TV Review: Homeland

It’s been four months since the rave reviews first came flooding across from America and several weeks of anticipation in the UK until judgement day finally arrived for Showtime’s thriller Homeland premiering for the first time in the UK on Channel 4 this past Sunday. Amid a sizeable ad campaign and much media furore, the Golden Globe winner smashed onto the scene with an apparent 2.2 million viewers tuning in for the pilot episode, a relatively high debut for a brand new show.

Developed by people involved with the inimitable 24 starring Keifer Sutherland, the pilot in a lot of ways really resembles and mirrors the show, with a number of terrorist overtones and a large consternation between the main characters and the constitution of a true American hero. As in 24, not everything is as it seems, and an underlying theme is that people are often not as they are outwardly portrayed to be. In this pilot episode, Sergeant Nicholas Brody returns from an 8 year absence in a Prisoner of War camp in Baghdad, and is met with the media and the country welcoming him back a hero. However, CIA agent Carrie Mathison believes that Brody has been turned by his captors, and poses an imminent threat to national security.

Played by the superb Claire Danes, Mathison’s quest to out Brody as being anything but the American hero he is made out to be is complicated by the state of her mental well-being. Depending on a pharmaceutical drug to balance out her neuroses, Mathison is unstable, unpredictable and highly erratic, meaning that it is highly challenging for her to make people believe her theory that the rescue of this PoW could be more than coincidence. Danes captures the character perfectly, and has been celebrated for her performance accordingly, winning the Golden Globe for best actress in a TV series recently. Her ability to convey the desperate madness of a person whose outlandish claims are right against all odds is strikingly compelling and particularly reminiscent of Idris Elba’s depiction of unbalanced maverick police detective John Luther in the BBC’s Luther serial.

Furthermore, Damian Lewis is excellent in his role as the disturbed Nicholas Brody, portraying the conflicted American hero struggling with his internal suffering while also giving the audience enough of an indicator that something is remiss with the Sergeant. Also being in proximity to Golden Globe recognition after narrowly missing out on best actor in a series, Lewis plays the role with such depth and subtlety that the very mystery of his character’s intentions which the drama of the series hinges upon is hidden beautifully for the audience to lavish conjecture on what will eventually happen. Similar in scope and feel to the American remake of The Killing, the direction of his character and the script’s decision to narrow the suspicious actions to one character makes this show superior insofar as it is far more focused and driven to a particular endgame, which is essentially held in the enigma of Brody and what his disappearance means in context with all the other moving parts of the show.

In stark contrast to these decent storyline arc beginnings however is the rather transparent and perhaps lazy arc that will involve Brody’s family life. Having her husband disappear for eight years obviously means that the wife of Nicholas Brody will have moved in for the sake of a television drama, yet the choice of partner being his best friend screams rehash and is becoming a horribly jaded trope that shows use as a crutch. In Homeland, it is entirely logical, yet the scene in the pilot where Morena Baccarin’s Jessica Brody is vigorously in the act with her husband’s best friend before being interrupted by a phone call from the recently reclaimed Sergeant is laughably overplayed. Baccarin does well to salvage the situation with her performance, but in an age where Rick Grimes’ wife in The Walking Dead is sleeping with his best friend after a zombie apocalypse within a week, this particular storyline seems clichéd and uninspiring.

Obviously, at this stage of the show it is incredibly difficult to ascertain whether or not the show will live up to the hype or is merely one of those shows where critics watch the pilot, rave about it and then it’s just accepted that the show is worthy of all those credentials that are featured heavily in the adverts. Furthermore, the initial success of the show will undoubtedly face the strong test of most American imports that Channel 4 pick up in that it will fail to sustain an audience if it doesn’t perform, as the channel is renowned for its shifting time schedules that push this type of show later and later into the night. Time will tell if Homeland will make significant waves in the UK as it has in America, but if tonight’s well-executed and thought-provoking opener is anything to go by, I doubt it has anything to worry about.

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~ by jrhett on February 21, 2012.

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