It’s as hard to keep a longform television narrative going as it is to raise a child. Sometimes shorter forms are tempting, with old-hat conventions like climax and closure. But these longform series now have a pressing ambition to be as good as the best modern novels. That raises an awkward question: Are we watching the predicament of the characters, or the cornered rat antics of the writers?
“Homeland” ended its first series on December 18 in a ninety-minute episode, as if it had so many loose ends to tie up, and so much to deliver before “the event of the TV season” closed. A couple of months ago, I welcomed the suspense, the plotting, and the human interest of “Homeland,” but I wondered even then if the series would go crazy with its own narrative.
As I write, I have seen only the first three episodes of “Homeland,” and I am mindful that the credit sequence every week contains a couple of shots of Louis Armstrong from around 1930, a detail that has not yet figured in what you’d have to call the narrative.