It’s entirely possible you’ve clicked onto this review just because you saw Julia Roberts had a new starring role in a TV show. It’s entirely possible you hadn’t heard about Homecoming, let alone knew it was all available for you stream now on Amazon Prime Video. Amazon doesn’t make such loud noises as Netflix when they launch a show. If Julia Roberts was the star of a new Netflix show every man, woman and child would be aware of it, but for some reason Prime Video series launch with minimal promotion and minimal fuss. Amazon has fewer hits than Netflix but with the well-deserved success of The Marvellous Mrs Masiel, and now Homecoming, it’s clear that they’ve has found their groove with their original programming.
The ten-part series is based on a fictional podcast from Gimlet Media and is directed by
Sam Esmail. Esmail might be familiar to you as the creator of popular US drama series Mr. Robot. Julia Roberts stars as Heidi Bergman. She works at the mysterious Homecoming facility in Florida. It’s a place, we’re told that aims to help rehabilitate soldiers before they return to civilian life. Heidi’s job as caseworker sees her asses those at the facility and decide if they’re ready for life on the outside.
We meet Walter Cruz (Stephan James) a young veteran who, along with his friend Shrier (Jeremy Allen White) have only been in the Homecoming program for a few weeks. Walter’s sessions with Heidi are gentle, almost flirtatious but Walter does open up about the difficulties of war and the awful things he and Shrier have seen. The scenes between caseworker and patient are incredibly easy to watch and Roberts and James have an instantly believable chemistry.
Right from the start, the series has a strange feeling about it. The music, the shots of the fish tank in Heidi’s office, and the general feeling of the piece has a feeling of unease about it. At one point the aspect ratio of the screen changes and the action moves a few years ahead. In this new timeline, Heidi is working as a waitress in a diner. Whilst the unexpected time jump is initially jolting, it, like everything else in the first episode, only served to intrigue further. This isn’t the Heidi we’ve got to know in her Homecoming office. When FBI officer Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham) asks her about Walter and her job at Homecoming she is visibly irritated and denies working there or knowing Walter.
When we flashback to the Homecoming office, Heidi is on the phone to her completely shadowy boss Colin (Bobby Cannavale). We only see him in split-screen during phone calls. These calls usually consist of Heidi feeding back the progress of our cases whilst Colin is busy doing something on a golf course, at his daughter’s birthday party or arranging a delivery to the Homecoming premises. Over the course of the three episodes I’ve seen so far, Colin remembers a mysterious figure who is always keen for Heidi to keep soldiers within Homecoming and far keener to punish those who break the rules than she ever is.
There’s a LOT to like about Homecoming. For a start, each instalment never lasts longer than 37mins! In fact, that’s the final episode the rest hover around the 30minute mark which, in an age of overlong padded out dramas feels pretty revolutionary. Secondly, all the performances are fantastic. Of course, Roberts puts in a strong performance but Stephen James, Jeremy Allen White and Bobby Cannavale are brilliant too. Esmail’s direction makes Homecoming an unsettling experience, but not in a bad way. You’re never quite sure what to believe, or where you’re going and whilst being disorientated might frustrate some, I found it a fully immersive experience and the show only grew on me as I watched on. What happened after Heidi left her job at Homecoming? Why is the facility under investigation? What was the true motive behind its existence and what is Colin up to? Because of its shorter episode length and the fact that it feels like nothing else on TV, Homecoming is perfectly designed for a binge. That being said, I’m going to get back to it now.
Homecoming is available now on Amazon Prime Video.