Barack Obama's favourite show - reportedly, double Golden Globe winner, including Best Drama Series - Homeland has a lot to live up to before it even hits these shores.
Co-creator Alex Gansa earned his writing stripes on 24, and Homeland shares the same sense of real-time urgency. The premise is a deceptively simple one. Nicholas Brody is a US Marine Sergeant, missing in action since 2003, discovered to be in captivity, rescued and returned to the United States as the poster boy for military heroics. Is he just a traumatised soldier whose biggest problem is his wife's turning to his best friend in his absence, or has he been turned in captivity and returned to make a terrorist attack on his Homeland?
As the troubled Brody, Damian Lewis is yet another Brit making his mark in US TV drama, and to career-defining effect. Whether he’s being introduced to the vice-president and making crowd-pleasing speeches, or looking at his wife and weighing up her loyalty, Lewis's inscrutable face constantly leaves us wondering, with only private hints of turmoil that will no doubt reach the surface as the series continues. The flashback sequences, detailing his torture as a prisoner - including his enforced, raw beating of a fellow soldier - lend a mumbling background to the stillness and quietness of his recovered life back home with his family. He is, quite palpably, a grenade waiting to go off.
The only person who's absolutely convinced of his ignoble intentions is unstable CIA case officer Carrie Mathison, played with extraordinary intensity by Claire Danes. Danes, the other Golden Globe winner for this first series, has successfully replaced her normal girl-next-door charm with an altogether more disturbing appeal. That Carrie is long-time medicated for a "mood disorder" is only the physiological manifestation of her edginess. Danes inhabits her character's strengths, wit, focus and determination but also loneliness, paranoia and butting at authority - even those wanting to help her - with a dedication that makes us root for her from the very first scene. I want Brodie to be a bad'un, just to see Carrie proved right.
Supporting actors are just as fully drawn, with another Brit, David Harewood, completely believable as the CIA deputy director, and an unrecognisable Mandy Patinkin as sympathetic as ever as Carrie's beleaguered mentor Saul Berenson.
At the core of this tale is the huge military dilemma of how to deal with someone who may either be incredibly vulnerable and in need of a country's gratitude and protection, or that same country's biggest risk, or both.
But it simultaneously manages to be incredibly personal, for example Brody's wife oscillating between pride in her hero soldier, and fear of her increasingly volatile husband. And Carrie's disorder means she's unsure whether it's her instincts or fears guiding her, while the burdens of Brody himself feel ever heavier, whether he's drinking beer on his home sofa, or gazing at the US Capitol - unreadable.
There is no doubt that Americans have a unique sense of the world being divided into two chapters, pre-9/11 and afterwards, so what is high-quality compelling drama for us may have more personal resonances for native viewers. Nonetheless, one episode in, it is high-quality fare, and will hopefully find many UK fans' admiration to add to that of Barack Obama's.Suggest a correction