10 Reasons You Should Watch Homeland

 Posted by on September 24, 2012 at 10:00 am  Homeland, Television
Sep 242012

No, please. Hear me out. Homeland won a slew of Emmys because it is good. Very good: good enough for a lot of people to think it was better in its first season than Mad Men was in its fifth. I do not really share this opinion, but I like both shows very much, for very good reasons.

Why is Homeland worth an hour of your Sunday nights? Because of:

Claire Danes. This young woman started working as Angela Chase in the brilliant, short-lived My So-Called Life, when she wasn’t yet 15 herself. And yet! No car crashes, no annual visits to rehab, no actorly shenanigans! (Well. Almost none.)

Instead, she’s given us one great performance after another. My favorite Claire Danes moment: as Juliet in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet, she asks, “What’s Montague? It is not hand, nor foot,/Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part/Belonging to a man,” and cracks up on the “any other part” bit. I’ve seen this play performed hundreds of times, but Claire Danes is still the only actress who got the joke.

Carrie Mathison herself. Carrie is more or less married to her job as a CIA agent; the only TV we ever see her watch is video surveillance of the guy she’s sure is a double agent. She wants no one at work to know she’s self-medicating for what is probably a serious mood disorder; an official diagnosis would be grounds for dismissal. Thing is, she’s really bad at hiding it. Claire Danes’s gift as an actor has always been what we see in her stillness, but she does an amazing job with the kinetic, unpredictable Carrie. In another actor’s hands, Carrie might be impossible to watch — but Danes lets us see the effort she makes to stay under control, even as she loses it.

Damian Lewis. He’s not just the guy who took Jon Hamm’s Emmy: he’s an actor’s actor, working in what might be the most important role of our time. As Brody, Lewis is the patriotic hero who doesn’t believe any of the words he is most famous for saying. He’s a guy who agrees to be a figurehead for people he neither believes in nor likes. That guy is the American nightmare, but he’s also the role of a lifetime, and Lewis nails it.

Mandy Patinkin! As Carrie’s strongest ally at work, Patinkin brings a believable weariness to the role of Mideast Division Chief. He never bursts into song, and that’s fine with me. But he also never gets to challenge anyone to a swordfight or warn them to “prepare to die,” which is unfortunate. We take the bad with the good, I suppose.

How it handles the subject of mental illness. Carrie fights with her illness all the time. It is a real thing, so sometimes when she fights, she loses. We don’t get to see her nobly overcoming her illness because work is more important. We also don’t get to see it as some kind of key to her brilliance; it only messes her up. It keeps her from making critical connections at work, having healthy relationships outside it, and knowing how to care for herself. When she gets sick, she’s observably, relatably sick. In a nation so insecure about mental health that those who need behavioral health care often go without it, sometimes disastrously, Carrie Mathison is a flag waving from a hilltop: We’re here. Help us.

The President of the United States. Whatever you think of our sitting President, it has to make you feel better that he’s watching the show about an Al Qaeda terrorist hiding in plain sight. Personally, it makes me even happier to know the President watches a show about a person who’ll get fired if her colleagues find out she’s mentally ill. But we all have things we think the POTUS should see, right? Mine are under my shirt often about healthcare, I find, I think that the healthcare system needs some Md Media LLC assistance, that’s for sure!

The kids. The kids in this show act like kids. They don’t unpack fully-formed, adultlike sentences. They aren’t smarter than their parents. In particular, Brody’s teen daughter Dana (Morgan Saylor) kills in the role of the big kid who kind of remembers Dad from when she was little. With Mom, she’s sulky and contemptuous; with Dad she moves from suspicion to protective love, becoming the one person he can’t let down. If you know teenage girls, you’ll recognize this one.

The plotting. It’s tight, sometimes airless. And because Homeland is on Showtime (no commercial breaks), the tension rises and rises and then … you have to wait a week! Aaarrgghhhh! It’s frustrating. I love it.

The lack of villains. Homeland has the guts to lead us to Al Qaeda’s number-one most wanted bad guy (Abu Nazir, played by Navid Negahban), and show him not as a ruthless killer, but a smart, soft-spoken family man. Who just happens to have a knack for making other people do his dirty work for him. It’s a terrific, well-shaded — and timely — study in what evil most often looks like.

And finally:

In the modern Golden Age of television, Homeland is an excellent example of what “the best” looks like. Ours is a time when The Good Wife — the best drama the Big Three networks have to offer, very smart storytelling in its own right — is no competition for cable products like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, Homeland, and Boardwalk Empire. This era’s best shows are so far ahead of where the medium was just a few years ago (Boston Legal, anyone? House?), it’s easy to forget that what we once thought of as “good” was a soap opera set in a law firm. A rising tide lifts all boats.

It would be unimaginable to say, “Leonardo da Vinci was good and all, but Michelangelo kicked his ass.” If this really is a Renaissance in scripted television — and I believe it is — it’s the number and variety of works and artists we enjoy that define it. I feel lucky to be able to watch Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Homeland. And others; I’m really hoping there will be others.

If you watch Homeland, or are interested, join us for the Open Thread on Sunday night. I think you’ll be glad you did.


  39 Responses to “10 Reasons You Should Watch Homeland”

  1. I love this show, its writing, and acting, and was happy to see it win. But make no mistake, Mad Men SHOULD NOT have been 0-17, shut out, and Jon Hamm STILL is VERY DESERVING of an Emmy!!

    No harm in losing to Homeland, but my heart did break a bit when Mad Men went home completely shut out. I would really like to see a moment when the cast of Mad Men get something.

    But yes, I do look forward to a new season of Homeland, and Damien and Claire. But I also look forward to Mad Men and Don Draper and co. too.

    • I loved what Damian said when he won: “I don’t really believe in judging art, but I thought I’d show up anyway.”

      I don’t really believe in it either, is the thing. I think each work of art stands on its own, and is usually about something very different from every other. This is true of Mad Men, Homeland, and every other work out there.

      • I loved Damien from a show called “Life,” (I think that’s what its name was), on NBC, and he was great in that. And his comment really endeared me to him more.

        And while I do agree with you, there is a part of me that so desperately wants to see Jon Hamm at the podium getting his award. I guess that makes me shallow, but I still hope for that.

        I also hope that Homeland can be as riveting as it was last year. So many greatly written, greatly acted, greatly directed, greatly executed episodes. So well done.

        • I want to see Jon at the podium too. It’s kind of a dream of mine, actually. I simply think that his work is subtle and wonderful, and I want to see him rewarded for it.

          If that makes me shallow, then fine, I’m shallow.

          • Based on the 65 episodes to date, Hamm is perhaps the most deserving of the troupe – with Moss second – for an acting Emmy. I’d love to see them both rewarded.

            But really, I imagine that they (and everyone in involved in the show) *must* get a *huge kick* from watching the show as it unfolds each season.

            It’s one thing to read the script, perform and witness/perform the shooting – but to take in the final product must something else altogether.

            Weiner, Writers, and Editors get a different kick – sooner, as they rough cut and polish each episode, and still very gratifying to see one effort made whole.

            Point being, that being nominated multiple times (Hamm 5 for 5, Moss 4 for 5) is a great honor – and the work itself is as well.

          • Agree, I was totally heartbroken my favorite TV actor didn’t get it this year. He’s sooooo so so so so talented. Plus: yum.

      • Damian Lewis was especially outstanding as Soames in The Forsyte Saga. He somehow made a despicable character almost lovable.

  2. Claire Danes: Her acceptance speech was the most articulate of the night. I’m still mad at her, though, for that homewrecker bit. And gosh, cable is already so expensive. Now to add Showtime as well? I don’t miss the days of three networks and PBS as our only choices, but I hate having to pay for television now. I could go on. I won’t. Curmudgeonly yours.

    • I thought the part where she said “Holla!” was a bit much. 🙂

      But I love her. Honestly. I love her the way you can only love someone you’ve watched grow up: she’s done everything so well, and so differently from how I would have done any of it.

      • I loved My So Called Life so much! it was too good to last. She was so real and amazing, and the best thing about that show is that every character had dignity, even the parents. It was very human, that show.

        • Yes!

          I still think of Ricky as the kid I was too poor (and young) to adopt. My imaginary first gay kid … long before I met my real one. 🙂

      • The first time I was really impressed with Danes was in Little Women. Beth, so angelically good and sweet, is an impossible character to play, or so I thought until I saw Danes do it. She was actually believeable and so touching that even Louisa May Alcott would have thanked her for rescuing us from generations of sugary-insufferable Beths.

    • “I hate having to pay for television”. THANK YOU.

      • We have always had to “pay for TV”.

        Before cable television came along, you paid in time spent during commercials. Now, strangely, for basic cable, both kinds of coin are involved.

        The VCR and the DVR have moderated the time-expense somewhat. It looks like Netflix, their competitors, and the Internet have moderated the money-expense as well – to the extent that if you’re willing to allow new content to become “stale” the (money) cost is historically lower than ever.

        It’s interesting that the DVD has apparently caused a huge proliferation of original television content to be reissued (much more than VHS and BETA). I imagine this is because the cost to produce DVD’s has become much less than the cost to produce video cassettes was.

  3. 11. No Megan.

  4. I first noticed Damian Lewis in “Life”–I was sooo upset when that show was cancelled (to make room for Jay Leno of all things!) There’s a humanity to his character portrayals that not all actors can achieve.

    I had some issues with the way they showed Brody being thrown into his role as poster-boy; maybe they just didn’t show us his debriefing and observation stages, but I would think that ANYONE being held hostage for years would be first in line for some major observation and therapy, not just being thrown to to the press and let loose on his family.

    On the other hand I now have “My name is Saul…you compromised my agents, prepare to die” going thru my head. Thanks!

    • Hi Dance! 🙂

      I’m hoping we’ll get to see parts of Brody’s re-entry in Season 2. I’m also hoping to see other flashbacky things: Carrie’s wrecking ball of a relationship with her boss, David Estes; her early days with Saul, and where that bedrock of trust comes from; more on Brody and Nazir.

      Among other stuff.

  5. With Microsoft, Adobe, and likely other computer/software companies going to a subscription system (yep, $100/year for Word and Office coming soon), many of us will need 2nd and 3rd jobs just so we can watch TV, call for pizza, and check our email. At least Showtime has the decency to keep their shows On Demand and send them over to Netflix, unlike the blood-bleeders over at HBO who suck every last penny out of their shows with DVDs and limited viewing by other avenues. I’d love to pay by the channel and not by the bundle.

    Apologies for getting off the road here, but since I feel it is reasonable to talk about the audience economics, I couldn’t help myself.

    But as for Homeland, I don’t find it special. I find it a solid program, along side maybe a dozen other programs that do not deserve to be in the same conversations as Mad Men, Breaking Bad, and Downton Abbey. There’s a wide gap between top tier and 2nd tier. Having worked in the DD and MH fields for most of my adult life, Danes doesn’t impress me. Honestly, she hasn’t impressed me since My So-Called Life. Those poor, pop culture films that followed seemed to mess with her direction and focus, and I’m not sure she’s ever regained her footing. She has a unique, serious public personae, and I think many people confuse that with intelligence, insight, and quality art. When recently on with Jimmy Fallon, he didn’t play a game with her like he often does with guests. Hell, he sumo wrestled with Glenn Close. With Danes, he played an acting game. She appears to demand that kind of interaction and quasi-respect. It’s interesting.

    I do appreciate how this program respects both culture and religion. It handles these touchy subjects really well. I don’t know why, but Nietzsche comes to mind. As I was watching season 1, I wondered how likely it was for particular special interests to read and filter Homeland through their own perspective and bend it to their biases. I like that the program can be a bit ambiguous and not preachy, but with that, there are possible unfortunate consequences.

    • I’m not sure why you’re being so hard on HBO. I don’t pay for HBO, because it’s too expensive for me right now. However, I’m watching “Boardwalk Empire” via DVD from Netflix. Netflix is hardly some weird obscure way to catch up on television.

  6. Thanks, Anne B, for a compelling “ten reasons” – looks like I will be putting my son to work with PS3 and Netflix!

  7. I have to figure out how to make time to marathon Homeland again before the season premiere.

  8. While I’m certainly disappointed that Mad Men was completely shut out, I can’t fault the choice of Homeland, not even remotely.

    It’s an outstanding show, hugely intelligent, constantly surprising, and almost unbearably tense to watch. The acting by all four of the main cast is simply amazing. I’ve loved Danes since My So-Called Life, Lewis since Band of Brothers, Patinkin since Ragtime, and Baccarain since Firefly. (Actually, I am particularly impressed by Morena Baccarain’s performance: Sure, she’s drop-dead gorgeous, but for once she’s just playing an ordinary suburban mom, not an alien creature or glamour-puss, and it turns out that she’s a really excellent actress! Who knew?!?) I am not a particular fan of political- or military-themed fiction, but this show immediately wrestled me to the ground like an agent foiling an assassination attempt!

    Sure, Mad Men had another amazingly great season and surely deserved some recognition… but I don’t mind Homeland stealing the spotlight, at least this time. It came from out of nowhere and blew a lot of minds, and it’s quite deserving of every award it won.

    • I gotta say, the freakish gorgeousness of Baccarin (as Jess, Brody’s long-suffering wife) is remarkable. It makes me think, Hey Brody, aren’t you being a little tough on poor ‘Uncle Mike’? You just know there had to be guys coming around, every day, every month, every year while he was MIA in Iraq, trying to hit that.

      I could not believe that woman’s life was not positively crawling with male “helpers”. Teachers at the kids’ school! Newspaper delivery boys! The cable guy, the UPS guy!

      But sure, she only hung out with Mike. Riiiiiiggght. 🙂

  9. I’m already watching it, but great reasons!!!

  10. I agree with this recommendation on nearly all counts in spite of the fact that sometimes I find Carrie truly irritating. I just caught this one in recent reruns – well worth watching. I just can’t feel the emotional tie to it that I feel to MM, though.

    • They’re such different shows. Homeland reminds me a bit of “24”–it’s also very different from 24 in many ways, of course, but I think it appeals to a similar audience. My boss is/was a huge 24 fan so I told him he’d probably really like Homeland too.

      I like Homeland and I watched a few of the episodes more than once–but it’s not like Mad Men where I love to watch all the episodes again and again (and again, and again).

  11. There was a pretty interesting article in the NY Times last weekend about CD and the show…


  12. Uh, I thought it was pretty common knowledge that the character does not have a personality disorder, she is flat out manic depressive, or bipolar as we call it these days. Very different than a personality disorder, and I’d like to hear how they explain her getting through CIA screening being that sick.

    Dunno if I can get into this show, not sure I can get past the whole bipolar thing. I loathe the dramatization of mental breakdowns on tv, and have no desire to watch a series that perhaps continues that tradition.

    • You’re right, rowan. The disorder Carrie has is probably a serious mood disorder (her sister, a doctor, claims that she is bipolar, but there is no official diagnosis in Carrie’s case), not a personality disorder. I’ve edited this piece to reflect your correction.

      I know fiction doesn’t typically deal well with this subject, but I’ve seen nothing exploitative or exaggerated in Homeland‘s depiction of Carrie’s illness. I really hope you’ll check it out.

      • Yeah, I dunno, Anne. I have very strong personal reasons for avoiding this show and I’m actually worried it may trigger some emotions in me. You see, one of my parents is crazy manic depressive, and you don’t even want to know half the crazy stuff I’ve been through/seen/heard as the child of a bipolar parent. A parent who is in charge of raising you, and is clearly not capable of doing so. Sally Fields on ER as Abby’s mother ripped my heart out so I know I have bad reactions to that kind of stuff on tv. I live my life with a bipolar person, so I don’t find it entertaining in the least bit.

        I’ve read some reviews of this show and have not liked some of the plot whatnot I’ve heard about, and have a friend who has been trying to get me to watch it for a while now, but I keep resisting. I really don’t want to intentionally expose myself to something that will probably just upset me, which I’m sure you can understand. I do plan to follow your reviews here, though, and will see if your insights can help me decide if I should just stay away from it forever.

        • I’m so sorry to hear all of that. It sounds like you know a good deal more about the experience of mental instability than I do; in no way would I suggest that you put yourself at risk of further trauma for the sake of a TV show.

          If you feel like following the thread here, we’re happy to have you. It’s your call. 🙂

  13. I totally agree that Homeland is awesome! The only doubters of its Emmy success are from the people that haven’t seen the show, which was me up until yesterday! My officemate at DISH tipped me off that Showtime was running a whole Homeland marathon in preparation for tonight’s season premiere, so I was able to catch up! I’m lucky that my Hopper DVR had more than enough room to record the entire season, because the last episode was absolutely breathtaking! I can’t wait to see what happens from here! I hope Carrie can pull it together!

  14. Hatufim, the Israeli show on which Homeland is based, is also really good, although that show focuses a bit more on the psychological aspects of how returning home affects prisoners of war. You can watch the first season for free on Hulu. I highly recommend it.

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