The announcement today that “Homeland” has been signed for a third season shouldn’t be a surprise to anybody who has seen the Emmys it won and the prestige it’s brought Showtime, forever HBO’s lowly little brother. One of its chief fans is the commander in chief, Barack Obama.
But still, can extra seasons be the only reward a TV show can get? Is it even always warranted by the story that could in some cases be more satisfyingly drawn to a close?
Hit TV shows are like children’s stories that kids don’t ever want to end. They like them so much, they want them to go on forever, But is that good for the story? A never ending narrative?
Television since “The Sopranos” has attracted smart people who would otherwise would be working in movies or novels. But it is in episodic television, they say, where characters can more deeply be fleshed out, week by week. But to what end? An end at all?
Used to be that shows would just sputter to an end. They’d just stop unceremoniously at a point where they’d be so past their prime, few would notice. Now every show has to have not only a cliffhanger at the end of the season (even if it’s a comedy) but a huge finale that must compete with all other shows’ fabled finales and somehow serve to tie what may be years of storylines all up neatly in one episode.
That was the impossible task of, say, “Lost” and even “The Sopranos” itself.
How would “Homeland” end? With a bang, and the terrorists winning, or with the wimper of Carrie Matheson back in electro shock therapy?
The compelling premise of the first season of “Homeland” was that Carrie was sure that a returned prisoner of war had turned into a terrorist operative, though nobody else believed her.
This season (spoilers obviously from here), it’s become too clear for others that he was the one, and they will devise a way to keep Damien Lewis’ charismatic character in the show. After all, he couldn’t very well be shut away in prison and never be seen again while Carrie goes on other capers.
Neither could the show become a Road Runner cartoon, with chases every week, only to be reset the following Sunday.
“Homeland” showrunners are proud of the fact that they ate up narrative so quickly the first episode. Sexual tension? They got it on mid-season. Terrorist event? Right there near the finale. And as Brody is brought in for questioning for the CIA, what’s left for this couple now? Interrogations until he escapes? He convinces her to work for the terrorists? Or does she invite him to turn the tables on her operatives?
Either way, it’s kind of like the Fugitive finally being caught and then Dr. Richard Kimball is enlisted to help find the one-armed man.
Still, the people behind “Homeland” are the ones who were behind “24” and they proved in that breakneck conceit – real time, one hour for each hour of the day, over 24 episodes in a season that constituted a single day – to keep tension going, challenging themselves to keep the audience surprised and their own storytelling forever lively.