, which is clear to see in Saul’s eyes, is nothing short of devastating.
This fantastic ensemble is brought together with some of the finest televisual writing I’ve seen. The continuously tight plot is peppered with red herrings that throw your suspicions from one character to the next, never truly being able to trust any character, but always wanting to give them the benefit of the doubt. You will remain firmly rooted to the edge-of-your-seat during both the louder, more explosive scenes as well as the quieter dramatic ones.
As we begin the second season, we can’t help but hope for more of the same. The trailer (click here), beautifully played out to Scala & Kolacny Brothers version of Every Breath you take, thankfully gives little away and that is what truly makes this show great. Homeland has brought the terror thriller back to the screen with originality. It’s an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride, which is complemented with fine performances that always keeps you guessing.
Homeland Season 1 is available to buy in the UK on September 10th and the new season begins on Channel 4 in October.