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Homeland: The Complete First & Second Seasons
Release Date(s)2011 (August 28, 2012), 2012 (September 10, 2013)
Studio(s)Teakwood Lane/Fox 21/Showtime (20th Century Fox)
If you’ve been thinking we’re living through another Golden Age of Television, you’ve certainly got ample evidence for that conclusion. With the major Hollywood studios disinterested in film projects costing less than $50 million, the very sort of dramas, comedies and thrillers that were a staple of the cinema in the 1970s and 80s, lots of great acting, writing and directing talent has subsequently moved to the small screen. The result has been a rash of great modern series, including the likes of Mad Men, Breaking Bad, Game of Thrones, The Wire, Battlestar Galactica, The Sopranos and others.
Ranking high among these is Showtime’s Homeland, the 2012 Emmy winner for Best Series and also a Peabody-winner, produced by Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa of 24 and The X-Files fame. (Note that it’s also based on an Israeli series called Hatufim, or Prisoners of Wars.) It opens with the rescue of Marine Corps sniper Nicholas Brody (played by Damian Lewis – you probably know him best from his starring role as Major Winters in Band of Brothers) during a Delta Force raid in Iraq. Brody’s been missing in action for many years, held prisoner by the terrorist mastermind Abu Nazir (think Osama bin Laden). Upon returning home, he’s fêted and branded an American hero. Every politician in the country wants to stand beside Brody on camera and convince him to run for public office, but he’s having serious trouble readjusting to normal life and the family he left behind. Enter CIA operations officer Carrie Mathison (Clair Danes of My So Called Life and Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo + Juliet). She’s been studying Nazir’s tactics and is convinced that there’s more to Brody than meets the eye. Unfortunately, Carrie suffers from bipolar disorder which she hides from her CIA coworkers, including mentor Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin of The Princess Bride) and boss David Estes (played by David Harewood). The disorder is part of what makes Carrie a brilliant intelligence operative – she sees patterns and evidence in ways that others don’t. It also makes her a loose cannon, whose only real supporter is Berenson. So when Carrie brings her concerns about Brody to Estes’ attention, she’s dismissed. Instead of dropping the idea, she begins an unauthorized (and highly illegal) investigation of Brody on her own.
A big part of what makes Homeland such a pleasure to watch, is that it’s that rare spy-thriller series that’s actually character driven. Each of the leads – Carrie, Brody and Saul – are damaged personalities in some way, and over time they recognize that fact in each other. Carrie and Brody start the series in opposition, but are repeatedly pulled together in a schizophrenic relationship by need and circumstances. Saul’s sacrificed so much for his work that really only Carrie understands him and they rely on one another too. All three of the lead actors are fantastic. Danes is a marvel at revealing her character’s near-constant inner turmoil with subtle glances and shifts of expression. Lewis makes Brody a likeable and empathetic enigma, who can also turn dangerous and frightening in an instant. And Mandy Patinkin is just perfect here. His performance conveys Saul’s lifetime of service and expertise, but also strong and raw emotions just beneath his calm exterior. This is one of the best casts on TV and each of the leads has either won (or been nominated for) acting Emmys for their work here. Just as important, the writing is smart and taut, with twists and turns that surprise but aren’t predictable. The series even features a great jazz-infused score that perfectly captures the manic shifts in Carrie’s state of mind. This is really good stuff.
Both Season One and Season Two of Homeland have been released on Blu-ray Disc by 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. Each is a 3-disc set, featuring 12 episodes in 1080p high definition video and 5.1 English DTS-HD Master Audio. The A/V presentation quality is quite good – perhaps not reference level, but easily on par with the best current TV releases on the format.
In terms of extras, Season One includes audio commentary on the pilot episode, a selection of deleted scenes, the Homeland: Season One – Under Surveillance featurette and something called Week Ten, which is a prologue of sorts for Season Two. If you purchased the set at Target, there was also a retail-exclusive bonus DVD disc containing An Evening with Homeland, which is video of a Q&A with the cast and creators held in March, 2012 at the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences in Hollywood. Season Two includes more deleted scenes, a Super 8 Film Diary shot and narrated by Lewis, 2 featurettes (Return to the Homeland: Filming in Israel and The Choice: The Making of the Season Finale) and The Border, which is another short prologue to the upcoming Season Three. It’s not a lot of material, and I hate it when anything appears only in a retail exclusive, but what you do get is at least good and well worth watching.
Homeland is an absolutely terrific suspense/espionage drama, and if you’re not watching it already you surely should be. With just 24 episodes in the can thus far, all available on disc and digital, it’s easy to catch up in time for Season Three, which debuts on Showtime this coming Sunday (9/29). Next to the BBC’s Sherlock and AMC’s soon-to-finish Breaking Bad, Homeland is my favorite thing on television at the moment. As such, it goes without saying that it’s highly recommended.