TV Improvement: Homeland

In its admittedly sporadic lifetime, TV Improvement has dared to try to improve shows that were already working on their own. TVI tried to take a finely-tuned sports car (or a nice Honda), and tried to squeeze out just a bit more horsepower. Now, we take on our greatest challenge: Homeland. It’s a show that’s spawned countless Twitter rants, snarky blog posts, and some nonsensical comments that can best be described as “exasperated”. However, people wouldn’t be so upset if there weren’t things of quality lurking underneath. When the writing allows for it, the performances of the stars and the ancillary players can reach extraordinary levels. The show has material and a world (spy drama) that should be inherently interesting. Somehow, the powers-that-be have parlayed one of the strongest opening seasons in television history into a complete storytelling and dramatic mess. It’s squandering an amazing performance from perpetual grouch Mandy Patinkin, the best female actor in the television business (Claire Danes), and the coming out party of one of the underrated actors working today (Damian Lewis). Enough words have been spent discussing how we got here. Let’s talk about how we fix it.

Jump Forward in Time
 

Obviously, we have to clear ourselves of Sergeant Nicholas Brody. I enjoy the work of Damian Lewis, and I was actually fascinated by his first appearance of the season. However, we can’t deny that the storyline has become an anchor dragging down the storyline. A time shift can also rid us of some other problematic storylines (I’m looking at you, unborn fetus).

How far do we jump? Far enough to make all of this stuff far in the past. A place where Senator Lockhart is running the CIA, Saul is working in an American consulate somewhere, and Carrie is a private contractor working in the Middle East. I’ll accept almost anything as long as “Brody” isn’t said by anyone. Ever. The weird part about it is that no one would complain if the show never mentioned Brody again. I wouldn’t have minded if Brody wasn’t mentioned THIS season. Bottom line: The show has to move forward if it hopes for any sort of shift in fortune. Setting the third season three months after the bombing at the CIA didn’t give them an opportunity to do that. A larger time jump is needed prior to the fourth season.

Change the Setting
 

For a show about worldly matters (supposedly), Homeland is a show that an feel quite insular. Alternating between safe houses, suburban neighborhoods, and the CIA (which apparently employees 6 people), the show could use a different aesthetic. Some of the series’ most interesting episodes have either been shot on location in the Middle East or in places that are not the DC area. Granted, shooting the show in Charlotte does limit what you can do with the setting, but the show needs to expand the world. If they don’t replace Lewis in the regular cast, then they can use that money to either create a parallel narrative in an alternative location like the Middle East. I understand there are some out of work film crews in New Mexico that know how to shoot in a desert location.

Better Bad Guys
 

I’ll admit I was in on the ghostly new bad guy named “The Magician”. Unfortunately, you lose a bit of your mystique when you drive into America brutally stab your ex-wife to death in her home before turning yourself in. After turning him, I’m not entirely sure who our big bad guy is. Of course, Gansa probably has another twist or two ready before the season comes to a close. Javadi’s lack of substance only further underscores the menace that was Abu Nazir before he crossed the American border. It seems America has a way of softening Arab terrorists (too many Gotta Have Its at Cold Stone is my guess). If we can change the setting (see above), then challenging the bad guys on their own turf shouldn’t be a problem. It would be pretty interesting to see our heroes navigating unfamiliar terrain, people, and places in order to stop an at-large terrorist. Maybe not, but it has to be more interesting than hanging out beside the 14th fairway.

Make People Better at Their Jobs
 

Anybody remember that time Carrie was good at her job? At this point, neither do I. Her increasingly poor decision-making comes from a place of devotion to a man who admitted to being a terrorist sympathizer who helped assassinate the Vice President of the United States (funny how we don’t bring that up). Her indignation towards Saul is growing increasingly frustrating and stupefying. Claire Danes is a phenomenal actress, but even she can’t make this train wreck work. It’s one thing to make a character unlikable. It’s another thing entirely to make their actions maddening to the audience. Carrie has exhausted the goodwill of the audience and the CIA. It would take quite a feat of narrative gymnastics to help restore some credibility, but making her a competent spy again would be a start.

These fixes will not turn Homeland back into the Emmy-winning spy drama it was in its first season. However, maybe implementing a few of these suggestions can get us back on the road to respectability. Who’s got a Blackberry? I’ve got some Skype calls to make.