'Homeland' mostly succeeds in its realism

Damien Lewis plays ex-POW Nick Brody, and Claire Danes is CIA agent Carrie Mathison in Homeland.
Damien Lewis plays ex-POW Nick Brody, and Claire Danes is CIA agent Carrie Mathison in Homeland.

WASHINGTON — How's this for Washington verite? In next Sunday's episode of Homeland — Showtime's new spies-in-the-D.C.-suburbs drama — a scandal envelops a congressman accused of texting nude pictures of himself to young women. The shamed pol utters familiar platitudes ("My wife and I are going to get through this"), as those following the story titter over his name — no, not Anthony Weiner, but "Dick Johnson." Heh-heh.

It's the most luridly ripped-from-the-headlines moment yet in a show that attempts a more nuanced look at the Washington intelligence community. Midway through the first season, with a second planned, it's time to ask: Does Homeland get it right?

We'll forgive some of the geographics. As with so many other Washington-set productions, Homeland spent only a couple of days filming here.

"It's hard to get permits to film" in Washington, co-creator Alex Gansa said, "and once you do, you can get dislocated so quickly by a motorcade." So they filmed in Charlotte, N.C., which offered sound stages, tax breaks and suburbs that look enough like Washington's.

But what about the spycraft? The show tells the super-twisty tale of a CIA agent (Claire Danes) obsessed with a returning POW (Damian Lewis), whom she suspects was flipped by his al-Qaida captors to wreak terror in the United States.

Jeff Stein, author of The Washington Post's SpyTalk blog, doesn't know many people in the intelligence field following the show: "That's like watching work" for them. He calls "ridiculous" the initial story line about the agent illegally monitoring the Marine, on her own time with money from her own pocket. The CIA "is so lawyered up, so cautious," Stein said. They'd never do something like that, "because it would get out."

He also scoffed at the division chief (Mandy Patinkin) using a cross-country road trip to interrogate a suspect. "A forehead-slapper!" But Stein said the empathetic, good-cop tactics were credible — and way more true to life than the torture-happy methods we saw on 24.

What about the terror suspect flown from Afghanistan to an interrogation in Northern Virginia? C'mon, that doesn't happen! ... Does it?

Hey, in this day and age, who knows? Said Stein: "It's possible."

David Nevins, president of Showtime, argued that it's OK to take a few procedural liberties "if you get the feel of the culture right and you get human behavior correct."

Gansa said the actors and writers spent time in Washington meeting with intelligence officers. And a tight schedule helped them keep up with the news: The story references the death of Osama bin Laden, which happened as they were writing the second episode.