Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Review - Homeland

Watching anything on Youtube is tricky for me. For some reason, with my network set up, it takes forever to load.  So while I start out trying to watch something, I end up learning lessons about frustration and patience.

It's weird because I never have a problem with Xfinity or Hulu.  But Youtube give me fits.

Still, when I heard that Showtime was offering up the premiere episode of their much hyped new drama, Homeland, before it's air date and it was on Youtube, I knew I was going to have to suck it up and get a piece of that action.

Homeland focuses on it's two leads; Claire Dames as Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent investigating Damian Lewis' Nicholas Brody a recently released POW.

Carrie got word from an asset that Al-Qaeda had turned an American POW, so when Brody is rescued red flags start going off.  But because of her own troubled past, she harbors 9/11 guilt, her interaction with her asset caused an international incident, she had an affair with a superior, she's looked at as a loose cannon who's on her last strike.

Brody is an honest to goodness American hero, something the nation is in short supply of, and even Carrie's soft touch is deemed too hard.  So she mounts a rogue investigation.

Meanwhile Brody is adjusting to normal life.  His family has learned to function in the eight years he's been missing and presumed dead.  His children are older and barely remember him.  When he and his wife are intimate again, first she recoils at the brutality inflicted upon him and then at the brutality he inflicts on her.  And later Brody begins to suspect his wife has been sleeping with his best friend.  But still he tries to be a good man.

However all is not what it seems. Mathison, unbeknownst to anyone other than the P.I. she employs in her investigation, is taking anti-psychotic medication, so there's a chance that she's seeing terrorists where there aren't any.

On the other hand, Brody isn't telling the truth about his time as a POW.  We learn this via literal flashbacks to his time as a prisoner.  He knows more than he's telling, but does that mean that he's a terrorist?

Mathison does manage to find something incriminating, in a truly inspired sequence.  It's actually quite masterful how the pieces connect, which allows the series to continue past the pilot stage.  

Dames gives a powerful performance as a severely broken character.  She's the typical "crusading federal agent" only with a jury of skeletons in her closet.  Mathison is wasting away having meaningless one-night stands until Brody gives her something to focus herself on.  Dames manages to embrace the challenge without going over the top.

Lewis' performance is an exhibit in restraint.  Much like the character he played in Life, Lewis' Brody experience the worst of humanity as a prisoner.  But unlike Life's Charlie Crews, Brody exhibits not mirth or merriment, he's a total mystery.  We don't know what he's doing and only get glimpses of what he's thinking, occasionally.  It's one of those restrained performances  where when emotion finally comes, it will be worth the wait.

Rounding out the cast are V's  Morena Baccarin as Brody's wife and  Mandy Patinkin as Mathison's handler.  They each share the scene different leads, yet give no ground in terms of energy or performance.  

Homeland was easily one of the best hours I've seen from a pay cable channel in awhile.  It's instantly engaging and it's hold on you grows tighter as the hour progressed.

My worry is that Homeland will get me invested.  Showtime has a history of pulling the plug on shows prematurely.  The critically acclaimed Huff ended after two seasons with plenty of dangling plot lines, while Out of Order ended up being just six episodes.  Brotherhood ended prematurely, but with some degree of closure but Filthy Gorgeous never got past the pilot stage.

Given all that, I'm worried about the survival for a show as nuanced as Homeland, especially on a channel that seems to cater to an audience looking for flash (Dexter, Nurse Jackie, Weeds, Californication) rather than substance.  

But Homeland is good enough that I may have to consider getting cable again.

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