Network: Showtime
Air Dates: October 2, 2011 – present
Stars: Claire Danes, Damian Lewis, Mandy Patinkin, Morena Baccarin, David Harewood, Diego Klattenhoff, Jamey Sheridan, Navid Negahban, Morgan Saylor, Jackson Pace, David Marciano

On a week-to-week basis during its debut year, Homeland's premise felt like it could implode at any given moment: A bipolar CIA hotshot (Claire Danes) suspects a Marine (Damian Lewis, also dynamite) returning home from eight years of Iraqi captivity of having switched allegiances and secretly plotting a terrorist attack. Over 12 tense weeks, Homeland tossed several red herrings, plot twists, and character deceptions at its viewers, to such a degree that producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon (both 24 alums) always seemed on the verge of dropping the narrative ball.

Yet, as the season escalated, so did Homeland's excellence, building up to its wholly satisfying finale with incredible, white-knuckle tension and suspense.

Often during Homeland's daringly breathless second season, viewers' abilities to suspend disbelief and manage patience were tested, and, frankly, overcome by implausibilities and moments of almost cartoonish action. Which—as anyone who gnawed on their cuticles while watching Homeland's brilliant, airtight debut season last year could tell you—goes against nearly everything that the Emmy-winning Showtime series had previously established (i.e., realistic storytelling powered by believable characters handling dangerous situations in natural ways).

So it's a huge testament to Danes and Lewis' acting chops that Homeland is still one of modern television's most invigorating and tense hours. Lewis, in particular, had been tasked with selling ridiculous scenes (talking on a cell phone while killing a man; breaking into high-ranking officials' offices with ease), but he's done so with real panache. —MB