Feeling Hunted, Loving Homeland

Hunted: Melissa George. Stunning, but WTF is going on?

Looking for love in a whole mess of intrigue

Homeland: Powerful but straightforward. It’s about love.

The BBC has announced that it will not be bringing back Hunted. (Or wait, perhaps it will) This Thursday night thriller, about a private spy company, dodgy dealings extending from the Middle East to Pakistan and Central London had seen its audience slipping from 5.7 million to around 2.6 million in episode 8 (with time-shifted viewing to add later).  Given the high production values, cost and pedigree, this must be a grave disappointment.  British television needs to create more high quality thrillers set in the modern urban world to balance the creeking success of British period dramas.

Then consider Homeland, President Obama’s favourite show, about a CIA agent Carrie, played by Clare Danes, and a former marine Brody (Damian Lewis), who is wrestling with his desire to avenge the death of a beloved Muslim child.  It’s one of the oddities of life, that while Hunted is considered to be unsuccessful in audience terms, it still attracts more viewers than Homeland in the UK.  Well, you might say, Homeland is an American drama, so that’s not surprising.  But the Channel 4 audience of around 2 million is BIGGER than Homeland generally attracts in the United States, on the premium Showtime channel (where it is available in around four-fifths as many homes).

As with people’s weight, it’s sometimes about the direction of travel rather than where you are that matters most, and Hunted was losing viewers, while Homeland has been gaining them.

But leaving aside all the ‘total audience’ nonsense, I’ve watched every episode of both programmes, and I know that Homeland is better.

Here’s why.  Hunted is a confusing (byzantine…) drama with a crowd of psychopaths running around killing each other.  None of the characters is likeable (including the rather dull child) and most are relentlessly unpleasant.  Homeland has half as many characters, a straightforward plot, and almost every character (including the terrorists and maybe terrorists), is attractive at some level.  It’s a remarkable thing.  The ambiguity of the characters is such that we feel warmer towards the shadowy terrorist Abu Nazir – than we do with the Vice President of the USA.  Or was that just me?

Roy Langmaid, a consultant to various drama producers, believes that dramas come in three main types: reparative, progressive and regressive.  Reparative dramas are about fixing things.  They may be about wider societal change, and we also find the many hospital dramas here and hits such as Call the Midwife. Progressive dramas are about people making progress… They are complex and require a deeper rounded sense of each character. Regressive dramas hark back to a place where friends, families and neighbours interacted all the time: we often associate this with our time at school, or the vigorous community spirit found in villages and small towns.  Soap operas fit here.  It’s hard to say where Hunted fits, but Homeland works because it feels like personal progress and making things better at the same time.

Homeland is about family – there’s a clue in the name.  It’s about the struggle to reconnect.  Characters love each other.  Audiences can connect with this at an emotional level, even as the geo-political plot pieces require them to engage their brain.  Where Hunted has a psychopathic lack of empathy from its characters, Homeland is all heart.  It is progressive AND reparative at the same time.  The Homeland audience feels protective towards characters who it doesn’t quite understand, the Hunted viewer has little to go on – it’s hunting for someone to care about.  It also turns off audience members.  Older viewers, we know, are less willing to put the effort in to follow dramas that involve work or which lack empathy. Younger viewers might fancy one or two characters, but it’s fairly hard-going.  Both dramas seem to be about younger women battling malevolent older men, and both, along with the child in Hunted, have lost their mother.

At a deeper level, the dramas are often about something else – a meta-theme.  These give the drama more depth even if they are sub-conscious.  So as Langmaid explains, Auf Wiedersehn Pet might have featured child-like and dim-witted English men coping with a strange environment, but they are also heroic figures, akin to soldiers (and living in a Nissan hut) testing themselves going overseas – to Germany of all places.  The connection with war is obvious when you spot it.  London’s Burning wasn’t only about fire-fighters, but about the breaking up of a male, white profession by women and ethnic minorities.   Homeland is a human drama but also seems to be about cultural integration.  Brody (Lewis) has become a Muslim.  Carrie (Danes) loves Brody even though he she believes that he is a terrorist.  Home isn’t home any more.  Hunted‘s meta theme is hard to pin-point, beyond something about corporations being bad things, but we knew that already.  That odd-looking men stabbing you in the eye with a syringe may be there to help you?

Why has Hunted lost viewers?  Because great drama can involve abject despair – one thinks of Othello or King Lear – but it helps if it is based on passion that we can understand.  Hunted just seems like heavy work.  It’s 9pm, and the nation wants to be entertained, not have its brain slammed into a fence over and over.  Audiences like to lose themselves in an alternative reality, but if they are confused by the plot and with no soul to cling to, they begin, like sailors clinging to a life-raft, very quietly, to slip off, never to return.

Comments

  1. I wanted to like Hunted, I really did. I gave it a good go (four episodes) but that was enough for me. I had absolutely no connection with any of the characters.

    Homeland, on the other hand, goes from strength to strength. Fantastic show.

    • I know. It’s strange about Hunted. Such an expensive programme and convoluted plot, but they forgot to put a heart in. Perhaps we’re supposed to like the Dad and the young son, but they’re boring and everyone else is cold and nasty – I’d be worried if you DID feel a connection, frankly. Some people have laughed at the occasional plot lapse with Homeland, but I don’t care. It’s wonderful. Much more emotionally packed.

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