Fresh off a slew of Emmy wins, Showtime’s Homeland has deftly avoided any sort of sophomore slump in Season 2. If anything, the show has become crisper, even more suspense-filled (yeah, I know, HOW?!) and as riveting as ever. Season 1 offered a sort of novelty – unique characters, a very dark storyline, all that insane jazz music – but in Season 2 we now KNOW these characters, and the stakes. Homeland has seized upon this familiarity to push the envelope even further, without sacrificing any of what made the show great in the first place.
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Just to recap, Season 1 ended with Carrie (Claire Danes) having a complete meltdown and leaving the CIA to go in for electro-shock therapy. Brody (Damian Lewis), meanwhile, seemed to be in the clear after his suicide bombing attempt failed. Fast forward to Season2: Brody is in Congress. He and Jessica (Morena Baccarin) appear to have weathered the storm of their marital problems. Instead of trying to blow up Vice-President Walden (Jamey Sheridan), he’s now being touted as a potential VP candidate himself once Walden announces his presidential bid. Carrie is a civilian again. She’s teaching English to Arab-American immigrants. How in the world would Homeland draw these two characters back together? Fear not.
Carrie gets recruited (very reluctantly) back into the CIA for one more mission. A previous asset has crucial information and she will only talk to Carrie about it. Carrie and Saul (Mandy Patinkin) rendezvous in Lebanon, and one shrewd and narrow escape is enough for Carrie to get her spy-jones back on. She now wants back in, but the CIA doesn’t want her in. But the Beirut mission leads to one vital piece of evidence – Brody’s suicide tape. That’s enough to convince Director Estes (David Harewood) to reinstate Carrie, although he still doesn’t necessarily trust her. The CIA picks up Brody and Carrie turns him, convincing to become a double agent. His cover: he and Carrie will be a having a secret affair. That brilliant bit of writing to somehow bring these two characters right back together again, after it seemed impossible, is the backdrop for Season 2’s complex maneuvers.
While the writing is as good as it gets, the performances on Homeland are to die for. Danes makes every other characterization of functioning with a mental illness seem like child’s play, and her obsessive love/hate relationship with Brody, which should feel completely unlikely, seems as real as anything in the show. There are multiple cross-character chemistries that give Homeland a completely unique versatility. Baccarin and Lewis; Lewis and Morgan Saylor (playing the Brodys’ daughter, Dana), Lewis and Danes; Danes and Patinkin. You name it, Homeland is able to put their characters together have them interact to advance the story while offering a variety of discrete vantage points that allow us to follow the story. As the show’s one “innocent” voice, Saylor even gives us a courtside seat to the dirty world of American politics and intrigue, representing the “average persons” reaction to a world that is alien to everyday life. She also serves as the anchor that ties Brody to audience empathy. It’s hard to hate a guy who loves his daughter, even if he’s a sleeper agent for terrorists.
Saylor and Lewis
Homeland is the most riveting hour of television you can watch. It passes the ultimate viewer’s test, as it’s an hour drama that seems to fly by in 10 minutes, and the ensuing week’s wait to see the next part of the story seems to take forever.
I’M NOT GOING to tell you that Happy Endings is the funniest show you’re not watching. I’m going to tell you it’s the funniest show on television, and if you’re not watching, you are truly missing out. Now in it’s third season, this underrated (read: ignored by the Emmys) comedy has the zany over-the-top humor of Raising Hope, the deep, comedically gifted ensemble cast of Community and the clever, sharp writing of 30 Rock.
Happy Endings is comfortable in every style – zany buddy comedy, firing off a series of stinging pop culture references, thought-provoking relationship comedy, you name it. And no show since Seinfeld has made the inane and mundane more comedically relevant. Some of Happy Endings’ best moments come when the characters are discussing the most completely trivial of subjects.
Damon Wayans, Jr. & Eliza Coupe
The core cast is terrific, although Eliza Coupe, Damon Wayans, Jr. and Casey Wilson are true standouts, creating unique and funny characters and seizing upon Happy Endings high end material with hilarious abandon.
I suppose Happy Endings gets overlooked because it has no “high-minded” agenda like Girls or Modern Family. Instead, it chooses to just be funny, and to be funny for as much of the half hour as it possibly can. So the choice is simple. If you’re looking for a comedy that isn’t funny, watch something else. But if you want to laugh. . .I’ll leave it up to you.
THE CW ALREADY has one hit on its hands with Arrow. Does it have another with Beauty and the Beast, the reboot of the critically acclaimed CBS drama from the ‘80s? I have to admit, this show did little to impress me at first but it has really grown on me as the season has progressed.
Beauty here is Catherine Chandler (Kristin Kreuk), who became a homicide detective after witnessing her mother’s murder and narrowly escaping being killed herself. She was saved when a mysterious creature flew out of the woods and attacked her assailants. That would be the Beast (Jay Ryan), who in reality is Vincent Keller, a former army special forces doctor who underwent an experimental drug trial designed to make the participants better soldiers. Something went wrong, and now Keller is sort of like The Hulk, minus turning green. When he gets threatened or agitated, he turns into the Beast, and has only marginal control over his actions.
Vincent (and because of her connection to him, Catherine) is being hunted by the men responsible for his creation. You know the deal: government conspiracy, shadow agents lurking around every corner, yada yada yada. There are lots of shots of brooding Vincent walking around the city to sad techno music. Who’s this guy think he is, Angel? But in reality, Vincent is kind of a coward while Catherine is kind of brave. He lurks in the shadows, although he is really good at jumping out at the last minute to keep Cat from getting killed. He also frequently digs up evidence for Catherine on whatever murder case she’s trying to solve that week. It’s hard to do half a procedural, while dedicating the other half of the show to a fantasy mythology, and sometimes Beauty and the Beast gets it to work, but not always.
Kristin Kreuk vacillates between looking like the girl next door and the girl who’s gonna kick your ass from here to next door. She makes a good Catherine. I’m not sold on the chemistry between her and Jay Ryan, however, and I kind of like the way and the cocky M.E. (Max Brown) in her department get on better. Austin Basis provides some (but not enough) comic relief as Keller’s paranoid pal who helps keep him hidden.
I’d also be completely remiss if I didn’t give a huge shout out to Nina Lisandrello as Catherine’s partner, Detective Tess Vargas. If Law & Order’s Lenny Briscoe had a wise-cracking daughter who went into the family business, it would be Tess. Most of the series’ best on screen chemistry is between Kreuk and Lisandrello, who easily shift between solving murders and dishing about their latest girl-problems. They make a great team.
Lisandrello & Kreuk on the job
I can’t honestly be sure whether Beauty and the Beast will last beyond one season. The CW can be notoriously impatient with new shows, but I’m hoping this one will stick around for one more year. There’s enough unique material here to make me want to keep watching, and shows often improve dramatically once they get past their growing pains. If it falters, maybe Kreuk and Lisandrello can get a spin off. Or, in keeping with the theme, a reboot of another ‘80s show – Cagney and Lacey.
Nashville’s done a pretty good job of not having any of their lead characters too closely resemble real-life country stars. Connie Britton’s Rayna James appears to be a mash up of several country stars, including Faith Hill and Reba McEntire, and Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes is too trashy to be Taylor Swift, but this week’s introduction of a new character, Sean Butler (Tilky Jones), as a potential love interest for Juliette, comes the closest yet to trading on real life. A young NFL QB who was great in college, has struggled as a pro and is a complete goody two-shoes? Sure sounds like Tim Tebow to me.
Educational TV. Things we learned from watching TV this week: 1) Throwing up all over the floor is a perfectly acceptable first date if you’re a heroin addict (2 Broke Girls); 2) Abraham Lincoln was sexy and had huge feet (The Colbert Report); 3) Fried turkey is not a meal; it’s a prank on God (The Neighbors).
Did you see that coming on American Horror Story (no spoilers, I’m not going to tell you what THAT is. If you watched this week’s episode, you know already). I have to admit, I didn’t, but I was probably distracted by the storyline where one of the bravest women of the 20th century gets a lobotomy and becomes a classic ‘60s Stepford wife. Scary? You bet.
Reality Check: MTV rarely produces anything I would actually want to watch, but Catfish, The TV Show appears to be the exception. If you’re not familiar with the idea, the show is basically a one-hour re-do of the indie film/documentary Catfish, which followed a man who had met and fallen in love with a woman online, and was prepared to travel across the country to meet her. When he arrived at his destination, it turned out that very little of what he believed was true. The film was a surprise hit, and the format has now been tailored to a one-hour reality show, starring Yaniv Schulman, the man who was duped in the feature film. It is shocking to see the lengths some people will go, both the hopeful crowd looking for love on-line and the inexplicable liars on the other end of the connection who lead them on. Catfish, The TV Show produces the same queasy suspense that the film did, and the more compact one-hour format actually seems more conducive to the stories. If you want to see a reality show that is nothing like other reality shows, give this one a look.
Catfish’s “Sunny” (right) meets the “man of her dreams” (not the man in the middle, the girl on the left who was pretending to be her dream man)
The American Music Awards air on ABC on November 18.
Rob Reiner and Jamie Lee Curtis guest star as Jess’ parents on New Girl on FOX on November 20.
The Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade airs on NBC on November 22.
Syfy Channel will air a James Bond marathon on November 22.
BBC America will air a Star Trek The Next Generation marathon on November 22.
AMC will air a Godfather marathon on November 22.
Michael Jackson: BAD25 airs on ABC on November 22.
The latest installment of R. Kelly’s Trapped In The Closet airs on IFC on November 23.
The series finale of ICarly airs on Nickelodeon on November 23.
TV’s a big place and I haven’t been to all of it yet. Got a favorite show you’d like me to comment on? Post a comment below, contact me on twitter @RobLazlo. or shoot me an email: RobNJ564@yahoo.com. I welcome your input!