So in May when Vague Space gave out its awards for best television programs for the 2011-2012 season, Showtime series Nurse Jackie edged out Parks & Recreation for best comedy program and Showtime series Shameless beat out Game of Thrones for best drama program, quite an impressive feat for the "other" pay cable station (bettering HBO). Now, after spending the past 3 weeks gorging on the 1st season of Showtime drama Homeland, I might be inclined to say that the cable net has the best three programs on in all of television and I'm not entirely sure Shameless would have beaten out Homeland for best drama. I was really impressed with the series, particularly the hour-and-a-half closing episode that wrapped up a self-contained season but also brought up scores of unanswered questions about the future of the series. And honestly, what more could you ask for? Game of Thrones -- despite its splendor and great set pieces and terrific acting -- did not come close to such a fulfilling ending of a self-contained season. Homeland got it right and I'm not surprised at all that it beat out veteran Emmy winner Mad Men for best drama series in this year's awards a week ago. Season 2 debuted last night and I didn't watch yet but I strongly encourage my readers to find the program on Hulu or DVD if they don't have Showtime or on on-demand if it's still available for Season 1 (DirecTV ended its offering when Season 2 began) and watch. You'll be surprised at how fast you go through the season (I think it was only 10 episodes) and how quickly you'll want to watch the next episode once the first is complete.
In addition to winning the Best Drama Emmy, both of the stars of Homeland -- Claire Danes and Damian Lewis -- won their respective Actress/Actor in a Drama Series category last week, an impressive clean sweep that was just as well-deserved. Lewis marvelled throughout as an Iraq war POW who returns home and may or may not be a secret terrorist. But Danes started out a bit grating and even annoying yet really turned it around when her character started having some -- let's just say "issues" -- and her performances in the final episodes were a tour-de-force. The other actors in the series were also quite strong, led by Mandy Patinkin, who I hadn't seen in a regular role in a long time -- I know he's been in a lot of TV series but I never watched them -- and I'd forgotten what I great actor he is. His role as Danes' mentor was as well-rounded and important as the two stars and he should have gotten an Emmy as well (not sure if he was even nominated).
The plot of the show in Season 1 centered around Danes as a CIA agent who hears from a source in the opening scene in the series -- just before he dies in an Iraqi prison -- that Abu Nazir (a fictional head terrorist in al Qaeda) has turned an American POW to his cause and is planning to release him and send him back to the U.S. The season starts 8 months later, with Danes having served her administrative leave for her actions in Iraq to get this information -- and with Marine Sergeant Brody (Damian Lewis) just discovered in a raid in Afghanistan, 8 years after his capture in 2003 during an Iraqi mission. Danes tell Saul (Patinkin), her former boss and mentor, that she suspects Brody to be the "turned" POW (since no one else has come back) and this begins the plot that shapes the whole season -- is Brody or isn't he a terrorist? And it's a really compelling storyline that leaves you guessing throughout the season, at least until the last few episodes when Brody's motivations become clear. But that's definitely not all the season was about. In addition to that plot line, there's Brody's re-integration with his family -- a wife and two kids; there's the Vice President and his senior advisor hoping to groom Brody for political life, holding him up as a "hero" in the war on terror (which could be ironic if he's a terrorist); there's the CIA and Danes attempting to stop a clearly impending attack on the US by Abu Nazir (which may or may not involve Brody); there's Danes surreptiously spying on Brody and all the wonderful plotlines that come out of that; there's Saul's personal life and dissolving marriage; there's internal CIA and defense department conspiracies; there's DC Muslim outrage; there's another rogue POW and his story; and there's -- best of all -- the fact that Danes's character, the central character of the story, happens to be certifiably nutso. That may not be the technical term but yeah, she's batshit and when she's off her meds it's pretty intense stuff. The craziness is held in check for some of the season but the second half is just wild swings in her bipolar behavior that threaten to bring down her life, her career, and the safety of the nation since she's the one who is closest to figuring out what's going on with Nazir. This facet of her personality, while initially maybe just an "add-on", is such an integral part of her character and the eventual story of the season that I am truly fascinated at how they (the writers) pulled it off. I am always impressed by great writing in any form, and in this case, they managed to tell an amazing story over 10 weeks that had depth, emotion, ever-changing and engaging plots, and had it all wrap up in a spectacular final episode. Even the Brody family storyline that I thought was the weakest part of the show, becomes monumentally important in the end. Just a great job. Can't wait to start watching Season 2. Well done, Showtime, well done.