I finally got around to watching the pilot episode for Showtime's new drama/thriller series Homeland. The show centers around Carrie Mathison/Anderson (Claire Danes), a CIA officer who suspects that the army Sergeant recently rescued from Iraq, one Nicolas Brody (Damien Lewis) has been turned during his eight year captivity and is planning an attack on US soil. The series has been greenlit for a full season, be warned - there are spoilers ahead for the episode.
It's a concept which plugs straight into the heart of a nation's experiences, concerns and fears. Whilst terrorism is the least effective form of warfare (it tends to inspire defiance, strength and many noble traits in the people who have been attacked), it is a very real and constant threat in our current societies. The insidious nature of the acts and the often civilian targets make it something that has the potential to hang over all our heads. Homeland takes this one step further, making the enemy not just a group of far away radicals or a Sleeper Cell, instead it gives the (potential) enemy an American face in Brody.
The cast is nothing short of fantastic, along with Danes and Lewis (sounds like an 80s cop buddy partnership), we also have Morena Baccarin (Firefly, V) as Brody's wife Jessica, Mandy Patinkin (Princess Bride, Dead Like Me, Criminal Minds) as Saul (Carrie's mento figure), David Harewood (Robin Hood, The Vice) and David Marciano (The Shield, Due South) amongst others.
The pilot unfolds in a manner that is reminiscent of The Shield's opening pilot, the punch comes in the last few moments (almost literally) and until then much of the episode is spent setting up the premise and introducing the characters. It doesn't have the massive left turn that The Shield achieves, instead providing a huge indicator of guilt via flashbacks, but the result is similar - you're left in little doubt about Brody's Guilt/Innocence by the end of it. I say little because this show, if it is going to run for any length of time, is probably going to be very twisty and turny.
However I do have concerns about Homeland, I'm going to watch it as I enjoy watching shows with bad people, and there is no doubt that both Anderson (Danes) and Brody (Lewis) are not decent people, not by any stretch of the imagination. Anderson has severe mental problems that are only tempered by her brilliance, Brody is a suspected terrorist - even Jessica (Baccarin) is not without sin as she has been seeing Brody's friend Mike (Diego Klattenhoff) during the eight years that Brody has been MIA. Make no mistake, this is a show about people with personal issues or political agendas. It has the potential to take more turns and loops than the average season of 24 used to.
This is the problem, I'm not sure how far the concept can go, either Brody is going to turn out to be a 100% genuine threat to America and have to be dealt with, or he is going to be involved in a series of agent/double agent/is he/isn't he fake outs that if handled incorrectly will turn out terrible. I'm interested in watching to see where this goes, but I can see myself dropping the show rapidly if it doesn't manage to click with me. The cast is good, but the writing and plotting is going to be key here, especially if the show is going to run for more than a single season; but the writing team does not entirely fill me with confidence we have Alex Gansa, Howard Gordon and Gideon Raff. The good news is that Gansa and Gordon have worked together for a long time, the bad news is they worked on the later part of 24, you know - the bit where the show jumped the shark repeatedly? Gideon Raff was associated with 'Prisoners of War' the series that Homeland is based on, but I can find little information about that series on the web at this time. Raff's other work seems highly inconsistent.
It's enough to raise concerns, but the proof is in the pudding (so to speak) and as such I'm going to follow Homeland each week, at least until I've had enough - hopefully for the whole run.
For alternative takes on this have a look at Rob Buckley's review and Dan Owen's review.