In my late September preview of the second season of "Homeland," I expressed some concern that Showtime's Emmy-winning political thriller might start resorting to improbable plot twists in order to keep our pulses racing. There was a fear that it could become more like "24," a show that constantly forced us to suspend disbelief, if not completely double over in laughter.
As it turns out, those fears were legitimate -- to an extent.
"Homeland," which was developed in part by former "24" producer Howard Gordon, still features much more psychological texture than its action-oriented spy show predecessor. But lately it seems to be adopting some odd "24"-like traits.
For example, this season's subplot involving Nicholas Brody's (Damian Lewis) daughter in a hit-and-run accident recalls the sadly comical Kim Bauer-in-trouble plot twists that constantly fueled the fire of "24" critics. The "Homeland" development isn't so nearly out there as the "24" episode that had Kim running into a cougar in the forest, but anything that even reminds us of that absurd twist can't be good.
This season "Homeland" has had its share of implausible plot contrivances as its writers strain to keep all of their plates in the air. At first they amounted to mainly slight annoyances -- that is, until last Sunday's pacemaker development, which just felt terribly wrong and had us rolling our eyes the whole time.
I won't go into any detail about this twist because, Lord knows, I'll have a few latecomers slam me for spoiling the episode for them. I'll just say that, from things I read, the development was, indeed, technically possible. But the way it was carried out seemed preposterous for a series that gets so much credit for being intelligent and mature.
That's not to say that "Homeland," which airs its season finale Dec. 16, hasn't been an enjoyable ride. It will surely be included in my Top 10 list that I'll issue at the end of the year.
It's just that the show is usually better when it focuses on its character moments -- the twisted romance between Brody and Carrie (Claire Danes), the psychological chess games, the philosophical disagreements. Along those lines, it was fascinating to watch Carrie's face-to-face interplay with terrorist leader Abu Nazir, a man who had mostly lurked in the dark shadows up until now.
It's when "Homeland" tries to ramp up the spy-game action sequences that it begins to develop a "24"-like limp.
PLENTY OF LIFE IN 'DEAD': We're still reeling from Sunday's deliciously insane midseason finale of "The Walking Dead" on AMC.
The intense episode featured a frantic gunbattle in downtown Woodbury, a vicious, rock 'em, sock 'em throw-down between the Governor (David Morrissey) and Michonne (Danai Gurira), and a Dixon brothers reunion. Plus, it still had time to squeeze in a long-awaited introduction to Tyreese (Chad Coleman), one of the more popular characters from the comic book series.
Unfortunately, we now have to wait until Feb. 10 for the final eight episodes of Season 3 to launch. But the good news is that AMC will air a "Walking Dead" marathon over New Year's Eve and New Year's Day. The programming event will feature every episode that has aired so far.
On another front, "The Talking Dead," the highly entertaining post-episode show, will expand to an hour in February, allowing fans to have even more time to dissect the zombie drama.
ACTION JACKSON: You don't have to be a sports fan to be familiar with Bo Jackson, the two-sport superstar who rose to fame in the late 1980s, thanks not only to his heroic football and baseball feats, but also to his starring role in Nike's landmark "Bo Knows" ad campaign. Unfortunately, Jackson's fame quickly faded because of a severe hip injury suffered while playing with the Raiders.
Jackson's illustrious career -- as well as his off-the-field life -- are captured in "You Don't Know Bo" (9 p.m. Saturday, ESPN). It's the latest on "30 for 30," ESPN's award-winning documentary series
"His story is an epic, classic hero's journey that would seem cliché if it weren't mostly true," says director Michael Bonfiglio on the film's website. "And because we only had him at his full power for a fleeting moment, the legend of Bo Jackson forces us to continue dreaming, perpetually wondering about what else he might have done that would cause us to marvel."
MAD FOR THE HOLIDAYS: One show that fell through the cracks when we were compiling our list of seasonal programming was the "MAD Holiday Special" (8 p.m. Thursday, Cartoon Network).
This twisted new saga has the kids of the Fantastic Four forced to visit all four relatives' houses in one day and confront yuletide super villains (And you thought your holidays were stressful).
And then there's something about Santa being in jail and later teaming up with the FBI. Like we said, it's twisted.
VICTORY BELL: Sociopolitical comedian W. Kamau Bell, who got his career off the ground while living in the Bay Area, is set to drop in on his old neighborhood Sunday night when he has an 8 p.m. gig at the Fillmore in San Francisco.
It's a triumphant return for Bell, who in the fall launched his late-night television series, "Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell," on FX. Executive produced by Chris Rock, the show has proved to be an excellent outlet for Bell to air his hilarious takes on politics, race, pop culture, religion, sex and the media.
FX recently announced that it has ordered 13 additional episodes of "Totally Biased," set to begin airing at 11 p.m. Jan. 17.
Contact Chuck Barney at email@example.com. Read his TV blog at http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/tv and follow him at Twitter.com/chuckbarney, and at Facebook.com/BayAreaNewsGroup.ChuckBarney.
When: 10 p.m. Sundays