The buzz was so strong I couldn’t resist, so I queued up the discs for Season 1 and me and the wife settled in. What was not to like? I’d been impressed by Damian Lewis ever since his turn as Captain Winters in Band of Brothers, and The Manchurian Candidate set-up was intriguing. Better, the series started off with a bang as Sgt. Nicolas Brodie (Lewis), a Marine held in captivity by al Qaeda for 7 years, calls his wife (Morena Baccarin) to tell her he’s been rescued just as she is dismounting her lover, Lewis’s Marine buddy. The CIA operative who suspects his allegiance, Carrie Matheson (Claire Danes), is so committed that when her boss Saul Berenson (Mandy Patinkin) threatens to expose her excess, she offers him her body. So far, so good.
But boy does this show get ragged, if not in a hurry, eventually. There are many reasons.
1) Could an American be turned against his government ala’ Laurence Harvey? Sure. He could be a ticking time bomb. But could an American be turned into a ideologically driven, pray-to-Allah daily in his garage Muslim who has accepted in his marrow that he must strike the blow against his homeland? Perhaps, but with absolutely no backstory on Lewis’s character, and the thin gruel provided as his impetus, the leap is too far.
2) As Lewis’s Javert, Danes is a bi-polar freakout queen who regularly tests the limits of her family friends, coworkers and meds. She is singularly miscast, laughably over-the-top, made even more annoying by her love of jazz (which, we’re led to believe, is intricate and riffy like her mind), and is horribly written. My favorite line is when she directs the apprehension of a dangerous sniper, warning other agents over the radio that he is to be considered armed and extremely dangerous. When her mentor tells her to be careful, she responds, “this is not my first polka.”
I’ll concede. Her signature move – the bug eyes and quivering trout mouth – is pretty awesome.
She is wonderfully lampooned here by Anne Hathaway in this SNL skit, but upon reflection, it’s not so much a goof as a faithful rendition.
3) Danes is presented as a tough cookie, but she soon lapses into a simpering “I never got asked to the prom” victim and it becomes more and more difficult to take her seriously as a CIA pro.
4) Danes’ mentor, Mandy Patinkin, is as interesting as Carlton your Doorman but that doesn’t prevent a pretty involved, sleepy subplot about his wife leaving him.
5) There is actually a line where the al Qaeda man who has turned Lewis says, “And they call us the terrorists.”
6) Apparently, if you are going to authorize a drone strike on a school, it is always best CIA practices to videotape the Vice President, the deputy CIA director and the Secretary of Defense making that decision.
On the upside, the sister of our good friend is in the show, and whenever she appears, we point and remark at how similar the two are in appearance and mannerism. Every time.
Ah, the corruption of celebrity.