Thursday, October 20, 2011

Best New Show of the Season

For my money it's HOMELAND. Three episodes have aired. It’s on SHOWTIME and if you haven’t seen it, they’re replaying all three on Saturday night. Set your DVR. (Or, I suppose you could actually watch them, but who does that anymore?)

The point of this post is to show the contrast in styles between two shows that essentially have the same premise, but I’ll get to that. First, some love for HOMELAND.

The wondrous Clair Danes is a CIA agent who is very good at her job. If she has any tiny weakness it’s that she’s a borderline psychotic. She must take pills to keep her from turning into Nancy Grace on Red Bull.

She learns from a terrorist contact/snitch/BFF that an American prisoner-of-war has “been turned”. A year later, an American POW is rescued from captivity and although the country hails him as a hero Clair suspects he’s a Taliban bitch. So they’ve created a fascinating dynamic. Is she right or simply paranoid? Is his strange behavior due to eight years of torture or is he in fact, now working for the evil dooers (as a certain Texas Rangers fan calls them)?

Damian Lewis plays the returning soldier and is absolutely brilliant. Sorry Jon Hamm but this guy should get the Emmy next year. (Maybe if he thanks Mullah Mohammad Hassan Akhund in his acceptance speech we’ll know for sure what side he’s on.)

His wife is the luminous Morena Baccarin. Imagine Laura Petrie but doing sex scenes nude. Clair’s boss/mentor is Mandy Patinkin, who is delightfully reserved in this role. He’s finally learned he can steal a scene without leaving teeth marks on the scenery.



The storyline is layered and suspenseful and thoroughly engrossing.

Now, let’s compare HOMELAND to COVERT AFFAIRS as a study in contrasts.

They both have essentially the same premise: Single woman CIA agent, dealing with bad guys and agency bureaucracy. Both even have sisters who don’t approve of their chosen profession.

HOMELAND is a sophisticated adult drama. COVERT AFFAIRS is THE GIRL FROM UNCLE.

In HOMELAND problems are solved very slowly, which is the cause of much frustration for the heroine, Clair. This is a grueling job that eats away at her soul.

Piper Perabo plays the star in COVERT AFFAIRS. It’s as if Gidget traded her surfboard for an Uzi. Piper (who I admit, I enjoy ogling) is the cheeriest, perkiest CIA agent that’s ever been. She also speaks nine languages, is an excellent marksman, and can beat the shit out of Rambo. In other words, a comic book character.

Unlike Carrie, Piper solves a new international crisis every week. And she’s always home in time for her niece’s viola recital. One week Paris, the next week Rio – she sweeps into town, saves three people, attends a formal state dinner, secures the secret biological weapon formula, bonds with a contact over cocktails, and shoots six infidels.

Carrie watches surveillance monitors, attends briefings, eats Spaghetti-O’s that she bought in college, sleeps an hour a night, picks up guys in bars, and arrives too late to save a contact she promised to protect.

Piper’s co-workers think she’s adorable. Clair’s wonder if she needs to be hospitalized.

Clair’s superior is a world-weary lifer with a Talmudic attitude. Piper’s is one-note Kari Matchett, whose worldview is pretty much “I can wear a dress without sleeves!” That’s what she shows up in every day at Langley – sleeveless gowns.

COVERT AFFAIRS is a USA show, where there are always bright colors and blue skies. It’s strictly escapist fare. And that’s fine. Watch the pretty girl run and shoot and tail a guy while wearing a bikini. HOMELAND deals with the complexity of the horrific real-life problems these people have to face.

And the scary thing is this: HOMELAND is probably an idealized version of what that world is really like. For now on I’m sleeping with the light on.  But watching HOMELAND every week. 

37 comments:

SkippyMom said...

Wow! What a contrast. I will definitely look Clair's up on Saturday night. There is never anything good on anyway, but will most decidedly be skipping the other one. It sounds silly. Thanks for the reviews.

Jon J said...

To me, Baccarin has a striking resemblance to Catherine Bell. My mistake came from our first look at (all) of her when I was just a tiny bit distracted.

Amanda said...

Homeland has been on my to-watch list ever since I first heard about it, but I just hadn't gotten around to checking it out. I'll have to make a bigger effort now to tune in. Thanks for the review! :)

crackblind said...

Two things:
1. That whole travel time thing has always bothered me. On Lost, as well as on Cover me and way too many of shows in this genre, there are super super-sonic jets always at the ready to get people to far reaches of the world then back home in time for supper so as not to blow covers. I mean, what would have happened if Jack Bauer had access to one of those babies?

2. If you are digging Baccarin here, get thee to Firefly immediately.

DonBoy said...

I believe this is the first show to have the word "fuck" in the title sequence (from episode 2 on). TWICE.

MBunge said...

You left out a very important contrast, Ken.

Series premiere of HOMELAND - 1.08 million viewers.

Series premiere of COVERT AFFAIRS - 4.9 million viewers.

Season finale of COVERT AFFAIRS - 4.5 million viewers.

Now, popularity has nothing to do with quality, but I gotta ask a question. Does the TV industry really need more shows like HOMELAND that no one watches and, therefore, no one except maybe the show creator and the network ever makes any real money off of...or does the industry need more shows that people actually watch and, therefore, generate enough revenue so that more than a handful of people can benefit?

Mike

Tom Quigley said...

So far, my assessment of the new season is that I was hoping maybe someone could come up with a premise that was a cross between THE MENTALIST and UNFORGETTABLE, where the hero would be someone who could remember everything you ever thought...

wv: mivicu -- sounds like a location for a future SURVIVOR competition...

Eduardo Jencarelli said...

Homeland's been on my radar since day one: the showrunners are the very same people who were behind 24. Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. And having both Claire Danes and Mandy Patinkin isn't a bad combination either.

I've been honestly enjoying Terra Nova, also. It has a few weak spots, but it never fails to entertain.

Please Leave Name said...

I waited for the season to start just so I could watch Homeland--I love being right.

jackscribe said...

Just passed on your praise to a friend who has Showtime. My package (nothing personal here) only includes HBO. Cracked up at your comments about Covert Affairs. I must admit, tho, I'm a big fan at this thriller confection. Also, I like the dude who plays the blind CIA operative...and you sure have to wrap your imagination around his nimble moves.

Jon J said...

MBunge faile to recognize that Covert Affairs is on a basic (no extra cost) cable channel whereas Homeland is on an extra cost movie channel which dramatically cuts the possible number of viewers.

Shelia said...

Doesn't have to be either-or, does it? I'm watching both.

Nat G said...

The Sopranos launched to lower ratings than Covert Affairs did (although admittedly more than Homeland); does that mean that it never generated real money for anyone? No, I don't think we can go to that conclusion.

But who is the brave soul who hired on Mandy Patinkin? Talented, yes... but don't you want to cast people who aren't going to leave you suddenly after one season?

Anyway, most important - if the Showtimeless want to sample this show, they have the full first episode online as a free sample.

David said...

You had me at nude Morena Baccarin. I'm sure I'm not the only Firefly geek who's wanted to see Inara naked.

Naz said...

Today Kelsey Grammer was on Good Morning America to promote his new show. (Apparently it's getting rave reviews.) Robin Roberts claimed that Eddie from Frasier was the reason she had gotten a Jack Russell terrier. Who decided on the breed of dog was to be used?

Mel Ryane said...

AGREE, AGREE and AGREE some more. Love HOMELAND. Adult, complicated and just plain yuummy.

dirtywater22 said...

I like Claire Danes and am would like to take a look at Homeland, not so sure about Covert Affairs.

am

Anonymous said...

Totally unfair comparison. One is a drama and the other is an action show. One is serious, the other is silly fun. May as well compare James Bond to Get Smart, or Cheers with Cocktail - they cover the same ground but have completely different intents but they can both be great to watch. As the great philosopher Peter Paul, once said, sometimes you feel like a nut. Sometimes you don't.

Anonymous said...

Sometimes I feel like a nut? Sometimes? Whose in charge of scheduling these things cuz I got a bigger quota than some, I think. Regardless of what the MRI last week said.

I'm enjoying CA for its escapist fare, and passed on Homeland for the "Hi, I'm a paranoid nut so I must be watchable" premise. Now, here's the weird part -- I know people who could be on CA, I think the people on Homeland are too nutsy to be real.

P.

Anonymous said...

Lewis starred a couple years ago in "Life" a quirky cop show that laste about a season and a half. The show was better than average and often very good, but Lewis was extraordinary. Its available on DVD and Netflix. Try it. Betcha like it.

droszel said...

n response to Mike: “You left out a very important contrast, Ken.

Series premiere of HOMELAND - 1.08 million viewers.

Series premiere of COVERT AFFAIRS - 4.9 million viewers.

Season finale of COVERT AFFAIRS - 4.5 million viewers.

Now, popularity has nothing to do with quality, but I gotta ask a question. Does the TV industry really need more shows like HOMELAND that no one watches and, therefore, no one except maybe the show creator and the network ever makes any real money off of...or does the industry need more shows that people actually watch and, therefore, generate enough revenue so that more than a handful of people can benefit?“

Are you really measuring quality by viewership? Really? This is a terrific show. Ken’s review pretty much nails it for me, especially the bit about teethmarks on the scenery. Everyone I know, from my 25-year-old daughter to my 88-year-old mother-in -law, absolutely loves this show.

T. Jones said...

Jeez, you're getting to be a crotchety windbag. You couldn't just give a glowing recommendation to "Homeland" and leave the keyboard to walk down the High Road. Nope. You have to take road rage cheap shots at an innocent bystander show. Why?

xjill said...

Mike - Showtime is on a paid channel, you realize?

Damian Lewis was astounding as Lt. Richards in HBO's epic "Band of Brothers". To this day I cannot believe he did not win an Emmy for it; that performance affected me so much. Of course I also loved "Life" which had some marvelous episode and moments during its short run.

So, if you've got Damian being his usual astounding self and Claire actually shedding Angela Chase at last? It is indeed a great show and I'm still pondering the end of the last ep (the house buying).

tales from the pole said...

i've heard a lot about this. they film it in my area (NC) but not in my hometown, which is on the coast. i hope i can score a guest day player or something similar on it like i've done on 'army wives' and 'east bound and down,' which also film here. i think it is interesting that they made claire dane's character bipolar. it seems to be a "disorder du jour" amongst creative people. pops up a lot when i watch tv. although usually to explain why someone just murdered somebody on L & O. ha ha. but not ha ha. :) hopefully, this will be a sympathetic and accurate portrayal of people with "mental disorders" a la US of Tara, curiously another showtime program. i've sort of been scared to watch this "homeland" show thus far, though. my brother was in iraq and he did not come home the same man, not by any means. so, it's hard for me to watch things like this. hard but necessary perhaps. *sigh* like a lot of things in life i guess are.

Ger Apeldoorn said...

Talking about comic book characters. Has anyone noticed that the main character in Person of Interest is Batman?

selection7 said...

Haha, Batman whose only gadgets are of the surveillance variety, but yeah. I'd already thought of it as a cross between Early Edition and Minority Report. Now I'll have to add Batman to the list.

I've especially enjoyed the past two eps with Gayle from Breaking Bad and Linda Cardellini. It probably wasn't intended as stunt casting since those two aren't really that famous but it made it more interesting to me anyway.

selection7 said...

@T.Jones,

sometimes a blog is a little like a story...every now and then there's got to be some conflict or people get bored.

Tim W. said...

Ken,

Thanks for the recommendation. I checked out Modern Family based solely on your recommendation and it's now one of my favourites, so I'm definitely going to put Homeland on my must-see list.

Now, I'd heard of the show and seen ads on the web for it, but had absolutely no idea what it was about and, to be honest, publicity photos like the one you attached turned me off.

@T.Jones
Wow, do you work for the show or something? I'm constantly amazed at the crotchety old windbags that harp on Ken for simply giving his opinion. If you don't like it, demand Ken your money back. Oh, wait, he's doing this for free, isn't he?

MBunge said...

Jon J - "MBunge faile to recognize that Covert Affairs is on a basic (no extra cost) cable channel whereas Homeland is on an extra cost movie channel which dramatically cuts the possible number of viewers."


No, I realize that Showtime is a pay channel. Does anyone REALLY think that's the reason it gets lower ratings than COVERT AFFAIRS? Does anyone REALLY think that if you put HOMELAND on basic cable, removing all the profanity, violence and nudity it allows, that its ratings would be that much better? REALLY?

Nat G - "The Sopranos launched to lower ratings than Covert Affairs did (although admittedly more than Homeland); does that mean that it never generated real money for anyone?"

BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was one of the hallmark shows of its era. Go ask Sarah Michelle Gellar how much less she made than even supporting actors on shows that got much better ratings without 1/10th the critical acclaim.

droszel - "Are you really measuring quality by viewership?"

When you quote someone saying "Now, popularity has nothing to do with quality" and then ask that sort of question, how is someone supposed to respond without calling you stupid?

Mike

Tim W. said...

MBunge,

I suggest you compare the ratings for more shows on basic cable and pay TV. Yes, there is a MASSIVE difference. If Mad Men was on basic cable with the ratings it gets it wouldn't have lasted more than one season.

And my problem is that you seem to be saying if a show doesn't initially do well, then they shouldn't have made it. To me, and many, many others, that's what is EXACTLY wrong with the television industry.

If Homeland is a quality, well written show, then I want to see MORE of that. Not less. Maybe you do. That's where we differ.

Far too many good shows have fallen through the cracks because it didn't get an audience early, while crap goes on season after season.

I pray you don't work in the television industry.

Oh, and what on earth does Sarah Michelle Geller's salary have to do with whether or not a show should be on? She made a lot of money over 7 seasons while on one of the best shows in television. I fail to see the logic in your argument.

Lou H. said...

MBunge wrote: or does the industry need more shows that people actually watch and, therefore, generate enough revenue so that more than a handful of people can benefit?

If Showtime wanted higher ratings, they could show reruns of 2 1/2 Men in prime time. That may or may not translate into more revenue after awhile if it means they lose lots of monthly subscribers.

Mike McCann said...

I've long thought the Mister Ed formula was ripe for a "reboot." A sarcastic, jaded observer of the human condition totally confident he's smarter than us. That's timeless! Go find someone who channels the spirit of Frank Nelson (or Ed O'Neill as Al Bundy) for the horse, and for the young architect, a Peter Scolari type.

John F. Opie said...

Back in the late 1980s, I interviewed with the CIA. My impression there was that it's filled with dedicated folks who live in a severe bureaucracy and who care about what they do far too much for their own good.

Homeland gets close, but the CIA doesn't have a problem with mental health issues as long as they are reported and the agency knows that folks are on medication. The real world of intelligence work needs brilliant thinkers, which unfortunately more often than not includes those with problems. Hence that part of the show isn't all the believable (and they'd have found this: they find everything during vetting processes...), but the rest, largely, is. If she is taking anti-psychotic drugs, they'd show up in the mandatory urine tests.

Except that the offices are much, much smaller and the desks vastly more cluttered. The only real difference is the coloring of the folder envelopes to show which ones are classified, usually all of them...

Little Miss Smoke and Mirrors said...

Full disclosure, I don't have SHO, but I do have HBO and have to say I haven't been too impressed with any of the new shows this season.

Of course, I may just be wary of falling in love because last season, I thought the best new show as Terriers, and my heart was broken by the end of a season where nobody watched Terriers and it wasn't renewed while Prancing with the Has-Beens broke all kinds of records.

Good taste is dead.

Mark said...

Thanks for the tip! Finally saw the Homeland pilot and thought it was the best pilot for a show since Breaking Bad.

Anonymous said...

Covert Affairs is the Diet Coke of Homeland
I actually watched an episode of each back to back last night and found the experience surreal. I was searching for the proper analogy or some way to succinctly compare the two and while covert affairs is handicapped by its one episode procedural format, it is so inferior (except Piper is really hot) that it is comical. Almost like taking a drawing from a 2 year old and comparing it to one from a trained illustrator (or bad tv vs. well made film).

Affi said...

Both shows are great and, in my opinion, should not be compared. Covert Affairs is fun and Piper Perabo does an amazing job. She's in virtually every scene and she does her own stunts, too. She's also a really nice person and sets the tone for the set. She deserves a lot more credit than she gets and seems to be a punching bag for a lot of critics out there.

Claire Danes is also amazing. I think she definitely has the meatier role but that doesn't mean that she's better or that Homeland is a better show that Covert Affairs.

Again, they are two totally different shows and shouldn't be compared.