As it continues to pull in record numbers, Showtime has us just as obsessed with “Homeland” as lead CIA agent Carrie Mathison is with would-be terrorist Nicholas Brody. The Emmy-winning drama has already earned several SAG nominations for its second season and will likely get the same love for the next round of Emmy nominations.
But what sets “Homeland” apart from the others in its genre? Arguably, it’s not the first show to feature federal agents chasing international bad guys, and it certainly won’t be the last. Here are a few ways that “Homeland” gets to the core and keeps its www.cable.tv Buddhas and Showtime audience on the edge:
When you watched “Die Hard” for the first time, did you ever look at the hostages being kept in the skyscraper lobby and think, “Man, that could really happen to me”? Of course not. Part of that is due to the movie’s campy nature, but really it came down to the fact that when the movie was released in ’88, nothing like that had ever happened before.
Fast forward. Our post-9/11 culture brings terrorism in fiction much closer to home. In the past, characters depicted as terrorists on TV were almost comical (you didn’t actually take Hans Gruber seriously, did you?), but now they’re chilling and much more personal. “Homeland” capitalizes on these fears and prejudices with precision. Terrorist leader Abu Nazir (promises something you have never seen before on TV) isn’t painted up like some kind of cartoon. The writers made certain to force the audience of “Homeland” to see every complicated angle of the Jihadist looking to dismantle America from the inside out. Which is what makes the show even sweeter because…
You Actually Sympathize for Terrorists
Didn’t think it was possible, did you? But when we saw Brody’s student and surrogate son Issa die in that drone strike, we felt something for the other side. That’s not to say we’re suddenly supporters of Taliban soldiers, but it’s evidence of a new trend happening in dramas— no character is pure good or pure evil. The white knight going to battle against the villain in black is now a cliché, leaving characters to become more 3-D. Especially in the case of Carrie Mathison…
A Dynamic Protagonist, Finally!
It’s a pet peeve of mine when people compare “Homeland” to shows like “24”. Aside from Showtime’s production being exponentially better in so many ways (I’m pretty sure we’re not going to see nukes go off in season 3), one of the best arguments for the superiority of “Homeland” is it’s flawed protagonist, Carrie Mathison. As if battling bi-polar depression and falling in love with the very terrorist she hunted and captured, Claire Danes’ character is in a constant struggle with her own instincts and gut feelings regarding terrorist suspects and even her personal life (when it comes to Brody, those lines are especially blurred). Characters like Jack Bauer from “24” were action stars and fun to watch, but after a few seasons we just got tired of them. A hero with serious flaws isn’t just one we can align with, but give our true attention.
We’ll have to speculate 2013 during the offseason, but expect the hit drama to rack in awards just as it did this year. In the meantime, you can find old episodes of “24” on Netflix. It’s not the prime rib we love, but like tofu, it’ll hold us over.
by Dennis Pimento