Must-watch TV: the Israeli series that inspired ‘Homeland’

‘Prisoners of War’ debuts on Super Channel

<p>A still image from Prisoners of War. (Super Channel)</p>

A still image from Prisoners of War. (Super Channel)

An image from Prisoners of War. (Super Channel)

When Homeland premiered in 2011, it was lauded as one of the best series on television, garnering a 91 per cent score on Metacritic. It follows Sgt. Nicholas Brody (Damian Lewis), who returns to his family in the States after being held captive in the Middle East for eight years, and Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes), a bipolar CIA operative who believes Brody has been turned into an Islamic terrorist by his captors. While the first season was riveting, as Brody’s motives and experiences were revealed with a tantalizing slowness that drove Mathison to extremes, the second season was “hijacked,” as Prachi Gupta of Salon writes, by the increasingly implausible love affair between Brody and Mathison.

Now those who love Homeland, but not necessarily its writers’ choices, have a chance to watch the seriously good and highly addictive Israeli series that gave birth to the Danes-fest. Starting on Wednesday, July 10 at 8 p.m., Super Channel premieres Prisoners of War in Canada. (It’s airing two episodes back-to-back each week. Check here for times.) While Homeland starts with the return of just one soldier, who had been missing for eight years, Prisoners of War focuses on three Israeli soldiers, captured in Lebanon 17 years before, and their families who suddenly have to cope with strangers coming home. These are broken men, twisted and torn by years of torture and isolation.

Though there are plot similarities, these are, in essence, two completely different series. Homeland is a big-budget thriller focused on the cat-and-mouse dance between a CIA operative and a former military hostage. Prisoners of War, made with a small budget, uses a large ensemble cast to delve into the sociological and family dynamics created by the explosive situation. And instead of the CIA, there’s an Israeli military psychologist who doubts the stories spun by the returnees and wonders why they’re keeping secrets. The tension is ratcheted up by the subtitles and slow pacing. Though I’ve seen the first three episodes, I’m loathe to give away any plot lines. Suffice it to say that I’m waiting on tenderhooks to see what happens next.