Gather Round the Telly on Sunday Night
I could have told you "Homeland" would snatch the Emmys away from "Mad Men" - but not for the usual reasons. "Homeland" is a guy flick starring a chick. Episodes are sequential. Forget about Sunday night dinner and a movie. Even then, the second season, which started Oct. 2, won't make much sense unless you view the first On Demand, online or via Netflix.
The comparison to "24," starring Kiefer Sutherland, makes sense; some of the same people are involved. Both are tense, action-filled adventure dramas. Each episode ends with a cliffhanger.
"Homeland," on Showtime, is commercial-free and filmed in Charlotte. Better line up your snacks, turn off the phone and hit the loo.
I also compare it to skiing or, I'm told, fishing - activities that make the world and all its problems vanish for the duration.
But the real "Homeland" hook is the possibility of a traitor among us - a cute, boyish Marine traitor, a military hero returning after eight years' imprisonment in the Middle East to a seemingly average American family: pretty (occasionally topless) wife, goody-goody son, weed-puffing daughter, ranch house, Subaru wagon.
Ah, but while he was over there ...
Against this backdrop, former teen actress Claire Danes puts on a show even a younger Meryl Streep might not bring off. Danes has played myriad roles, from the cult-TV "My So-Called Life" to Cosette in "Les Miserables" and Juliet of balcony fame, even Streep's daughter in "The Hours."
Her role as Carrie - a frenetic, secretly bipolar CIA agent - seems to have been tailored to her skills and wispy hair. Not so; "Homeland" is the Americanization of an Israeli series called "Prisoners of War."
Danes hardly needs a script; her eyes do the talking, from flirtatious to frantic in a nanosecond. Then there's Mandy Patinkin playing her CIA boss. Patinkin, along with Alan Arkin and William Hurt, owns a talent rarely appreciated to the fullest. His includes a singing voice of glass-shattering range.
"Homeland" casts him as a seasoned operative with puppy-dog vulnerability and marital disappointments.
And yet the drama, despite its contemporary terrorism theme, has an action cartoon quality where the bad guy is lurking beneath the good guy's uniform. Or vice versa. No twist is too far-fetched for this story line. Yet we buy into "Homeland's" unlikelihood.
After the show ends at 11 p.m. I have trouble sleeping.
Sunday night hath another unlikely charm- or maybe not unlikely, given our newfound adoration for all things British, from Harry-in-the-buff to upstairs-downstairs at "Downton Abbey."
This new gem from the BBC via PBS/UNC is called "Call the Midwife," not an appetizing thought. However, here we have a poignant social drama, set in London's squalid East End in the early 1950s.
A beautiful young midwife chooses to work there instead of "becoming a model or airline hostess." Jenny and a few other giddy girls are based at an Anglican convent run by nuns whose vocation is serving women who pop out a baby, sans anesthesia, at home, as soon as the crib is vacated.
In the first episode a mother who doesn't even speak the same language as her husband pops out No. 22 with gritty realism.
The poverty and neglect destroy Jenny's naivete fast.
I don't know where the Brits get these character actors with the wrinkles, -terrible teeth, slumped shoulders and all the rest - modern-day Dickensians. Their casting is simply superb.
Catch up online ... but hurry. The premiere season ends in early November. And "Downton Abbey" doesn't commence for months.
So now you know what I'm doing Sunday evenings, at least until college basketball starts.
Contact Deborah Salomon at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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