UPDATE: I wasn’t surprised by last night’s upset at the Emmys. Well, okay, I was—as I mention in the repost of an article below, it’s the first Emmys I’ve ever paid attention to. I was on the money about Claire Danes, but my hesitation about Damian Lewis cost me a firm call in the Best Actor category. Had I done my homework and seen that Bryan Cranston from Breaking Bad had already won three times, I would have definitely called it for Lewis.
In the end, I guess I’ve been told which show to like better. Although, to be honest, this season of Breaking Bad is killing it, more so than ever, but it wasn’t eligible for this round of awards. So, compared to last season, Homeland was the better show. Or was it?
Here’s the original post:
I admit that I’m confused, especially now that we are only halfway through the fifth season of the superlative Breaking Bad. Up until the day before yesterday, there was no doubt in my mind what the best show on TV was: BB, hands down. I should have just let things lie, but then I had to go and watch the first season of Homeland, and now I’m no longer sure who the king is. I’m so confused, in fact, that I’m going to actually watch this year’s Primetime Emmys on September 23 with the hope that they’ll tell me which show to like better.
I am such a fan of BB that I even subscribe to /r/breakingbad, the ‘subreddit’ on Reddit dedicated to the show; I belong to no other fan forum of anything, unless you count my Facebook likes. I decided to try to start a discussion there with the hopes that I could get an intelligent discourse going about Homeland vs. BB and a fellow Redditor could help me make up my mind ahead of the Emmys, so that I didn’t sound so wishy-washy in this article.
Sadly, as with most posts on that site, mine was met with swift resistance, downvoted out of existence almost immediately and thereby wiped off the boards and further discussion. Boom. Done. Hasta luego. As he was dumping my post into oblivion, one of the hooligans who did it wrote, “I hope Walt shits down your throat,” a comment for which he was rewarded five upvotes. I don’t take this to heart: according to Wikipedia, “the median U.S. Reddit user is male (72%), 25–34 years of age, has some college education, and is in the lowest income bracket of US$0–$24,999” and also in the tech field, meaning he’s not just living in his parents’ basement, he’s likely straight and not getting laid.
Lest you sit there shaking your head saying, “Serves you right for being a middle-aged Ghey in a place you don’t belong, James,” let me just say that few places online give me as much delight and make me laugh as hard as Reddit. I will always dust myself off and come back for more. I’ve simply given up posting pieces like Tuttle’s reviews of the Paris couture collections.
A kindly passing Samaritan on the BB subreddit noticed my distress and wrote, “You might do better in /r/television if you don’t get any discussion here. I think the conversation here is pretty one-sided in favor of BB.” I resisted responding with, “Ya think?” not just because I’m not a character in an Aaron Sorkin teleplay, but also because the right response while I was clearing the shit out of my throat was a humbled, “Thanks.”
True, it isn’t until episode seven of Homeland that it even starts to compete with Breaking Bad, but BB itself took time to build, a pressure cooker that literally exploded and stole the crown from every other show out there at the end of season four, when I sprang from my chair, watched the last ten minutes standing up, and then dropped to my knees as the credits rolled and kowtowed to my monitor mumbling, “I’m not worthy.”
I’ll try to tiptoe around a synopsis of Homeland with as few spoilers as possible. Adapted from an Israeli series, which explains a great deal about the rather far-fetched premise, it’s about a Marine, Nicholas Brody, played by Damian Lewis, who was held in captivity for eight years in Iraq and Afghanistan, and who may or may not have been “turned” by al-Qaeda into working with them against the U.S. The one person who is convinced he was turned is a mentally imbalanced CIA analyst, Carrie Mathison, played by Claire Danes. Whatever her mental illness is, it’s being suppressed by medication, anti-psychotics supplied to her by her sister unbeknownst to Carrie’s bosses at the CIA so that her security clearance isn’t compromised. This led me to believe that she had some form of schizophrenia, which long-time readers of these pages will know immediately endeared me to the show. (We ran a “Schizo of the Week” every Friday before this site was reformatted a few months ago.) As we find out in episode eleven, when Carrie is accidentally forced off her meds and all hell breaks lose, it isn’t schizophrenia.
If anyone thought that Claire Danes’ Golden Globe-winning performance in Temple Grandin was a one-off, it wasn’t. Indeed, she won another Globe this year in a different TV category for Homeland as well—Best Actress in a Television Series, rather than Best Actress in a Mini-Series or Motion Picture Made for Television (pay attention!). My bet is she’ll take home the Emmy this year as well; I’ve seen pretty much all the episodes of the other actresses she’s up against, with the exception of Kathy Bates in Harry’s Law, and for my money Danes has them beat handsomely. Then again, I’ve never followed the Emmys, and they may have quirks of their own. But the episode of Homeland that Danes submitted, the one in which she goes off the rails, is Oscar worthy. She’s more convincing than Jessica Lange in Frances, and I am very picky about my portrayals of insanity. Just being wide-eyed, kooky and hysterical ain’t gonna cut it. I’ve gotta see you went There, and Danes definitely did.
As I declared on Twitter the other day, Danes might be the successor to Meryl Streep. Or she would be if viewers could relate to her as much as they do with Streep. In terms of technique and how much of herself she puts into it, she’s up there.
I’m not too sure about Damian Lewis, but so far I don’t dislike him as much as I disliked Bryan Cranston in the first couple of seasons of Breaking Bad. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a big Lewis fan, he just doesn’t seem to have settled into his role as well or as quickly as Danes did. His American accent is impeccable, he does absolutely everything right: he’s believably tortured inwardly and outwardly when he needs to be, and just as believably rigid and impenetrable as a Marine sergeant should be, if a bit too intelligent. My problem might be that he’s supposed to be charismatic as well, and he doesn’t have a handle on that third aspect of his role quite yet. Or maybe he does, but I’m having a hard time keeping up with the three distinct facets, and we’ll see more of the third in the upcoming season.
One bit of casting that I liked at first because I loved her in Firefly, is Morena Baccarin as Brody’s wife, Jessica. I find the Brazilian actress very attractive—she’s the kind of woman for whom I’d get drunk and forget I’m homosexual, or remember I’m really bisexual. A bit of trivia I found out from the IMDb is that she and Claire Danes went to school together. Baccarin can play a great mistress, or she might be believable as another CIA operative, or even better an Israeli Mossag agent, but she is not a mother. She seems like her daughter’s older sister—way too put together for a working single mom. She’s never changed a poopy diaper or mopped a spilled bowl of Cheerios in her life. This woman exudes sex and pleasure; whereas Danes has a whole arsenal of complexities, Baccarin is limited to various expressions of seductiveness: playful, hurt, excited, languid, aroused, ennui. But as mother struggling with her teenaged daughter’s rebellion while trying to reboot her marriage to a severely damaged Marine? She’s struggling herself.
Mandy Patinkin as Saul Berenson, the aging Jewish boss, is perfection: neurotic, caring, opaque, blustering. His voice is now a fine cognac. Listen to it below over the trailer of upcoming season two, which isn’t so much a trailer as it is an impressionistic recap of everything that happened in season one.
I’d love to hear opinions about Homeland vs. Breaking Bad, always bearing in mind that the former doesn’t yet have the momentum and dramatic maturity of the latter. It’ll be interesting to see what happens when the new season begins September 30. And best of luck to Danes and Lewis at the Emmys.