You don't have to torture Judge Jason Panella for eight years to get him to tell you how good this show is.
The nation sees a hero. She sees a threat.
Carrie: "I'll bet you everything I've got—everything! Including my
Monk's Dream, signed by Thelonious himself."
After enduring eight years as a prisoner of war in Iraq, U.S. Marine Sgt. Nick Brody (Damian Lewis, Band of Brothers) is coming home. Brody is immediately received as a hero—by his country, his friends, and the family that long thought him dead. The only person not ready to embrace Brody's heroic image is CIA operative Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes, Temple Grandin). After a contact warns her an American POW has been turned by al-Qaeda, Mathison suspects Brody is really a sleeper agent—and she'll do whatever she can to prove it.
There's a jazz motif running through Homeland, beginning with the free-form title sequence and eventually drifting into the show's narrative structure. And it works. Homeland is fantastic television for numerous reasons, not least because it's framed like a bebop piece—it riffs on a traditional thriller framework, improvising while staying focused, and take some chances that pay off big time.
Based on the Israeli series Prisoners of War, Homeland was adapted for Showtime by the team of Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa, both longtime television veterans, including major work on Angel, The X-Files, and showrunning duties for 24. It's easy to compare Homeland and 24, considering the producers' involvement; both shows deal with terrorism on U.S. soil and engage in long-term storytelling over the course of a season. But while 24 relied heavily on crazy plot twists and action set pieces (hat tip to The Friday Filibuster "Jack Bauer kill count"), Homeland takes a slower, more focused route. The pilot episode sets up characters and situations well, letting them run their natural course, pausing periodically to take stock of the situation. There are a fair number of twists, sure, but they feel natural in context. It's remarkably mature storytelling.
It helps that the cast is outstanding. I've always thought Claire Danes was a good actress, but her work here is a several levels above. Her Matison is a talented government agent with an erratic personality, but Danes adds a heightened level of emotional vulnerability that takes the role beyond the old "undisciplined but gettin' things done!" archetype. Damian Lewis is also excellent as Brody, the war hero still adjusting to life with a family who thought him dead. We never really know what's going on in Brody's head, and Lewis nails the opacity. The real heart of the cast, though, is Mandy Patinkin (Dead Like Me) as Carrie's mentor, Saul Berenson. Saul is a soft-spoken, bear-like member of the old guard, so committed to his job that he's watched it eat his life away. A great character and Patinkin is just fantastic. The supporting cast—including Monera Baccerin (Firefly) as Brody's wife Jessica, Jackson Pace and Morgan Saylor as their children, and David Harewood as Carrie's boss—are all great too. It's also wonderful to see David Marciano (The Shield), who seems to be having a blast as one of Carrie's former CIA pals. Even with relatively minor characters like this, Homeland devotes enough time to their development that they don't come off as walking cliches.
The show plays a few wrong notes here and there, certain plot points feeling a bit contrived, but the series is wonderful stuff. Getting into the moral gray areas of intelligence work without losing momentum, Homeland is incredibly political and sociological. It manages to get its hands dirty exploring the cost of war on individuals, their families, and their core beliefs, without ever staking out any specific ideological turf. The show never loses sight of its main story, but does some smart and surprisingly brave things with it.
Homeland: The Complete First Season is a cinematic experience, and this Blu-ray gets the point across entirely. The high def 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfer is stunning; images are consistently sharp and rich in tone, and there are wide-angle shots that frequently caused me to shout about how awesome it looked. The sound is equally great, mixed well and deliciously clear. The 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track makes Sean Callery jazz-influenced score stand out, which is a good thing.
In addition to Season One's 12 episodes, this three-disc set includes a few extras that use quality to make up for quantity. The collection's lone commentary track is for the pilot episode, but it features Lewis, Danes, Gordon and Gansa in some great conversation. The half hour-long featurette "Homelands Season One: Under Surveillance" covers the show's genesis, and contain a number of good interviews with cast and crew. Even though I can see why the deleted scenes were cut, they still flesh out parts of season's story. And it's all capped by a short but pointed prologue to the show's upcoming second season.
Homeland: The Complete First Season (Blu-ray) is exciting, complex, and well-crafted television.
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