Amazon’s Homecoming, the new series created by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail, is forging a new era of television. The series has ten episodes, each a half-hour long. This eliminates the issue Netflix’s original series’ commonly have where there are too many episodes. With that much time, the story drags on, leaving lulls in the plot. In Homecoming, the ten episodes are easy to binge and digest. It keeps the mystery moving at a steady pace.
The show is part of the new trend of podcasts being adapted into television shows, such as Lore and the upcoming Dirty John. It’s adapted from Gimlet Media’s podcast of the same name, starring Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer. Because there are no visuals in podcasts, adapting them is a challenge. However, they found the right person to do it with Sam Esmail.
The story is a persistent puzzle.
Homecoming is about Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts), a counselor for a program to help soldiers adjust to civilian life before returning home. In each episode, the plot switches back and forth between 2018, when Heidi is working at the Homecoming facility, and 2022. In the future, Heidi works as a waitress in her hometown, living with her mother (Sissy Spacek).
A man from the Department of Defense (Shea Whigham) comes to see Heidi and says he’s investigating a complaint about Homecoming. She tells him she left that job four years earlier. When she finds herself unable to recollect any other details about the program, Heidi starts looking into her past. Soon she realizes she doesn’t have any memory of her time working there.
The show focuses a lot on Heidi’s relationship with one of Homecoming’s patients, Walter Cruz, played by Stephan James. He also stars in Barry Jenkins follow-up to Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk, coming out at the end of the month. Cruz is a bright young man who believes that the people at Homecoming are really trying to help the soldiers. He forms a strong connection with Heidi, who seems to truly care about the young men she’s treating.
Also starring are Bobby Cannavale as Heidi’s overbearing boss Colin, Dermot Mulroney as Heidi’s boyfriend, and Jeremy Allen White as Joseph Shrier, another patient and Walter’s close friend, who starts to suspect that something isn’t right about the Homecoming program.
The cinematography is mesmerizing and the sound design is clever.
One of the first television auteurs, Esmail changed the landscape of the television format on Mr. Robot. Stylistic and experimental, it continues to be one of the best shows on television right now. The story’s unique and the acting’s fantastic, but what makes Mr. Robot really stand out is the sound design and cinematography. With Homecoming, Esmail, who directs all ten episodes of the first season, has created an entirely unique project, but one that still has his signature style.
In order to differentiate between 2018 and 2022, there’s an intense change in aspect ratio. 2018 is filmed in widescreen, like we’re used to, while Esmail chose to film 2022 in 1:1 aspect ratio. Essentially, it’s framed as a square. This isn’t something we see anymore, especially on television. The show is clearly influenced by old films and that style. The cinematography uses the set to create interesting visuals, and there are a few long takes. One of them, following Heidi around the facility in episode one, is actually five shots knitted together perfectly to make it look seamless.
In terms of sound design, the show experiments with that as well. An important connection to the podcast is how we hear Heidi’s constant calls with her boss, Colin. In the podcast, the story is told through overheard conversations and phone calls. In order to create the same feeling in the show, Heidi’s calls have a filter over them, making it feel like you are actually listening to a recording, almost as if you’re eavesdropping on them. It works to great effect. There’s also accompanying music that calls back to old films, and Esmail has said in interviews that Hitchcock and De Palma were big influences.
Watch an enthralling mystery slowly unfold.
Amazon’s Homecoming is definitely a slower, softer mystery. The characters are very compelling, especially Heidi and Cruz, and the pace at which information is revealed to you builds increasing tension. Until finally, you discover exactly what happened at the strange Homecoming facility while Heidi worked there.
The show’s a beautiful display of filmmaking, and if you are interesting in anything revolving around cinematography, directing, set design, or sound design, you need to watch this. Above all, Homecoming, is a tense thriller about memory and paranoia. If you love good television, you need to watch and appreciate this amazing series. Amazon has already renewed it for a second season.
Homecoming is currently streaming all episodes on Amazon Prime!
(Featured Image: Amazon)