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The spiritual successor to 24 is a much calmer affair.
November 8, 2011 1:00 PM   Subscribe

At first glance, the new inside-the-CIA Showtime series Homeland looks like a cynical socio-political potboiler -- an attempt to exploit fears of a terrorist attack on American soil by Muslim extremists. In reality, the critically acclaimed show, about an anti-terrorism agent (Claire Danes) tracking a U.S. Marine war hero (Damian Lewis) who may now be working for what's left of Al Qaeda, is thoughtful and emotionally complex despite its airplane-thriller trappings. That's why showrunners Howard Gordon and his buddy Alex Gansa gave an interview to Mother Jones, a self-described "news organization that specializes in investigative, political, and social justice reporting." Reflecting on lessons they learned in the trenches of 24, they talk about Homeland's self-aware approach to paranoia as entertainment, and how "dangerous and politically incendiary" a TV show can be .
posted by Joey Bagels (67 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite

 
Loving this show. That is all.
posted by tumid dahlia at 1:02 PM on November 8, 2011 [10 favorites]


Huh. This is the first I've heard of the show. It sounds really interesting.
posted by brundlefly at 1:06 PM on November 8, 2011


It's shite. I watched half an episode through the benevolence of Comcast On-Demand and promptly deleted it from my conscience until now.
posted by jsavimbi at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Mrs. Trurl loves it. I think it alternates between risible and despicable.
posted by Trurl at 1:10 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Is it as a pro-torture as 24?
posted by Kraftmatic Adjustable Cheese at 1:13 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Like the show enough to keep watching, but I thought Claire Danes had a reputation of being a good actor.
posted by repoman at 1:14 PM on November 8, 2011


I'd be interested to hear someone sell me on Homeland (I did read the interview) – on the one hand, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, on the other hand, it seems like pretty much a straight quasi-military procedural? I've had trouble getting into it the couple of times I've tried. Too much trouble with the premise.
posted by furiousthought at 1:17 PM on November 8, 2011


Is it as pro-torture as 24?

A recent episode depicted an Arab subjected to painful levels of light and noise as a routine CIA interrogation. No "soul searching" was involved.

So, certainly not "anti-torture".
posted by Trurl at 1:18 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I came to the show because I think Claire Danes is a goddess. But after a few episodes, I'm pretty much hooked on how good it is all around. My DVR is filling up, so I'll have to burn through a few more episodes this week.
posted by hippybear at 1:18 PM on November 8, 2011


If 24 wasn't explicitly designed as a PSYOP by the CIA (or some other agency created to protect certain groups of people), then Howard Gordon, and his buddy Alex Gansa should definitely be hired to write future programs by those agencies because they share similar philosophies...
posted by nikoniko at 1:20 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


on the other hand, it seems like pretty much a straight quasi-military procedural?

It's more much emotionally complex than most procedurals, and the characters are way more human and fallible than I was expecting.

If you have a handle which has you even mildly interested, then watch the first two episodes. If you're not interested beyond that, you've not wasted much of your time. I think it's good. It's certainly better than I was expecting it to be going into it.
posted by hippybear at 1:20 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I thought Claire Danes had a reputation of being a good actor

Like Natalie Portman, she was convincing as a teenage girl and absolutely nothing else.
posted by Trurl at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2011 [7 favorites]


Saying that Homeland isn't anti-torture because it showed an Arab subjected to sleep deprivation and sensory disorientation is like saying that The Wire wasn't anti-corruption or anti-police misconduct because it depicted those things.

It's shite.

Do you like television? I think it is pretty clearly in the top 5 shows on TV right now.
posted by Justinian at 1:21 PM on November 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I'm only part of the way into the first episode, but a comparison to "24" never crossed my mind. Much more reminiscent of the best spy show ever made (IMO), "The Sandbaggers."
posted by jbickers at 1:23 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


Saying that Homeland isn't anti-torture because it showed an Arab subjected to sleep deprivation and sensory disorientation is like saying that The Wire wasn't anti-corruption or anti-police misconduct because it depicted those things.

David Simon was not coming off a previous show in which police corruption and misconduct were presented as heroic.
posted by Trurl at 1:24 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


For what it is worth, I've decided the single best metric for how good a show is comes down to how often I find myself skipping forward 30 second intervals on my DVR because scenes are boring as shit. I've started doing that more and more even for shows I generally like. Homeland is, so far, a no-skip show.
posted by Justinian at 1:24 PM on November 8, 2011


I love the show. The dialogue is much less handwave-y (and hilariously inaccurate) about technology than 24 was. Open up a socket and upload it to my screen!
posted by emelenjr at 1:25 PM on November 8, 2011


If you are a New Yorker reader, you'll know that Nancy Franklin seemed to really like the show. Unfortunately, the abstract is all that is available for non-subscriber reading.
posted by hippybear at 1:29 PM on November 8, 2011


I could watch Damian Lewis in Band Of Brothers all day and not get bored. I thought Life was one of the best things network TV ever created, and no surprise, it got cancelled. It's good to see him back on the screen doing a role suited for him.
posted by docpops at 1:33 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I recall that Rubicon was popular. I watched it until one of the "intelligence analysts" seriously referred to a character as an "Islamofascist" -- at that point it lost all credibility for me.
The dialogue is much less handwave-y (and hilariously inaccurate) about technology than 24 was.
What, no zoom in and enhance?
posted by fredludd at 1:36 PM on November 8, 2011


The show is incredibly good -- so good that I find myself screaming at the TV "why the fuck did you cast Claire Danes"? She takes what is, as Justinian says, pretty clearly in the top 5 shows on TV right now and makes it very nearly unwatchable. If it weren't for Mandy Patinkin, who is note perfect and a joy to watch, I would actually quit the show, which I love, because of her appalling performance.

And, without spoling anything, James Urbaniak is like a tiny god.
posted by The Bellman at 1:39 PM on November 8, 2011


Along with already mentioned Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, it's got Inigo Montoya, I mean, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin (from Firefly) as well.
posted by acheekymonkey at 1:42 PM on November 8, 2011


Like Natalie Portman, she was convincing as a teenage girl and absolutely nothing else.

She was pretty outstanding in Temple Grandin.
posted by hippybear at 1:48 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Damien Lewis, Mandy Patinkin and Morena Baccarin are all really good, would watch them in pretty much anything, but Claire Danes is just sort of weird in it. At least once per show I wonder if the writers put in her need for anti-psychotic medication to explain all her crazy hand-wringing.
posted by tetsuo at 1:54 PM on November 8, 2011


Has the text for the FPP been extracted from one of these links, "In reality,"?
posted by infini at 2:02 PM on November 8, 2011


I really like Homeland and look forward to it every week. I don't mind Claire Danes and actually like when the other week where she yelled "fuck this shit!" to Mandy Patinkin and stormed out of his house. Her character isn't a likable person and I think Danes plays it well.

I never watched 24 so how it relates to Homeland isn't of concern to me.

The end of last week's episode wasn't expected (both Claire/Damian's scene) and the couple in Ohio. I hope Showtime doesn't give up on the show too soon. It may not be their Sopranos or Wire, but it certainly is good TV compared to the vast wasteland of other shit on the dial.

I also find myself really liking Boss. Where the guy Fraiser Crane is the mayor of Chicago. It is a hot mess and Kelsey Grammar playing a certified cocksucker is fun to see.
posted by birdherder at 2:03 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Birdherder, the show's already been renewed for a second season.
posted by prolific at 2:09 PM on November 8, 2011


Birdherder, the show's already been renewed for a second season.

Good news. Thanks.
posted by birdherder at 2:18 PM on November 8, 2011


Kelsey Grammar playing a certified cocksucker

Wait... Grammar's character in Boss is openly gay?
posted by hippybear at 2:28 PM on November 8, 2011


Wait... Grammar's character in Boss is openly gay?
I was using the term in its nonsexual sense.
cocksucker |ˈkäkˌsəkər| noun
a contemptible person (used as a generalized term of abuse).
posted by birdherder at 2:43 PM on November 8, 2011


I'm crazy about this show (and Claire Danes is great in it, I don't know what some of you are talking about), but that torture scene made my blood run cold in a very bad way. And it's not comparable to police corruption on The Wire - Homeland really doesn't even seem to be conflicted about torture to me, let alone critical of it. Still, I somehow feel it's not really the show's fault that the world is the sort of place where something so stupid and immoral needn't be questioned.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 2:49 PM on November 8, 2011


I'm not analysing it that much. I enjoy it because it's reasonably well-written, has Damian Lewis and Mandy Patinkin, and it's a good "Is he?/Isn't he?" mystery. Having said that:

*SORT OF SPOILERIS*
I'm not sure I'm a massive fan of the fledgling relationship between Captain Winters and Kate Brewster. I guess it's a bit of a twist but meh.
*END OF SPOILERS*
posted by tumid dahlia at 2:57 PM on November 8, 2011


A recent episode depicted an Arab subjected to painful levels of light and noise as a routine CIA interrogation.

I thought that the way this was done in the show was interesting. Unlike most depictions of torture, this affected the viewer in a similar way as it would affect the subject - it was loud, disruptive, etc in a way that (I think) makes the viewer sympathetic to the subject. It didn't seem to me to be at all an approval of this treatment.

And the "good guys" on this show, to the extent there are any, are clearly morally compromised.
posted by me & my monkey at 2:59 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't suppose there's any way to watch the original Hatufim with English subtitles?
posted by K.P. at 3:00 PM on November 8, 2011


*SORT OF SPOILERIS*
I'm not sure I'm a massive fan of the fledgling relationship between Captain Winters and Kate Brewster. I guess it's a bit of a twist but meh.


I dunno, I believe she is deliberately getting close to him in order to continue an off-book investigation since she has been told to completely shut down the official one. Yeah, I think it's going to get fucked up in her head because she's a pretty fucked up person, but I don't think it is out of character for her from what we've seen. Remember her instinctive reaction when Patinkin's character confronted her about her illegal wiretaps! It was to offer herself sexually. Yeah, it was a shitty and awkward thing to do and she knew it instantly, but that's what she did in the moment.
posted by Justinian at 3:01 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


Spoileris? I guess the Lem book was okay but the movie with George Clooney was incredibly dreary.

Justinian: I agree, I don't think it's out of character for her at all, but for Winters? Well, I guess he is an enigma and I've got faith that this relationship will give us a good payoff, but it seems a bit iffy for Lewis' character, as though he's doing it just to get back at his wife (which, sure, okay, but it makes him less interesting to me, as it humanises him to a great extent, and when I say I have faith in a payoff, what I mean is I'm hoping it gets built on as part of the larger mystery and isn't just a doomed relationship).
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:06 PM on November 8, 2011


Wait... Grammar's character in Boss is openly gay?
I was using the term in its nonsexual sense.
cocksucker |ˈkäkˌsəkər| noun
a contemptible person (used as a generalized term of abuse).


Yes. Us faggots are known for being overly fond of having one of the slurs often directed at us taken in a more general way, particularly as a term of abuse.

Love it. Please use it more.
posted by hippybear at 3:06 PM on November 8, 2011 [8 favorites]


I don’t care if everyone on the planet votes it "best show ever", I’m not inclined to watch anything called Homeland. If you can’t even come with a good name I don’t have much faith in your skills.

I don’t understand the attitudes of "I’m not really thinking about all the moral problems with what I’m watching, I’m just enjoying the fun". That’s probably what people said at public executions and lynchings. There’s way too much obnoxious crap on TV that people watch and just say "whatever, I like her hair, and those two are cute together".
posted by bongo_x at 3:13 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


To be fair, bongo_x, I have also seen a film called Slaughtered Vomit Dolls and didn't really enjoy that at all.
posted by tumid dahlia at 3:16 PM on November 8, 2011


Bongo_x, what's wrong with the name? And who's taking the 'I'm not thinking about the moral problems' position?
posted by JohnFredra at 3:22 PM on November 8, 2011


I watched a few episodes of this; agree that it is intelligent and well-made; and have decided not to watch more of it because for reasons I can't quite pin down, it is incredibly stressful and not at all enjoyable for me. I've never had such a visceral stress response to a show before, so I'm intrigued enough to mention it in case others have theories about why this show in particular might be so difficult to watch. Certainly it has much less (graphic) violence than many others of its ilk...
posted by artemisia at 3:29 PM on November 8, 2011


Well, it's a stressful show, for starters. It's all about the suspense, and the way it kind of makes the audience into the omniscient eye, so you see things which the other characters can't possibly know about, and then how it uses that information against the characters on the show and against the audience...

I haven't watched that much of it, but after seeing the few episodes we saw, Mr. hippybear turned to me and said "well, that show certainly builds the suspense, doesn't it"?

It could be that you just don't respond well to this kind of show.

I stopped watching Battlestar Galactica once it started getting all too apparent that it was going to be an ongoing exploration of immoral battlefield actions and continual dehumanization of the enemy. I'm not the only person who stopped watching for that reason. I bet you're not the only person who's stopped watching Homeland because it didn't suit you.
posted by hippybear at 3:40 PM on November 8, 2011


I think it's a great show. The last episode was kind of crappy but it holds up as a very story-driven show that will interest a lot of people. Don't watch it because Claire Danes is in it, or there are breasts, but watch it because it's so well written.
posted by Meathamper at 3:47 PM on November 8, 2011


Homeland really doesn't even seem to be conflicted about torture to me, let alone critical of it. Still, I somehow feel it's not really the show's fault that the world is the sort of place where something so stupid and immoral needn't be questioned.

The producers - through their work on 24 - are as responsible for the mainstreaming of torture in American culture as any two people after Bush and Cheney. Homeland continues this noble project.

So fuck them and fuck their crappy show.
posted by Trurl at 3:48 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wait... Grammar's character in Boss is openly gay?
I was using the term in its nonsexual sense.
cocksucker |ˈkäkˌsəkər| noun
a contemptible person (used as a generalized term of abuse).


The 'non-sexual sense' is straight out homophobic, man.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 3:55 PM on November 8, 2011 [2 favorites]


That New Yorker piece on Surnow and Cochran was so infuriating I'm not in any hurry to watch anything made by people associated with 24.
posted by ersatz at 4:54 PM on November 8, 2011


24 writers: "There were just certain things that we needed to portray in order to make it feel thrilling..."

24 had that relentless pace which excites the reptile brain, but the jumbled plotting and the crudely implied subtext of "hey kids, torturing the bad guys is the only solution to all of our problems!" made it hard to watch after a while. I haven't seen this new show.
posted by ovvl at 4:58 PM on November 8, 2011


I don't have a consistent reaction to good art being done by people I don't like to advance positions I disagree with. Sometimes the art overshadows the producer and their aims. But the memory of people advocating the use of torture by the U.S. by citing what they saw on 24 is still too fresh for me. I've got a big ol' stack of "Fuck You" for Joel Surnow that has to be gone through before I start appreciating his art.
posted by benito.strauss at 5:02 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


SPOILER QUESTION:

Patinkin's character's failure on the initial polygraph asking him if he slipped the razor blade to the terrorist: Meaningful or because he was so stressed out about his home life?
posted by Justinian at 5:38 PM on November 8, 2011


I'd be interested to hear someone sell me on Homeland (I did read the interview) – on the one hand, Claire Danes and Damian Lewis, on the other hand, it seems like pretty much a straight quasi-military procedural?

We just started watching this, having given up on a crappy railroad-building drama on A&E, and the first episode was great.

The key thing was, they let the characters be awkward and ugly. There's a scene where Claire Danes comes home and in a great rush to change her clothes and be off, washes between her legs with a washcloth at the bathroom sink.

It's an awkward and very private gesture -- women just don't do things like that in movies or TV. You don't see women being truly private often. There are little touches like that say someone is watching out for the characters and wants them to be real.

There's an awkward reunion scene where the family sees the returning soldier/father for the first time, and it's been like eight years and the daughter's an adolescent now and the boy doesn't remember his father and his wife's been sleeping with his best friend, and he walks into an airport lobby and they just sort of stand there mutually horrified for a minute.

It was really cool, to see a drama be willing to hit 'hold' on stillness and awkwardness.

So that's why I'd say it's worth checking out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 6:21 PM on November 8, 2011 [3 favorites]


The key thing was, they let the characters be awkward and ugly. There's a scene where Claire Danes comes home and in a great rush to change her clothes and be off, washes between her legs with a washcloth at the bathroom sink.

It's an awkward and very private gesture -- women just don't do things like that in movies or TV. You don't see women being truly private often. There are little touches like that say someone is watching out for the characters and wants them to be real.


I had taken a lot of those little private awkward moments to be a rhyming subtext to go with all the voyeurism which is core to the series.
posted by hippybear at 6:30 PM on November 8, 2011 [1 favorite]


In TFA, the producers boasted of their efforts at authenticity.

If the CIA is really staffed by people like the Claire Danes character, we are well and truly fucked.
posted by Trurl at 6:52 PM on November 8, 2011


There's a scene where Claire Danes comes home and in a great rush to change her clothes and be off, washes between her legs with a washcloth at the bathroom sink.

The implication of that scene being that she had just returned from anonymous hotel sex. It's the very first scene we see her character in and the first thing she does as she walks through the door is take off a wedding ring. The importance of that wedding ring isn't revealed until later; it's the ring she wears to weed out guys looking for relationship material when she wants to get her freak on.
posted by Justinian at 7:18 PM on November 8, 2011


Meaningful or because he was so stressed out about his home life?

As it stands it's a red herring. But then, we don't know enough about his character yet to be sure of that, so honestly the writers and producers could turn it into whatever they wanted. If it turns out to be him it will because of a necessity in the plot as it arises, not because it has been planned in advance and these clues are being seeded. That's one of the things that kinda peeves me about TV these days and it takes some of the mystery and awe out of it, but whatever.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:50 PM on November 8, 2011


I had taken a lot of those little private awkward moments to be a rhyming subtext to go with all the voyeurism which is core to the series.

That's an excellent point.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:42 AM on November 9, 2011


If the CIA is really staffed by people like the Claire Danes character, we are well and truly fucked.

Hah that's the feeling I had watching Rubicon. I guess by the end of that show you could make a case that hiring morons was just part of the conspiracy. *TWIST*
posted by vicx at 4:50 AM on November 9, 2011


I watched all six episodes yesterday because of this thread.

I never watched 24, for numerous reasons but including its reputation for being pro-torture and morally simplistic about its subject matter, and this thread did give me pause about watching Homeland.

Honestly, it doesn't represent my politics and some things bother me. The sleep-deprivation/hypothermia torture scene didn't actually bother me as much as it might have, simply because, well, the US does this. On the spectrum of torture, it's less bad than what the US has done elsewhere and, bottom line, I'd guess that a majority of Americans wouldn't recognize that as torture while, in contrast, I suspect that depictions of waterboarding would make even many conservatives uncomfortable. I'm not excusing it—I think any and all such activity is morally wrong and also unproductive. But to live in this society, with which I often disagree with the dominant worldview, I choose to be tolerant of a certain degree of conflict between my beliefs and the majority's. This is one of those times.

And, in general about the show, too. It takes a fairly simplistic view of the terrorist threat to the US, it validates the "bad guys want to kill us" perspective that is used to justify all sorts of things which are very wrong. On the other hand, it's not as simplistic as I feared that it might be—the terrorist couple have been written very sympathetically, in my opinion. And it's not flattering to the intelligence services, really—though some of the audience won't recognize this, I suspect.

No, this isn't The Wire. It's not a show that quite deliberately and effectively and honestly deals with the moral ambiguity of its subject matter. What it is, is a show that deals with its subject matter with a modest amount more moral maturity and sophistication than normal. Not very much, but a little.

And, for me, like benito.strauss, I don't have a hard-and-fast rule about how I react to quality art that conflicts with my worldview. I'm not comfortable judging works on that criterion first-and-foremost. Being high-quality carries a lot of weight for me, and this show is, in the end, high-quality. Frankly, I'd watch it just for Mandy Patinkin, who invests this role, as he does every role he plays, with an amazing degree of subtlety and depth.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:43 AM on November 9, 2011 [3 favorites]


On the great "The Incomparable!" podcast, there was agreement among the panel on this week's episode that the show "Homeland" is good, largely because the characters are complex and un-24-ish.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:52 AM on November 9, 2011


The producers - through their work on 24 - are as responsible for the mainstreaming of torture in American culture as any two people after Bush and Cheney. Homeland continues this noble project.

So fuck them and fuck their crappy show.


This is such a cramped view of art and entertainment, its cramped-ness exceeded only by its unnecessary vitriol. If all art and entertainment needed to first conform to my political views (which are likely similar to your own) or be made by people who conform to my political views, then not only would there be little art or entertainment I would be able to watch, my views would never be challenged and my understanding (even in a negative sense) would never be expanded. Even if you disagree with my opinion, you are still letting your personal politics be the sole guide of artistic value, which I find sad.

You are also just plain wrong about Homeland. For viewers with no critical skills, showing torture may be commensurate with endorsing torture, but when I watched the scene in question (one scene out of 6 or 7 episodes so far, BTW), I saw it as deliberately trying to put the viewer into the mindset of the terrorist at that moment. The noise and lights were really jarring and unpleasant and I was repulsed by the terrorists treatment. Who knows, maybe Homeland could turn into a shitty 24 torture-fest, but there is little to no indication of that happening so far.
posted by Falconetti at 1:26 PM on November 9, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm finding this show a lot more engaging than I expected too so far. Patinkin is especially good.

Her character isn't a likable person and I think Danes plays it well.

That's how I look at it. She's doing a fine job of playing a very unlikeable character.

If the CIA is really staffed by people like the Claire Danes character, we are well and truly fucked.

Absolutely.
posted by homunculus at 2:17 PM on November 9, 2011


I'm half-watching the pilot, and now that Lewis has made an appearance the half-watching is becoming more like can't-tear-my-eyes-away. He's remarkable. And from what I've seen of Danes, I'm liking her in this as well. Thanks for this post.
posted by rtha at 3:20 PM on November 10, 2011


I too have been really enjoying the show but find it very stressful and sometimes pause it and walk away for a bit.
posted by prefpara at 5:16 PM on November 12, 2011


I'm watching episode 7 right now and loving this series. I don't get all the Danes hate, she's a fine actress.
posted by unliteral at 3:28 AM on November 15, 2011


I just watched Temple Grandin last night and had a hard time believing that this was the same actress as in Homeland.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 12:19 PM on November 15, 2011


Temple Grandin is the only movie I've ever seen on an airplane that I willingly watched twice (outbound and return flights). Her performance just blew me away.
posted by rtha at 12:25 PM on November 15, 2011


Meanwhile, in the real world: A Perfect Terrorist: FRONTLINE and ProPublica investigate the mysterious circumstances behind David Headley’s rise from heroin dealer and U.S. government informant to plotter of the 2008 attack on Mumbai.
posted by homunculus at 9:51 PM on November 22, 2011


That should really be an FPP in its own right.
posted by infini at 10:10 PM on November 22, 2011


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