Showtime's much-lauded thriller series Homeland shouldn't get too comfortable in its new spot as the darling of television dramas. Like the show's perpetually paranoid Carrie Mathison sees potential danger everywhere, we're seeing signs that could spell trouble for Homeland's glorious television reign. No, we don't see a terrorist plot. We see an impending backlash.
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Homeland's recent Emmy victory for Outstanding Drama Series (and Actor and Actress) was the main surprise in a ceremony full of ho-hum wins for Modern Family. A week later, the show's season premiere was met with both excitement and plenty caveats.
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Some backstory, with spoilers: Homeland in its first season told the parallel stories of brilliant-bipolar CIA agent Carrie Mathison and an emotionally damaged recovered POW named Nicholas Brody. Upon his return, Carrie immediately suspects that Brody has been "turned" by the terrorist outfit that captured him, and thus cat-and-mouse spy game hijinks ensue. In last week's issue of the New Yorker, television critic Emily Nussbaum floated her theory that if Brody's suicide bomb had gone off in the season finale, Homeland would have been an "uncompromising one-season series—something impossible, because of those damn TV economics." So, we arrive at the second season curious to see how sustainable the whole enterprise really is. Now that everyone has seen the premiere episode, recappers seem enthusiastic about the show's return, but are certainly expressing doubts. At Vulture Matt Zoller Seitz wonders, "How long can the Brody-as-volatile-sleeper-agent premise play out without making the writers look desperate and the show seem, well, kind of dumb?" He continues: "On that last count, Homeland, as much as I love it, is already pushing its luck."
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Esquire's Alex Berenson explains how the show's creators Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon returned to their 24 roots in the season premiere, despite the show often being positioned as a reaction against Jack Bauer's torture-filled pursuit of terrorists. Berenson admits he liked the episode, but says of the plot device used to get a now-retired Carrie back to CIA work, "they returned to one of the hoariest toys in the spy-thriller screenwriter's attic."
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The criticism didn't stop there. Todd VanDerWerff muses on The A.V. Club: "Something like two-thirds of [the premiere] is very well-done. The other third is also well-done, but it’s the sort of storyline that leaves me wondering how the hell the writers think they’ll ever be able to pull it off." At Entertainment Weekly Adam B. Vary writes: "Sunday's episode provided a great example or two of that uncommon storytelling quality, but it also indulged in a few of the show's worst habits." Maureen Ryan at the Huffington Post wrote last week: "I recognize that there's a danger in praising Homeland too much. It's not a perfect show: The second episode in particular resorts to some convenient developments and almost 24-style plotting, and Brody's speedy political rise does strain credibility, even if he is generally regarded as a war hero." Last week, our own Richard Lawson noted that the show has "an abundance of too-easy plot connections and enough outlandish, out-of-character behavior to turn the thing pretty quickly from credible terrorism thriller to soapy kitchen sink entertainment."
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Now, in our opinion, last night's episode was fun. It featured some great Claire Danes faces, a moment that elicited an audible gasp from this writer, and a cliffhanger that made us angry we couldn't immediately watch the next episode. That said, there is definitely a level of fantasy associated with Homeland. (Do you think President Obama would like it as much if it 100% accurately captured the stuff he was dealing with on a day-to-day basis? We doubt it.) Personally, we are willing to let our disbelief be suspended until a major shark-jumping moment, but we're not sure if the rest of the media will be so forgiving. Of course, this maybe-backlash is only in its nascent stages, and perhaps could quickly fade away should this season prove just as good as the last. But still, our something-is-wrong Carrie Mathison senses are tingling.