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TV Review: Homecoming

Homecoming, TV Review, Amazon Prime, Drama, Thriller, Julia Roberts, Sam Esmail, Bobby Cannavale

SYNOPSIS: Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) is a caseworker at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a Geist Group facility helping soldiers transition back to civilian life. Walter Cruz (Stephan James) is one of these soldiers, eager to begin the next phase of his life. Overseeing Heidi and the facility is Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), an ambitious company man whose manic demands point to questionable motives. Four years later, Heidi has started a new life, living with her mother (Sissy Spacek) and working as a small-town waitress, when a Department of Defense auditor (Shea Whigham) comes to her with questions about why she left the Homecoming facility. Heidi begins to realize that there’s a whole other story behind the story she’s been telling herself. 

Homecoming, TV Review, Amazon Prime, Drama, Thriller, Julia Roberts, Sam Esmail, Bobby Cannavale

REVIEW: When hacker thriller Mr. Robot debuted on USA Network in 2015, it represented a unique new voice in storytelling. With a dark and complex web of stories and unreliable narrators, Mr. Robot set the bar pretty high for Sam Esmail. As that series gets close to it's final season, the next project from Esmail is set to debut on Amazon Prime. Homecoming, based on the narrative podcast of the same name, is a very distinct story from Mr. Robot but shares the same tone, risky filmmaking tactics, and an equally paranoid story that will leave you looking over your shoulder and examining every frame of the screen for clues to help solve the mystery. With a top tier cast that includes Julia Roberts in her first lead role on a television series along with Bobby Cannavale, Sissy Spacek, Stephan James, and Shea Wigham, Homecoming is going to blow some minds.

The original podcast version of Homecoming featured an all-star voice cast led by Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer as the three leads here played by Roberts, James, and Cannavale, respectively. Boiled down from the summary above, this is a story about Heidi Bergman, a caseworker whose involvement at the titular facility may not be as straighforward as she remembers. Told in a shifting narrative separated by different aspect ratios on screen, Sam Esmail invokes the same aura of anxiety that pervades Mr. Robot and leaves you as the viewer unsure of whether what we are seeing is the truth or clouded by something more sinister. Using a lot of symmetrical and geometric set design along with some unsettling camerawork, Esmail makes you feel as unmoored as the characters on screen.

The series is set primarily in two time periods. In the main period, we see the events unfold at the Homecoming facility where Heidi begins working with seemingly well-adjusted soldier Walter Cruz. As Cruz, Stephan James had the challenge to deliver on a character that was incredibly charismatic when voiced by Oscar Isaac. James definitely holds his own as Cruz and even delivers some palpable chemistry with Julia Roberts. Cannavale, who is already familiar with Esmail's aesthetic having worked on the last season of Mr. Robot, plays his role looser than any of the other characters. This disconnect adds to the aura that pervades each episode, making everything feel just a litlte bit off. We then start to see other soldiers within the facility begin to queston what is really going on. And yet, we never quite get the answer whether these enlisted men are dealing with the stress of warfare or if Homecoming is  doing something to them.

The other time period is set four years later with Department of Defense investigator Thomas Carrasco (Boardwalk Empire's Shea Wigham) looking into claims from former patients at Homecoming. Wigham is a solid character actor who plays Carrasco as part detective and part bumbling investigator who accidentally stumbles into something nefarious. This other time period is shot in a restrictive aspect ratio that forces the viewer into a feeling of claustrophobia. Each episode weaves between the two time periods as we begin to piece together what really happened at the Homecoming facility. It is tough to determine who is telling the truth and who is keeping secrets from scene to scene, but it is definitely an engaging way to present the story.

Homecoming, TV Review, Amazon Prime, Drama, Thriller, Julia Roberts, Sam Esmail, Bobby CannavaleEach episode runs only half an hour, quite unusual for a dramatic series, but those thirty minutes are jam-packed with clues to dissect. As each episode comes to an end, the credits roll but the camera lingers on the final scene. I revisited each episode looking across every corner of the screen to try and find what Esmail is trying to show us. There are definitely things there and I would encourage you to investigate for yourselves to figure out what they are, but at the very least the lingering shot piles on the paranoid tone of the entire series. Sam Esmail, who serves as creator and director and does not have a writing credit, manages to take the scripts by podcast creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg and blend them perfectly with his approach to storytelling.

Homecoming is the most exciting project that Julia Roberts has starred in for a very long time and she is stellar in a role that requires her to be both sympathetic and highly unreliable at the same time. Few series have evoked the conspiratorial vibe that this series does, earning it comparisons with some of the best paranoid thrillers of all time like THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, ROSEMARY'S BABY, ARLINGTON RD, and, yes, Mr. Robot. The short running time of each episode leaves you wanting to jump into the next chapter right away, making it the perfect series for binging. Thankfully, Amazon has already signed up for a second season which cannot come fast enough. This may not be a traditional horror story, but Homecoming is a top notch drama that will fill you with dread and unease and you will love every second of it.

Homecoming premieres November 2nd on Amazon Prime.

Source: JoBlo.com

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