Starting a week of short previews of what’s coming up later this year, I recently attended a screening of Homeland, a thriller starring Claire Danes which (as I type this) has just picked up the Golden Globe for best drama. Broadly based on the acclaimed Israeli series Hatufim and shown on the Showtime channel in the US (also home to Dexter), it begins next month on Channel Four.
Danes stars as CIA officer Carrie Mathison, who we first see in Iraq bribing her way into a jail to try to get some information about a possible attack from a bomb maker who is due to be executed. He whispers in her ear that an American prisoner of war has been turned, something she immediately discredits because there are no Americans being held. Ten months later, Sergeant Nicholas Brody, a US Marine who went missing in Iraq eight years ago and has long been presumed dead, is rescued in a Special Forces raid. Carrie immediately puts two and two together, suspecting Brody of being the convert to al-Qaeda she was told about. Because she has little evidence and Brody is being greeted by America as a returning war hero, she knows the CIA will not support any investigation. Instead, she carries out her own unauthorized surveillance work in an attempt to see if her suspicions are correct and prevent a terrorist attack.
In a few ways, this feels like a more grown-up version of 24, and not just because being made by a cable channel rather than a network means it can have nudity and swearing. As much as I absolutely loved 24, it did often help to switch your brain off while watching, while Homeland seems a lot more intelligent and based in reality. It’s also got a tremendously interesting lead character in Carrie Mathison, who takes anti-psychotic medication and is only interested in men who want one-night stands, a stand-out performance from Danes. Damian Lewis is also excellent as Brody, a man who, whether a terrorist mole or not, clearly has gone through hell for the past eight years. There are no shoot-outs or explosions (in the opening episode, at least) but there are a few things that would be familiar for fans of 24 – the sense of a ticking clock towards a terrorist attack, the surveillance operation with cameras and microphones around the suspect’s house, and our hero having to secretly do their own investigations because their superiors won’t listen to their instincts.
The first episode is one of the best debuts I’ve seen for a while, it drew me in very quickly and introduced the characters in some depth early on. As Brody arrives home to a hero’s welcome, we meet his wife Jess (V’s Morena Baccarin) who, despite tying a yellow ribbon, telling the world she won’t give up hope and even shunning the wife of another missing Marine for remarrying, has been finding solace in the arms of (of course) her husband’s best friend. We’re also introduced to his rebellious teenage daughter Dana and sweet-natured son Chris, who grew up without really knowing his dad. There’s something about this family that made me hope things go well for them and at times I started to doubt Carrie’s suspicions and wonder if Brody really is just a traumatized kidnap victim, before being sent back in the other direction again. I’m sure I’ll be sent back and forth some more as the series goes on.
There are twelve episodes in this first season, meaning it’s not the 20-plus week commitment some American series are, and a second has already been ordered. I’d say Homeland definitely goes in the “don’t miss” category.