howtime's new drama Homeland, which premiered Sunday night, stars Claire Danes as Carrie Matheson, a psychotic CIA operative who keeps her condition and medication a secret from the organization. Damien Lewis co-stars as Nicholas Brody, a soldier returning home from Afghanistan after spending eight years in captivity and being presumed dead. He's hailed a war hero by everyone except Carrie, who suspects, on slim evidence, that he's now working for al Qaeda. With the audience questioning Carrie's judgment and Brody's every move, Homeland is an unsettling and tense viewing experience that one critic is calling "the next great cable drama." Is such praise justified?
Yes. And then some: Homeland is "by far the most promising new series of the fall," says Linda Holmes at NPR. A risk with a 12-episode season of a show like this, which hinges on the central question "Is he a terrorist?" is that "it will stall and fake and triple-deke and nothing will happen for the first 11 and three-quarters hours, because they're trying to save up for a big reveal." But we're already getting information about the characters that is moving the story forward at a satisfying pace.
"In Homeland, a tale of trust, loyalty, family, and isolation"
Plus, the acting is superb: That Homeland's central question is so captivating is a direct reflection of the "tremendous work" being done by Danes and Lewis, says Maureen O'Ryan at Aol. As Carrie, a "woman whose rough edges have not been sanded down," Danes exudes an impassioned obsessiveness, but manages to "make you feel compassion" for the character as well. As Brody, Lewis does "deft and even heartbreaking work" with few words, and, in a feat of subtlety, manages to make both scenarios — that he's either a terrorist or a "loyal but troubled American" — believable.
"Review: Homeland puts stellar performances at the heart of a compelling espionage tale"
But can it possibly sustain this quality?: The pilot certainly delivers enough "juicy complications" to keep the audience intrigued, says Chuck Barney at the Contra Costa Times, whether it's how Carrie's mental disorder affects her judgment, what Brody is lying about, or when Brody will discover that his wife has been sleeping with his best friend in his absence. But can these questions "keep us spellbound for the long haul?" Homeland is very reminiscent of 24, a similarly "groundbreaking and gripping" TV show (produced by the same team) that was "crippled by a relentless need to top itself." Homeland sets itself up to fly off the rails in a similar way that 24 often did; it will be a challenge to avoid the temptation. "If a cougar suddenly appears… all bets are off."
"Showtime's Homeland a riveting thriller"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- 31 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Why atheism doesn't have the upper hand over religion
- The world's dumbest idea: Taxing solar energy
- He said he was leaving. She ignored him.
- 14 wonderful words with no English equivalent
- Why would a young person today be religious?
- Why we can't stop procrastinating, according to science
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- What liberals get wrong about having kids
- If a nuclear bomb exploded in downtown Washington, what should you do?
Subscribe to the Week