What's Homecoming? The new Amazon series starring Julia Roberts
There's a lot of television out there these days, and the inspiration is coming from every which direction: past shows (boring), books, and now? A successful podcast.
Homecoming premieres on Amazon Prime on November 2, and in one of the flashiest television headlines of the year, Julia Roberts leads the cast as Heidi Bergman, a (one-time) caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center owned by a company called the Geist Group.
Initially, it looks like the program is in place to help soldiers like Walter Cruz (Stephan James) transition back to civilian life, but from the moment go, it's clear that nothing in Homecoming is exactly what it seems to be.
he series follows Bergman through her time working at the Homecoming facility, along with a future timeline where her situation has changed dramatically. The cast is rounded out by Bobby Cannavale (playing facility manager Colin Belfast) and Shea Whigham (playing a Department of Defense auditor).
But for all the hype, is the show worth it? And do you need to listen to the podcast first? And where did all those insanely long shots come from? We can answer all those questions for you.
Homecoming is based on a podcast of the same name.
If there's one detail worth noting, it's this one. Three years ago, Gimlet Media released the podcast Homecoming, which felt a bit like an old-school radio show dragged into the 21st century. While the podcast is absolutely worth a listen for the cast alone (Catherine Keener, David Schwimmer, and Amy Sedaris are sensational), the show does manage to create a more cohesive narrative in a way the podcast couldn't. Homecoming is undeniably about conversations, communication, and how reality is interpreted. That premise makes all the sense in the world for a podcast. But Homecoming also dabbles in multiple timelines, and relying solely on voice work to communicate multiple timelines requires a lot of listening power from its audience.
But even while taking visual liberties, the series stays true to the podcast's form. Creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, as well as several staff members from Gimlet, made the jump to Amazon to help write and produce the show. If you close your eyes, that same "recorded conversation" effect is very much still in play. Split screens help place a face to a voice, but the audio sounds like phone calls and recorded conversations—it's an effect that will resonate with fans of the podcast and audio nerds alike.
You don't need to adjust your TV screen.
Helping to navigate multiple timelines, Homecoming is shot differently for each one. Toggling back and forth between a square frame and a wide shot is just one way Homecoming manipulates the camera to help tell its story. The camerawork in general is something worth noting. The long, winding camera shots mimic the plot, with both feeling a bit dizzying and long-winded at times. Homecoming is a show that has a firm grasp on how visuals can play into a show's narrative.
The episodes are 30 minutes long.
With all that being said, the show's episodes hover just around a half-hour: a welcome retreat from the television trend of letting prestige dramas run anywhere from one to upwards of two hours. Even if the plot feels a bit unwieldy at times (and it will), know that each episode wraps up its point in just around 30 minutes. The firm cutoff makes each instalment feel less like an episode and more like a clue to a growing mystery that wraps around itself (sometimes more than once).
Amazon has already ordered a second season.
If you're not certain if the investment is worth the payoff, rest assured that Amazon is willing to double down on the mysteries surrounding Heidi Bergman and those in her orbit. The initial order from Amazon was for two seasons of Homecoming. With names like Roberts, Cannavale, James, and Sissy Spacek (who plays Heidi's mother) attached to it, the promise of a second round was almost always guaranteed.
The director is the man behind Mr. Robot
If those sweeping shots and dark, sometimes mechanical undertones seem familiar, then you might be thinking of Sam Esmail's work on USA's Mr. Robot. He joins Homecoming as the director of each episode. In an interview with Esmail, Fast Company reported, "Esmail moved his camera around in a long, sweeping take, 'allowing the audience to peek in on the facility while eavesdropping on the conversation,' he says. 'It [was] a great way to rhyme visuals with dialogue and expand the experience for the viewer.'" Keep an eye out for those moments at the start and finish of each episode. Those long-takes that seem to be filler for credits reveal much more than you'd initially think.
The ten-episode first season of Homecoming will be available to those with an Amazon Prime membership on Friday, November 2.