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Claire Danes’s CIA Spy Stalks Marine; Burns’s ‘Prohibition’: TV

Claire Danes in "Homeland." The show airs Sunday on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Photographer: Kent Smith/Showtime via Bloomberg

A hyper-vigilant CIA agent on Showtime’s “Homeland” explains her obsession with a new terrorist threat this way: “I missed something once before.”

No elaboration necessary. The 9/11 attacks haunt these characters, and this absorbing new series, with the tenacity of a hellhound.

Claire Danes plays agent Carrie Mathison, a case officer called back to CIA headquarters for going rogue in the Middle East. After receiving a disturbing tip that an American soldier has been “turned” and is working for al-Qaeda, Mathison suspects the terrorist operative to be a Marine sergeant whose rescue from an Afghanistan prison has made him a national hero.

Based on the Israeli series “Prisoners of War,” “Homeland” was developed by “24” producers Howard Gordon and Alex Gansa. Their new endeavor (three episodes were available for review) replaces the bomb-under-a-seat contrivances of “24” with a more thoughtful, nuanced psychological tension.

That’s not to say “Homeland” is any less thrilling. The sergeant, terrifically played by Damian Lewis, is a walking time bomb, though not necessarily in the way Mathison thinks. After eight years of torture, he’s a bundle of post-traumatic stress harboring more than a secret or two.

Nor is Mathison quite what she seems. Gulping illicit pills, sneaking off to bars, spying with the zeal of a stalker, Mathison has a hidden life just as surely as the man she believes to be a terrorist. Is her theory a plausible deduction or a paranoid delusion?

“Homeland” keeps us guessing, dolling out revelations that prompt shifts in our allegiances and send chills up our backs. The cast is excellent, from Danes, Lewis and Mandy Patinkin (as Mathison’s mentor) to Morena Baccarin as the sergeant’s wife with a secret of her own.

“Homeland” airs Sunday on Showtime at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****


The fastest way to get a man to brush his teeth is to outlaw toothpaste.

So says that quintessential New York reporter Pete Hamill, neatly summing up the national lunacy of the 18th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution in PBS’s “Prohibition.”

Filmmakers Ken Burns and Lynn Novick might lack Hamill’s concision, but their three-episode, six-hour documentary goes down as smooth as good scotch. Burns’s trademark blend of archival photographs, talking-head testimony and well-voiced readings is as effective as it was with “The Civil War,” even if the subject matter is less heart-rending.

Valley Forge Rum

“Prohibition” lays out a little-known history that makes the Volstead Act seem as inevitable as it was boneheaded. The first installment, “A Nation of Drunkards,” presents an early America soaked in hard cider and beer. George Washington fed his soldiers at Valley Forge a half-cup of rum a day.

From the suffragists who adopted the dry movement to the Jazz Age gangsters who exploited it, “Prohibition” is loaded with tales of fascinating Americans -- some famous, many forgotten.

We’re treated to the writings of flapper Lois Long, who penned a marvelously libertine nightlife column for the New Yorker. And here’s the batty, ax-wielding Carrie Nation, scourge of saloon keepers: “You don’t know how much joy you will have until you begin to smash, smash, smash.”

“Prohibition” airs Oct. 2-4 on PBS at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: ****

‘Terra Nova’

Not even CGI dinosaurs, Steven Spielberg or a reported $4 million per episode can offset the failure of imagination that dogs Fox’s sci-fi series “Terra Nova.”

Spielberg is one of 12 executive producers attached to this costly disappointment. Mixing “Land of the Lost”-style family adventure with the tribal rivalries of “Lost,” “Terra Nova” stakes little claim on any new ground.

The story begins in the 22nd century, with the world on the verge of environmental collapse. Scientists have discovered a time portal, and a select few are chosen to travel back 85 million years to populate a new colony.

Among the pioneers are the Shannons -- dad Jim (Jason O’Mara), mom Elisabeth (Shelley Conn) and three children (Landon Liboiron, Naomi Scott and Alana Mansour).

When not dodging dinosaurs, the Shannons navigate a power struggle between the colony’s messianic leader (Stephen Lang) and a band of renegades.

The unconvincing digital dinosaurs might wow the kids. Adults will be left to ponder mysteries like, why do teens from the future transported to the past look like they shop at Old Navy?

“Terra Nova” airs tonight on Fox at 8 p.m. New York time. Rating: **

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Greg Evans is a critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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