Sunday, November 27, 2011

Homeland and Boss - a review

Not having to sit through, or fast forward though commercials is just about reason enough to give premium cable programs a shot.  That these programs are usually well written and even better acted is just gravy.  Here is my take on two new premium cable series.

Homeland, (Sundays, 9pm, CST, Showtime)

This taunt psychological thriller is a perfect look into the fears and work of the post 9/11, American intelligence community.  The shades of gray in which agents live and work has to be as something they deal with on an everyday basis.  How much of this program’s story lines are possible or probable is not for me to decide.  I just know I am thoroughly entertained each week.

The two leads make this show.  I have never been much of a Claire Danes fan but I am converted.  Danes’ passionate, bi-polar CIA agent, Carrie Mathison, truly cares about her country and job.  The problem is that she is such a loose cannon in just about every sense of the word and makes horrible decisions, both personally and professionally, at every turn.  As a viewer, you care about Carrie and you want her to be right, yet you cringe as she puts herself in terrible situations needlessly. 

Damian Lewis portrays a marine, Nicholas Brody, who spent eight years in captivity, is rescued, and reunited with his (cheating) wife and family.  He is not the same man his family knew before his capture and everyone struggles to adjust.  Lewis (best known for his roles in Band of Brothers and Life) is perfect as the twitchy, ill-at-ease, angry Brody.

The main premise is that Carrie believes Brody was turned in captivity and is now a terrorist.  She believes this with all her heart, even when she is the only one.  Carrie and Brody play a sort of cat-and-mouse game with each other as Carrie tries to prove her theories.  Both actors have hit the nail on the head with their portrayals.  Carrie’s passion never seems false and Brody’s simmering anger never seems far from the surface. 

The writing keeps the viewer always guessing about what is around the corner without being stingy with details.  Mandy Patinkin is also brilliant as Carrie’s mentor and supervisor.  The writing keeps us suspecting and guessing if there is more to this character than meets the eye. 

Homeland is a terrific character study with more than one subject to watch.  Keep in mind this isn’t your parents’ Cold War spying either.  The threats this program deal with are all too real and they are laid out with gritty reality.  I find myself anticipating this show more and more.

Boss (Fridays, 9pm, CST, Starz)

How weird is to see Kelsey Grammer as a less than jolly politico?  Give Grammer credit for accepting and pulling off a character so far from the beloved Frasier Crane.  Grammer’s Mayor Tom Kane is dying but that hasn’t slowed his heavy handedness or his Machiavellian control over those who serve him. 

While I like the show, I often find myself wondering, maybe naively, how much of this highly illegal activity still goes on in this era where it takes very little for anyone to get caught doing anything.  Kane parades around the city meeting with a drug dealer and his very flawed reverend daughter right out in the open.  Surely his enemies know about his daughter’s life and would have eyes and cameras on him at all times, ready to exploit whatever weakness exists.

Sometimes I cringe at the mayor’s shenanigans.  There aren’t many laws Kane and his minions don’t break, bend, disregard, or ignore.  The program has a whole I-need-a-shower-after-watching feel to it.  Still, I am intrigued as to how Kane will conquer his disease and enemies.  Kane’s personal life is shadowy and mysterious and we are fed information slowly and I want more.

The show does have a scene stealer in the form of Kitty O’Neill, played perfectly by Kathleen Robertson.  Kitty is Kane’s protégé and personal assistant.  She seems to do some of his dirty work but as yet, we are not sure if it his dirty work, or if it is her own.  Robertson is smart and sexy and dominates whichever scene she is in.

Boss isn’t as good as Homeland and it will not be everyone’s cup of tea.  Scene after scene of politicians behaving badly doesn’t lend confidence in our leaders in real life.  Still, it is interesting with plenty of mysteries for us to ponder and I can’t wait to see how it all plays out.

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