After Dexter each week, my new (rather pricey) subscription to Showtime allows me to watch Homeland immediately after. I watched all of season one in a row, and found it to be a roller coaster ride of awesome to awful and back to awesome again.
Now that we’re getting into season two, I’m enjoying the show and I’m starting to realize why. I’ve gotten my 24 fix back.
I know, you’re going to say I’m crazy and that the two have as much in common as Breaking Bad and My Little Pony, but hear me out. Yes, the shows are two vastly different styles, but they both tackle the same topic in a way that satiates my need for conspiracy, action and drama.
24 was a blunt instrument. Jack Bauer stopped terrorist attacks with blood and brawn and a hell of a lot of PG-13 rated yelling. It was a world of black and white. If the world needs saving, no one person’s life matters, including his own. He’d torture and threaten and murder his way to the answer to every problem, and in the end, (almost) always kept America safe.
Homeland tackles similar problems from a vastly different angle. Yes, America’s security is still at risk, be it from assassination or terrorist attacks, but they approach the topic in a way that’s much more believable than 24’s increasingly inane plots. Jack’s family being kidnapped to force him to assassinate the president was the best plot line the series ever had (and probably it’s most realistic, if you can believe it). But when they got to someone shooting down Air Force One so they could retrieve the nuclear football to launch all our missiles? Things went a little off the deep end.
The turning of an American POW into a Manchurian-like spy in Homeland was chilling because it felt like it could happen. Not that it has, but the way they present Brody’s broken mind and motivations, you can believe it. The same goes for the events of the newly minted season two. Israel strikes at Iran’s nuclear facilities, sending the Arab region into an uproar. That could literally happen tomorrow for all we know.
Homeland is not perfect when it comes to realism, of course. Several moments in the first season had me rolling my eyes, like how anyone that thinks a man who just spent eight years being tortured is in any mental state to be a Congressman (insert brain damaged congressmen joke here), or now in season two when he’s actively being considered to run as vice-president.
But Brody presents an angle to national security that 24 never had. Only rarely did we get to see things from the bad guys perspective, and when we did, they were just really, really bad in Bauer’s black and white world. Brody is a much more dimensional character than that, a man who has undergone terrible things and witnessed atrocities committed by the US that almost make his turncoat ways seem…justified? And if a show is making you think complex thoughts like that, it’s doing one hell of a job painting a multi-dimensional picture of a long-established conflict.
24 was fun because it was tense, gripping and full of Jack Bauer badassery. Homeland has two out of those three right off the bat, even if its action sequences don’t involve people getting tendons bit out of their neck. Homeland also knows when to keep the crazy in check while 24 often turned up the notch to 11, almost annoyingly. Granted, we’re only 14 episodes into Homeland, and it’s like to get worse as time goes on (as many shows do), but for now, it feels like a solid fit in the 24-shaped hole in my heart.
Still, Homeland for all its smarts will likely never be as much fun as 24 was. I doubt there will be moments that will make me literally stand-up and cheer as Jack blows a bad guy away or fall out of my chair in shock as a beloved character dies. By operating at a higher level of intensity, 24 amplified emotional moments like those. And the fact is, Jack Bauer is simply one of the best leads in TV history, and even good characters like Brody and Carrie can’t match him.
Homeland may be the smart man’s 24, but that’s not necessarily an insult. 24 was gory, gripping fun, while Homeland is a more reasoned look at the same sorts of issues. Both have their place, and both should be must-watches for any TV fan. Perhaps if we pray hard enough, we’ll see a crossover someday.