The project to entice Julia Roberts to star in her first TV show had to be nothing short of impeccable. Thankfully, Homecoming nailed the brief.
The unique psychological thriller series, streaming on, is a glorious feat of surgically precise TV making. It’s worthy of a Julia Roberts starring role. (Well, the first season, at least.) Those initial 10 episodes are composed of the finest parts TV can assemble: Every frame is a painting. Long, deliberate shots. Mood-inducing music and a story that cleverly darts around in time make this engine purr.
Roberts is somehow totally believable as a frumpy woman figuring out what she’s doing with her life. Heidi Bergman works at a facility where young ex-army soldiers (including Jeremy Allen White’s paranoid Shrier) come to recuperate after their service. They go to her for counseling sessions and take part in activities designed to help them transition back to normal life.
One such soldier is the sweet and courteous Walter Cruz (Stephan James). Heidi and Walter are an opposites-attract pairing. The age difference adds another dimension to the tension driving their will-they-won’t-they dance. Mainly, Walter has what Heidi needs: hope for the future.
But something is deeply wrong at the Homecoming facility. We jump into the future, to the aftermath of Heidi’s time working there. She’s a waitress, stuck back living at home with her mom (Sissy Spacek). A government worker (Shea Whigham) comes poking around, investigating what exactly went down at the mysterious facility.
Paranoia-suffused tension, the atmosphere of suspicion, a subtle menace bubbling under the surface — Homecoming is all about the full experience, a transportative dream that sinks deep into your psyche.
The show, classed as a psychological thriller, is of a different ilk to the psychological thrillers knocking about these days. It’s not like, Behind Her Eyes or even Mindhunter.
Homecoming is a more classic Hitchcockian thriller, focused primarily on two characters and their own personal psyches. Their deep-rooted choices provide the course-changing twists, making Homecoming one of the best shows on Prime Video to date.
Combine that with the strong singular voice of Sam Esmail, the creator of Mr. Robot. He directs all 10 episodes of Homecoming’s first season. His vision is clear and specific. The immaculately designed moving parts sing. (Watch this incredible one-shot sequence.) Future events are signified by a different aspect ratio tinged with a sepia hue, for instance, which gives them a retro polaroid look. Initially, you’re not sure whether those events are taking place in the past, present or future. It injects another hit of juice to the mystery.
The show even disrupts the binge-watch format — the end credits roll as the final scene continues, the show lingering on and on as a character stares out across the sea or sorts through files in a warehouse. It’s the show seeping further into your brain, holding you back from pulling the next episode trigger.
Instead of having a composer ape the music of classic thrillers from Alfred Hitchcock, Stanley Kubrick, Brian De Palma and more, Homecoming directly quotes its inspiration. Music by Pino Donaggio from Dressed to Kill, De Palma’s 1980s erotic psychological thriller, plays over the opening sequence.
The second season doesn’t capture the same magic, no doubt because Esmail doesn’t direct a single episode. Still, season 2 is a serviceable thriller with Janelle Monáe leading a story that answers a lot of the questions posed by the first chapter. Plus, Homecoming is the gift that keeps on giving: It’s based on a podcast. You can go back and listen to the brilliant source material while out on your next run. Just get your fix of Homecoming any way you can.
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