MY FIRST thought when I heard there was going to be a second season of Homeland was: “Fantastic!” My second was: “OK but how...?” Carrie was last seen biting down hard on reinforced rubber while her one-track mind (not your idea of a one-track mind, hers purely functioned as an anti-terror device) looked as if it was being zapped of all cunning and, crucially, all memory.
Channel 4, Sunday, 9pm
Channel 4, Tuesday, 10pm
Wonderland: I Was Once A Beauty Queen
BBC2, Monday, 9pm
Meanwhile the groomed-for-government Brody was surely going to be foiled at the first Washington security-gate given his preference, rather than shirts by Brooks Brothers, for the little-known garment sideline from Brock’s, the fireworks people.
Lots of shows overstay their welcome; not Homeland. Here was a diamond-sharp drama with no flab, no room for manoeuvre, no chance of second acts in these American lives. It seemed as if one series – a single shot at TV heaven – had always been the intention. We, the fans, would be left frustrated but, having got over it, eternally grateful that Carrie (Claire Danes) and Brody (Damian Lewis) had been painted into their respective corners so brilliantly.
Except... here we go again. What did the writers say to each other, first day back on the job? My guess is: “Aaagh!” Reactivating the central characters (after the deactivation of the suit-of-bombs) was bound to stretch credibility. Could we believe that the US political elite would fall so deeply in love with Brody as an all-American hero that they’d overlook something as fundamental as his fundamentalism? Yes, I could go for that. Ah, but could we believe that the CIA, desperate for the intel on a planned attack on the US, would despatch a “retired” agent to Beirut, just as soon as she’d finished pottering about in her vegetable patch? This was a bigger ask but, as regular readers know, my admiration for Danes is limitless. Carrie was soon having trouble remembering a simple address and we wondered: was she the biggest courgette? But there was a thrilling moment when, cornered in a market, she despatched her pursuer with a swift kick to the goolies. She hadn’t forgotten everything she’d learned. Back in the game!
This wasn’t the best scene in Homeland’s return. That would be the meeting of the school debating society – topic: the ongoing situation in the Middle East, with the pupils competing for the showstopping statement. Annoying boy: “What if I told you my dad’s Under-Secretary of State?” Brody’s daughter Dana: “Really, well mine’s a Muslim.” Sarcastic boy: “Hey, mine’s a Scientologist!” Morgan Saylor as Dana is the show’s secret weapon. A lot of great work happens away from the central pairing although the producers are chancing it if they think we’ll put up with too many episodes like this one where Carrie and Brody aren’t actually in the same shot, never mind the back of the same car.
I hope Homeland won’t fall victim to difficult second season syndrome but am more worried about Fresh Meat. I loved this student flatshare comedy last time: it was funny and filthy and Jack Whitehall stole the show as the posh berk, the bad advert for public schools you expect from Channel 4 at times like these. Unfortunately Whitehall then played another posh berk in Bad Education which, after a decent start, became quite tedious. It suggested Whitehall could be a one-trick pony (and no stranger to actual gymkhanas). And it’s had the effect of diluting his contribution to Fresh Meat, like he’s been stealing from his own stash of cheap plonk in the student fridge without realising, topping it up with water.
If the metaphor is extended, other characters are starting to resemble overfamiliar foodstuffs and curling round the edges. Howard, played by our own Greg McHugh, is just a bit more odd, Vod is just a bit more scary, Josie is just a bit more unconvincing about having got over Kingsley, and so on. Of course they’re students: any kind of decisive action wouldn’t ring true.
It’s 30 years since the line “I shall now read the results in reverse order” was uttered on the BBC so Wonderland: I Was Once A Beauty Queen rounded up some contest winners. If you were among what the harrumphing dad of Miss UK ’71 termed “feminists, or whatever they call themselves”, you might have been disappointed that none of the ex-queens was left emotionally scarred. The longest and happiest married met her husband while a Bunny Girl. Another ex-queen ran off with a footballer but later returned to her childhood sweetheart. Possessive men were admittedly a recurring problem. And the chat-up lines were surely never worse than host Terry Wogan to the 6ft 3ins contestant: “Is it cold up there?” No dumb blonde she, the reply came back: “Oh Terry, can’t you think of something more original?” «