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Danes, ‘Homeland’ in Top Form; Spader’s ‘Blacklist’: TV

Claire Danes in a scene from "Homeland." Photographer: Kent Smith/Showtime via Bloomberg

Strip-searched, hooded and kidnapped by a mysterious band of home-invaders (certainly terrorists, possibly Iranian) super-spy Carrie Mathison ended Sunday’s episode of “Homeland” right where we need her.

On her own.

Five episodes into this reinvigorated series’s third season, Showtime’s “Homeland” seems finally to have ditched the tired Carrie/Brody romance and returned to its thriller roots.

The excellent Claire Danes had already bowled us over last week, when the show revealed that a major recent storyline -- Carrie’s national humiliation, the public decimation of her career and her confinement to a mental ward -- was in fact a ruse designed to bait terrorists.

As conspiracy tales go, this one’s a whopper, a perfect balance of cynicism (the CIA can’t be trusted) and idealism (the CIA can work wonders).

As television, it’s even better.

Like Bryan Cranston on the late, great “Breaking Bad” and the Jessica Lange-led cast of divas on “American Horror Story: Coven,” Danes pushes the bedraggled, hysterical Carrie to the limit of our affections.

And she’s not alone. Her chemistry with Mandy Patinkin’s Saul Berenson is impeccable.

Damian Lewis, the show’s ostensible male lead, has been featured in only one episode this season, and as good as the actor is, “Homeland” hasn’t really missed his played-out Brody.

That could change, of course. “Homeland” is nothing if not surprising.

“Homeland” airs Sunday on Showtime at 9 p.m. New York time. Rating: *****

‘The Blacklist’

Never underestimate the power of a juicy ham with a rakish hat.

NBC’s “The Blacklist” is the fall’s most popular new drama, with star James Spader lugging the show into that spot week after week.

Spader (who was a perfect foil for William Shatner on “Boston Legal”) plays Raymond “Red” Reddington, TV’s latest iteration of a Hannibal Lecter-esque sicko genius. (The network’s dismal “Hannibal” returns in 2014).

While the supercilious, fedora-sporting Spader is an amusing knock-off of Anthony Hopkins’s “Silence of the Lambs” creep, his affectless costar, Megan Boone, is no Jodie Foster.

Yet even a better actress -- think Jennifer Carpenter of “Dexter” -- would have trouble with the dim character concocted by “Blacklist” creator Jon Bokenkamp.

Clueless Profiler

Here’s an FBI profiler so clueless she’s married to a possible killer and seems oddly incurious about the sudden interest coming her way from a criminal mastermind old enough to be...her father.

So far, at least, the spotty “Blacklist” shows no intention of letting Agent Keen live up to her name.

“The Blacklist” airs Monday on NBC at 10 p.m. New York time. Rating: **1/2

What the Stars Mean:

***** Fantastic
**** Excellent
*** Good
** So-So
* Poor
(No stars) Avoid

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

Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on Broadway box office and Washington Scene.

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