Homecoming: a review

Poster for Homecoming: An Amazon Original starring Julia Roberts
Homecoming: An Amazon Original starring Julia Roberts

Before:

The new Amazon Prime series and starring some big names – in particular Julia Roberts, produced and directed by Sam Esmail, the man behind Mr. Robot, and hearing the word ‘Hitchcockian’ thrown around.

After:

10 episodes, 30 mins or thereabouts each, so not the big time investment required of some series. And when you’re talking about ‘time investment’ it’s already starting to sound a little problematic.

The basic plot sees Julia Roberts plays Heidi, a case worker who works at Homecoming – a privately ran facility,  helping soldiers returning from combat and suffering from various levels of PTSD to acclimatize back into civilian life. She also plays Heidi, a waitress working in a crab shack restaurant, because the story jumps back and forth in time, as we see Heidi the waitress now, and the story of her life in the institute. As Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigam), a pen- pushing government official starts investigating some oddities and interviews Heidi, we’re initially asked whether she’s covering up, or whether she really is suffering from some form of amnesia. Bobby Cannavale plays Colin Belfast, who’s ‘someone’ in the private company who had ‘something’ to do with the events past involving Heidi and, in particular, one of her patients, a young soldier back from duty, Walter (Stephan James).

And to say more than that would be moving to far into spoilers.

The attraction for Hollywood A listers moving into television, particularly within the streaming services is now common place – the cry that a well made TV series gives a story more chance to breath than a two hour film can hope to do is well known, and ultimately of course, true. There’s been a lot of very good series appearing on both Netflix and Amazon Prime – House of Cards and Orange is the New Black being the first probably, but with the likes of Narcos, Goliath, Hap and Leonard, Santa Clarita Diet, Ozark, Sneaky Pete and so on, and so on all offering big name stars, in varied genres, and, of varying quality.

Homecoming is based on a podcast I haven’t listened to, so I can’t compare it to its’ source material, but the TV series has been getting some good buzz – Rolling Stone magazine calls it the ‘most exciting series of the Fall’, the Hollywood Reporter has written an entire piece explaining its’ ‘cerebral finale’. Others have raved about the ‘twist-upon-twist’ the dazzling sub-plots, the ‘braveness’ of the series.

Me? I thought it was okay. I enjoyed the riffs on ’70’s paranoia films (and most obviously earlier than that- The Manchurian Candidate comes to mind as the most obvious influence). I liked, for the most part, the direction: although it did call upon itself a bit too much at times; the overhead shots, the tracking, the split screens – all very technically impressive, but nothing new, and not always ‘necessary’: it’s a one camera show, but if the thinking is that we need cinematic flourishes to prove it’s ‘quality’ then we’ve already seen that in a dozen shows before it.

Ten episodes of half an hour each felt about right- and to be fair, the episodes felt as if they got shorter as the series went on: in that sense it’s perfect binge watching: I don’t think I’d have stuck it out if it was a weekly wait show – and not because there were too many subplots or the complexity would have left me puzzled trying to remember, but simply because it was…okay. Yes, there are some good performances – Stephan James was as nicely understated as Bobby Cannavale was OTT: both fun to watch in their own ways.

What I’m not getting is ‘the tension’, the ‘excitement’ the multiple sub-plots at play – there didn’t seem to be much ‘sub’ going on: it was all pretty fundamental to the main story. I didn’t need the black box framing to let me know this was ‘the future’, and I didn’t find the ending ‘cerebral’ – I certainly didn’t need the whole thing explaining to me, and that’s not because I’m a smart reader of film: it’s because it was pretty much in your face. True, it raises a question which can’t be discussed here without spoilers, but hey – it was more of a set up to a ‘yes, there is going to be a season 2’ than any real head-scratcher.

I felt with this series a bit like I did with the similarly titled, and, now that I think about it, similarly themed in some ways, ‘Homeland’ which also played with ideas around military, brainwashing, trust, deception and paranoia: I enjoyed the first season in an ‘ok’ manner, but I’m not sure I want to see any more…

To me the most interesting thing about the series was the music choices: it wasn’t until a few episodes in after saying several times, ‘that score is so reminiscent of x’ that I realised they weren’t reminiscent of them, they were them. An interesting (and presumably quite expensive) choice to use wholesale previous snippets of score, so that we get everything from The Conversation to Chariots of Fire – some of the music is clearly chosen to evoke the scene they’re used in, others are apparently used for no other reason that they’re ‘good pieces of music’. (Chariots of Fire’s ‘Abraham’s Theme as a case in point).

So, am I desperate for the next season to come along, the way I was for so many of the feted ‘exclusive’ series? No, not really. It was…ok.

 

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