September 24, 2012

Drama in the Homeland

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When the winners were announced at Sunday’s 64th Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, sometimes there were yawns and sometimes there was shock, but rarely was there anything in between. Of the 26 statues given out Sunday night, most seemed to either reinforce the domination of a particular program or radically rewrite the power structure of a television genre. I want to discuss a case of the latter: Homeland, and the drama of Drama.

But first, some important points to recap the former, so people can understand the continual praise the Emmys like to heap upon certain shows. This year, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart won the Emmy for Outstanding Variety Series for the 10th consecutive year, while Modern Family won Emmys in every category for which it was nominated. This included second wins for Eric Stonestreet and Julie Bowen in Supporting Actor and Actress in a Comedy Series, respectively, as well as a third consecutive win in Outstanding Comedy Series, which Modern Family has won every year it has been on air. All in all, according to The Atlantic, 19 of the 26 awards went to recipients who had previously won.

I think Stewart said it best when he accepted his award: “Years from now, when the Earth is just a burning husk, and aliens visit, they will find a box of these, and they will know just how predictable these fucking things can be.”

This was supposed to be the narrative for the Drama awards. Two major categories, Lead Actor in a Drama Series and Outstanding Drama Series, have been dominated the past several years by television’s anointed “important” programs. Coming into Sunday’s show, Bryan Cranston had won Lead Actor every year he was nominated for his role as Walter White in Breaking Bad (three times), and Mad Men had taken home the award for Drama Series every year it was nominated (four times). Something to note: Both Cranston and Mad Men have been nominated in these categories every year they have been on air, so basically, they have never not won.

The smart money this year was on the trend continuing, with Cranston grabbing a fourth statue for Breaking Bad’s grittiest season and Mad Men taking its fifth for yet another set of standout episodes. If the critics were to be trusted, the only thing that might change these two shows’ fortunes was the other. Mad Men’s Jon Hamm has never won an Emmy for his role as Don Draper, and he is certainly deserving, and the same people who thought this was Breaking Bad’s grittiest work also deemed it some of the show’s best. It was anyone’s game, if he happened to be on AMC.

Enter Homeland. The CIA counter-terrorism drama is on Showtime, a network that, before Sunday night, had never won a Drama Emmy. While Claire Danes’ bipolar CIA officer was the lock of the night in Lead Actress in a Drama Series, anything else would just be a cherry on top as the show heads into its second season this weekend. I’ve been a fan of Homeland since I binge watched the 12-episode first season over two days last spring, and I was pulling for a win. But, I had to be realistic: There was no way Homeland was going to top what are more and more frequently being cemented as two of the greatest television shows of all time.

Spoiler alert: It did. Much like Cornell did to Yale the day before, Homeland plowed through the competition. Its pilot episode locked up the first statue of the night in Writing for a Drama Series, and if you haven’t yet watched it, make time to this week. It’s worth it. While this was surprising, as it beat out three episodes of Mad Men and one from the increasingly popular and acclaimed Downton Abbey, no one was prepared for what came next. Damien Lewis, a British actor who plays an American Marine potentially turned to Al-Qaeda after eight years in captivity, came out of nowhere to top Cranston and Hamm, and won an Emmy for Lead Actor in a Drama Series. After Danes received her preordained award for Lead Actress, there was a glimmer of hope: Could this happen? Could Homeland win Outstanding Drama Series for what was a pretty perfect premiere season?

Spoiler alert II: It did. Without exaggerating, in just one night, Homeland established itself as the best show on television. Not only did it stop two unstoppable juggernaut winning streaks, it won Drama awards for writing, lead actor and actress and overall series. Regardless of who it beat, that’s impressive. Add in that we’re currently in what some consider a “Golden Age” of television dramas, and it’s all the more extraordinary that Homeland topped these four major categories. Final count for Breaking Bad: One win out of seven nominations (Outstanding Supporting Actor for Aaron Paul). For Mad Men: Zero out of 17 nominations.

Awards don’t mean everything, or according to some people, anything at all. If you don’t like the faceless voting process of the Emmys, take it from a fan: Homeland is enjoyable, smart and constantly shifting. It’s also probably the best show since Battlestar Galactica to accurately portray the tensions and fears of a post-9/11 America. It remains to be seen if Homeland’s brilliant first season was a fluke, but I think we’ll find that its new role as top drama is only going to solidify as the program moves into season two. Either way, come Sunday night, I’ll be watching Showtime.

Original Author: Peter Jacobs