Before Sky really started to invest heavily importing the best of US television, Channel 4 had a strong history of doing the same thing. They aired influential shows like NYPD Blue, Six Feet Under, The Sopranos and ER from their inception, and were the first UK channel to show Lost, before Sky pinched it from them. While they’ve still been importing US shows recently, they haven’t been able to secure the biggest shows ahead of Sky. But one successful show they have gotten a hold of is Homeland.
Aired last year on Showtime (home of shows such as Dexter and Californication), Homeland was a resounding success, meeting with critical acclaim and winning a Golden Globe for best drama series. Starring Claire Danes and Damien Lewis, Homeland has a simple premise. What if an American has been turned by Al-Qaeda? Lewis plays the American in question, a soldier (Nicholas Brody) rescued after being held hostage for years in Afghanistan. Danes plays Carrie Mathison, a CIA agent haunted by 9/11 and her inability to stop it from happening, and who has suspicions about Brody after his return to the United States.
Both Danes and Lewis have experienced success and critical acclaim on US television in the past. Danes won a Golden Globe for her role in My So Called Life as a teenager, and has won further Globes for her role in 2010’s Temple Grandin, before winning another for her performance in Homeland. Lewis starred in Band of Brothers, and has been nominated for a Golden Globe twice, losing out to James Franco in 2001, and Kelsey Grammar last year.
Inevitably, given the plot and style of the show, there have been comparisons with 24. But instead of each season being a stand-alone ‘day’, Homeland is an ongoing story, and Carrie Mathison is very different to Jack Bauer.
Having watched the first episode, I can see why Danes won a Golden Globe for her performance. Mathison is a complex character, brave and brilliant, but also has personal issues that threaten to derail her career. She’s unable to completely forget about what she perceives as her own mistakes in the past, haunted by 9/11 despite it being a collective failure by the US authorities. Nicholas Brody is also a troubled character, having been imprisoned for almost a decade and regularly tortured. He is uncomfortable being hailed as a hero, and seems to just want privacy as he is reunited with his family. But Mathison is suspicious of Brody, and is concerned that his sudden reappearance is not solely down to great work by the CIA, but could be as a result of Al-Qaeda having a complicated plan for more terrorist attacks on American soil.
The pilot episode sets up what looks to be a compelling and dramatic story. It remains to be seen if Channel 4 can keep Homeland for its entire duration, but if they do, they are likely to have a hugely successful show that mirrors the success of some of their other big money imports.
Homeland begins Channel Four at 9.30pm on February 19th.