The second season of Showtime’s Homeland is currently airing and threw out a gamechanger in its fourth episode. Reason enough to look back at why CC2K TV Editor Phoebe Raven called Homeland the best bew show on television way back in Season 1.
I try not to be “one of the herd” too much and just repeat what other TV critics have been saying all day, every day, but sometimes there are those instances when it seems that all of “us critics” come together and sing the same tune of praises for a certain show. Such is the case for Showtime’s new drama Homeland, a show universally liked by critics, which premiered this Sunday to great numbers on the pay TV channel (1.1 million viewers, highest debut for a show on Showtime in eight years).
These numbers are noteworthy for two reasons: One, the pilot episode was available online and On Demand before the actual on-air premiere, but that didn’t hurt viewership much.
Two, Sundays are days of stiff competition, CBS having moved their hit The Good Wife to Sundays this season, as well as HBO rolling out Season 3 of Hung and AMC throwing another stellar episode of Breaking Bad out there. So Homeland did more than alright for itself.
Yet the reason I got on the bandwagon of singing Homeland’s praises early (I called it this season’s best new show, period, no contest, on my Twitter the other day) has nothing to do with the hype that picked up over it in the past week. I came for one man only: Damian Lewis. You may remember him from NBC’s gone-too-soon cop drama Life two seasons ago, or you may remember him from HBO’s acclaimed miniseries Band of Brothers, but you definitely remember him. He’s that ginger-haired guy you never believed was English until you heard him speak in his normal accent. (You’re not the only one, his co-stars on Band of Brothers didn’t suspect his British descent for weeks while on set.) (My personal favorite appearance of him was in the independent movie Keane, which you should most definitely check out.)
In Homeland Damian Lewis stars as a Sergeant of the US Marine Corps, who returns home from Iraq after having been a prisoner of war for eight years. Opposite Damian Lewis is the very-blonde Claire Danes, who I had almost forgotten existed, I hadn’t seen her in anything for so long. She plays a CIA agent, who receives a tip from an Iraqi informant that an American POW may have been turned against the USA and is now in league with Al Qaida in planning more terrorist attacks on US soil. But she’s also mentally unstable, so whose story are you going to believe?
Both Danes and Lewis deliver excellent performances in Homeland (the supporting cast is outstanding as well, Morena Baccarin and Mandy Patinkin first and foremost) and instantly sell you on the emotion, the tension, the mystery and the air of fear the show delivers. The notion of national fear is one of special importance in the text of Homeland, the show gives off a very claustrophobic vibe and makes it hard to breathe while watching, which is precisely what it should be doing, given the subject matter. And hey, I am European and even I can’t breathe easy when watching Homeland, so I can only imagine what it feels like for the average American viewer.
But don’t be put off by this! Don’t think: “Why would I want to watch something that makes me feel panicked and stirs up unrest?” Watch Homeland precisely because it does that, because it touches on issues that are lingering just beneath the surface of every single news item you watch or read, every second conversation you have with a friend or a coworker, every trip to a national landmark you make, every instance you run into heightened security measures. America is not the nation it was eleven years ago, and Homeland takes a good, hard look at why that is, while not forgetting that it’s a TV show that is meant to keep you glued to your seat. At its core Homeland is an extremely well-made mystery thriller, made better only by tapping into contemporary anxieties and modern day politics.
Little by little, flashback by flashback, conversation by conversation, the viewer learns more about what happened to Brody in captivity, what Claire Danes’ Carrie Anderson has been up to and lived through, why a situation can never be called black or white and just how humongous a job it is to try and protect an entire country from any possible evil that might befall it, especially when you have failed before. Homeland really does its best to dissect the American psyche in the Age of Terror, without forgetting that at the end of the day, these are all people involved in this most personal of battles, therefore striking the perfect balance between introspection and entertainment. You can’t ask much more of a TV show than what Homeland delivers.
Again, let me come back to Damian Lewis and his indispensable excellence. The scene where his character, Sgt. Nicholas Brody, arrives back in America and sees his wife and two kids again for the first time in eight years is one of the most moving pieces of acting I have seen all year, in either television or movies. And it’s not because it is laden with tears and dramatic music and sappy dialog, on the contrary. It’s because it is awkward and heartfelt and deliberately short that it has such an impact. After seeing that scene, you want to like Brody, you want to believe him, you want him to have a quiet, peaceful life from now on.
Damian Lewis, like few other actors, is able to inspire that compassion in you instantly, only to go ahead and shake it all up a few scenes later, when Brody and his wife are alone in the bedroom after eight years of uncertainty, torture and desperate hope. Lewis gives you a man you want to trust more than anything but you should always fear a little, the perfect combination of traumatized soldier, lost soul and suspicious behavior. Even if everything else surrounding his performance in Homeland wasn’t stellar, Damian Lewis alone would be worth tuning in for. Fortunately, the surrounding factors are just as good, so there really is no reason I shouldn’t give you the resounding recommendation to tune into Homeland next Sunday. When you hear everyone talking about it in years to come, don’t tell me I didn’t give you a chance to get on the bandwagon early. You’ll only have yourself to blame if you let this one pass you by.
Need more TV coverage? Listen to a new “Television Collision: Podcast Extra”, Episode 17 below.
Topics include Person of Interest, The Playboy Club, Terra Nova and Suburgatory.
Author: Phoebe Raven, CC2K Staff Writer
Born in Germany, lived in the US, now in the UK. Always taking my love for TV and writing with me. Life participator. Blogger. Gaming enthusiast.