Homeland and the Elements of a Good Show


During the huge online protest against SOPA and PIPA, I held a relatively cautious point of view about bashing a bill whose main purpose was to stop illegal acts.  I was against the bills, but I wanted to maintain an open-minded perspective on piracy and intellectual property rights.  That being said, when I see a show like Showtime’s Homeland, I want to just shut off my ethical radar and enjoy some incredible television.

As I’ve watched more and more TV and written more and more reviews, I’ve come to realize that there are a few key characteristics of a show that are central to my reception of it.  The first is a simple yet captivating premise.  Homeland has just this; Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) is a CIA agent who suspects returned prisoner of war and national hero Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis) of being a threat to the United States.  Regardless of the depth of the characters or the content of the plot, this premise alone was intriguing enough to capture my attention from the very start for a number of reasons.  Firstly, the complex dynamics of a soldier returning home to his family after 8 years of captivity are strangely relatable and captivating.  We feel both indignation and sympathy towards the wife, who, assuming Brody’s death, had begun a relationship with his best friend.  The son essentially meets his father for the first time, whereas his daughter gains a father, whose guidance and company she desperately needs.  Secondly, I was gripped by the juxtaposition between Brody’s perception as a national hero and the suspicion of his ulterior motives, both because of the mystery surrounding his motives and because of allusions to current society’s attitudes towards soldiers and terrorists.

This leads to the second aspect of my ideal show: deep, complex, and relatable characters.  Both Carrie and Brody are intricately developed and consistently unpredictable.  We find out that Carrie struggles with bipolar disorder and must secretly take drugs in order to keep herself under control.  Without giving away too much, this condition will play a major role later in the season, as she struggles to reveal Brody’s true intentions against the will of her boss and the public.  Danes’ great portrayal of the emotional and brilliant agent won her a well-deserved Golden Globe for best actress on a television drama.

Brody is also an exceptionally complex character, aided largely by Lewis’ reserved acting style, leaving the audience mystified about who he really is and what he wants.  Even as we become more and more aware of Brody’s ties to his terrorist captors, his love for his family and even for his country remains seemingly sincere.  Homeland avoids placing Brody into a clean category, instead portraying him as a loving and sincere, if misguided and dangerous, man.  Even by the end of the finale, Brody remains mysterious and morally ambiguous.

Homeland’s captivating premise and complex, relatable, characters are tied together by fantastic directing and a thrilling storyline.  Every episode leaves you on the edge of your seat, with the season one finale blowing the rest out of the water.  All 90 minutes of the finale are thrilling and include spectacular performances by Danes and Lewis.  I strongly recommend Homeland for anyone looking for a deeper, more exciting, and more captivating show to watch.

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