Sexy Paranoia: Homeland vs. The Americans


So I’m WAY behind when it comes to television shows.  I don’t have HBO, thus I was late to check out HOMELAND, but now I’m a devoted fan.  What’s happening on Season Two? Wait–don’t tell me.

There’s so much to love about that show. Let me count the ways:

Now that's chemistry.  (photo: just jared.com)

Now that’s chemistry. (photo: just jared.com)

I love the great complicated characters that you can really sink your teeth into.  My emotions did hairpin turns with every plot twist. I love the excellent chemistry between Damien Lewis and Claire Danes.  These are people that I don’t normally think of as sexy, but when they get to it, w-o-w.  Now that’s acting!

Claire Danes’s character is the tried and true Miss Smarty Britches kind of character.  She (as tends to happen with Smarty Britches Women) gets lumped on and then lumped on some more when she’s only trying to help.  Call me a Hilary Clinton lover, but I really relate to this kind of woman.  The added mental illness angle is also amazing.

The teenage daughter’s really good AND morose and sullen.  Give that girl an Emmy!

complex.com

complex.com

Mandy Patikin is great.  Haven’t seen season two yet — remember I’m living in the dark ages without HBO, Tivo, etc. — but my gut says he’s the mole man that’s causing internal leaks.

British actor Damien Lewis is another actor who earned his emmy.  For someone not born in our wondrous land, he’s really good at capturing the simple sincerity of an idealist that’s just this side of corny.  At the same time, he’s able to show us how he’s riding the roller coaster of post-prisoner emotions while seeming grounded.  I know nothing about acting, but common–that can’t be easy.

Meanwhile, THE AMERICANS is Fox’s new rival version of HOMELAND.  This is J.J. Abrams’ new baby, but I think the inspiration for this show pre-dates HOMELAND.  Remember ALIAS? There was one episode where Sydney and Vaughn had to go pose as a couple in a typical suburban area where the other couples were secretly training for a cold war coup.  They were ready to spring to life as terrorists whenever the call came.  Sound familiar?

hollywood reporter.com

hollywood reporter.com

Yes, there are so many similarities between THE AMERICAN’S and HOMELAND too. Aside from the basic shared premise of spies/terrorists among us, having to hide their true selves–even from family–both shows foster the bottom line that there’s just something about America that leaves our enemies frothing at the mouth.  They’re aching to bring us down, harsh our mellow, whatever.

Both shows also have older teen daughter, and younger son thang. Finally, both shows have these yicky-icky sex scenes in the pilot, but provide hotter sex scenes later on…

So is it worth watching FX’s wanna-be HOMELAND? Sure it is!

I LOVE the soundtrack of The Americans.  The show takes place in 1981, with flashbacks to the 60’s.  In the pilot, there are songs by Quarterflash (who?) and Fleetwood Mac (‘Tusk’ –OMG!) playing.  [Will there be Joan Jet ditties in the next episode? My fingers are crossed].  Yet, overall, my opinion is that the 80’s thing works against the sense of drama.  The 80’s–which I was of course too young to experience myself *cough* *cough* seemed to be a breezy-cheery time and…well…shallow.  This show is trying to be deep and intense, so the time period seems to work against that.

cinema blend.com

cinema blend.com

I want to say that maybe the actors in THE AMERICANS might not be quite as emmy-worthy as HOMELAND, but…when it comes to Matthew Rhys I’d be lying.  He stood out in BROTHERS & SISTERS — he has charisma to spare playing a gay lawyer. I looked him up — and wonder of wonders, here’s YET ANOTHER BRIT.  What are they putting in the scones over there?

Matthew Rhys reminds me a little of James McAvoy.  I look at him and I don’t exactly see stud-muffin, but man, once he started acting he was hot as a gay guy and now he’s hot as a straight family-guy spy.  How many actors do you think can do that?  And to top it off, they put in him all kinds of wild and wooly disguises–I mean, really cheesy stuff–and he manages to act hotly through it all.

starpulse.com

starpulse.com

The guy’s got massive charisma.  Matthew Rhys’s character is committed to protecting his family first and foremost.  He’s a protector, going all Clark Kent about it around his kids, but then kicking ass to defend them the moment they look away. I like that Matthew Rhys is in love with his spy-wife, and is willing to make the extra effort to find out what turns her on.  When he finds out about a man who raped her his response is riveting.

One thing THE AMERICANS has going for it is a hard-to-find romantic trope in our contemporary world.  The Russian spies were put together by their ruthless proletariat matchmaking bosses and married.  They didn’t even know each other, but are expected to make whoopie and have shallow consumerist children as part of their camouflage.  I know a total romance set up when I smell it.  This one is the oldest in the book–and works every time.  In this situation, the responsibility for that rests on Matthew Rhy’s shoulders and he is SO up to the task.

eonline.com

eonline.com

In the end, I’d say that the big advantage THE AMERICANS has over HOMELAND is that there are two spies-amongst-us.  Damien Lewis is in his tight spot but doesn’t really have anyone to confide in.  Kerri Russell and Matthew Rhys on the other hand can confide in each other or spar with each other…or produce some authentic Made-in-America whoopie.  When they have a dilemma over whether save a member of their team against orders or succeed in the mission they end up literally missing the boat, and a shit storm of bad consequences follows.

I like their paranoid neighbor too — an FBI counterintelligence agent, and a supporting character who carryies the Claire Danes role.

In the end, both shows provide us with that metaphysical psychological gordian knot: Is a bad guy really bad if he’s a good guy at heart who wants to be good through and through, but then keeps doing bad things?

Is a bad guy really bad if he’s really this good guy who wishes he was the kind of bad guy that turns his wife on?

ign.com

ign.com

…Or in the case of Claire Dane’s character: Is she a good girl when she knows that sometimes she can be a bad, bad girl? ;>

Ultimately these shows are about watching characters give in to the itch of paranoia.  They become addicted to scratching below the surface into the raw secrets of other lives.  It’s a newest form of f***** up intimacy.  While they ‘investigate’ they use all kinds of invasive governmental tools that shred our privacy, and perversely we cheer them on in their efforts. There is definitely a message in all of this.  Big brother is watching, but we’re too absorbed in our own speculation about other people to even notice that our freedoms are dissolving fast.

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2 Comments

  • Elizabeth Shore
    February 5, 2013 at 8:58 am

    OK, now you’ve got me hooked. I haven’t seen either show, but clearly I’ve got some catch-up to do!

  • madelineiva
    February 5, 2013 at 10:46 am

    Yay!

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