Now that the war in Iraq is almost behind America, US television is probably ready to cope with the War on Terror as a background for episodic television.
The outstandingly-made Generation Kill and Over There were too real to become populist dramas.
Cable network Showtime now sets a conspiratorial drama, using the war as a backdrop to a saga on home turf. Homeland is based on an Israeli series Hatufim (which means ‘kidnapped’).
The hero of the story, in a dramatic sense anyway, is CIA agent Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) who digs deeper into the rescue of Marine Sergeant Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), found as a Prisoner of War after eight years in Afghanistan.
While the CIA and the nation are busy celebrating his homecoming with yellow ribbons around old oak trees, Mathison is far more suspicious.
What happened to the other US soldier who was also captured with him? And how does it stack up with intelligence she received in Iraq that a US soldier has been turned into a “sleeper cell” by his captor, terrorist Abu Nazir?
Mathison not only has suspicions, but a hot temper to boot. Her theories land little joy from CIA Deputy Director David Estes (David Harewood) but Middle-East Division Chief Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) cautiously cuts her more slack.
Brody’s family, consisting of Jessica (Morena Baccarin) and two teenagers (Jackson Pace,
Morgan Saylor), try to welcome back a missing husband and father. There are mixed feelings about reviving emotions when they have already moved on.
In the hands of 24 producer Howard Gordon, Homeland cleverly lays out its plot like jigsaw pieces, hooking the viewer into its conspiracies as well as its characters.
With a rock-solid cast, the characters have depth, drawing upon dense backstories and directorial subtext.
Dane’s central character isn’t readily-likable. She’s obsessive, desperate and flawed. But the quest for truth raises her stock. We know there’s some truth there somewhere that only she can get to the bottom of.
Damian Lewis, last seen in the more offbeat series Life, is brooding as the all-American hero, but if there is more to Brody then he hides it well.
Patinkin is always understated and pitch-perfect as the voice of experience. Morena Baccarin (V) adds a touch of glamour but is also concealing a lie. The sum of the parts makes for a dynamic ensemble.
As a cable drama there are flashes of language, violence and nudity -all of them are justified by the story.
Homeland is said to be a personal favourite of Barack Obama’s and it’s not hard to see why -although it’s a little alarming the leader of the US Army favours a tale that appears to negate it. Yesterday it became a Golden Globe winner too.
TEN is launching the show well in advance of the start of the ratings season, which is a concern. Narrative dramas of this calibre require the viewer to hook in from the start. A dark, sombre piece will need every assistance to work on a broad platform.
I couldn’t help but wonder what show might have been produced if the genders of the two lead characters had been reversed. It was, after all, Jessica Lynch who was the first US Prisoner of War to be rescued from Iraq, taken to Germany and given a hero homecoming -all of which are mirrored in Brody’s tale.
Nevertheless, Homeland is made of strong stuff. It’s the first bull’s-eye for 2012. I’m looking forward to watching how it all unravels.
Homeland premieres 8:30pm Sunday on TEN.