Homecoming’s unique source material is the least shocking thing about the Amazon drama series. The psychological thriller originated as a fictional podcast of the same name, brought to life by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg through Gimlet Media, and surrounds a mysterious, elusive, government rehabilitation facility for combat veterans looking to reintegrate into society. The suspenseful podcast instantly became a cult classic.
Julia Roberts stars in the television series adaptation as Heidi Bergman, making her debut on the small screen. Bergman is a caseworker at the titular Homecoming facility, a workaholic through and through. At least she used to be, that is until, through intermittent flash-forwards, we learn that Bergman has quit her job to work at a marina-side diner while she takes care of her mother, having seemingly cutting all ties with her previous life. Bergman’s arc revolves around rediscovering these moments in her life that she can no longer remember. Throughout the course of the season, Bergman realizes that she does not remember key parts of her time working at the facility, and as she struggles to unearth the truth what she learns haunts her.
Supporting Roberts is Stephan James, playing combat veteran Walter Cruz, a new client of Homecoming who is eager to jump back into life as an American citizen. James’ complex portrayal of a man shaped by hardship makes him the undeniable stand-out of the show, radiating warmth and charisma with each line. Cruz has daily appointments with Bergman, and they discuss his difficulties reintegrating himself back into society. Their dynamic is the backbone to the show, and each conversation is buoyed by their chemistry.
In flash-forwards, we are introduced to Thomas Carrasco (Shea Whigham), an employee of the Department of Defense looking into the Homecoming facility. Rounding out the cast is Bergman’s supervisor, Colin Belfast, played by the charming Bobby Cannavale, and Bergman’s mother, Ellen, played by Sissy Spacek, both of whom They all do a remarkable job bolstering the series’ ensemble quality.
Homecoming takes its time unraveling mystery after mystery. For its thirty minute episode run time, each passing story feels like more of a secret revealed to us, which can be attributed to the show’s nuanced and layered writing. Tension builds and releases, but the viewer is rarely put at ease, wondering what could possibly be at the root of the organization.
Sam Esmail, the mind behind Mr. Robot, directs all ten episodes and pioneers a mesmerizing, and occasionally claustrophobic, directorial style for the show. To distinguish between 2018 at the Homecoming facility and the time jump in 2022, Esmail narrows the aspect ratio to a slim 4:3, a constricted and often uncomfortable viewing experience. Shots vary from unsettling close-ups to sprawling beautifully composed tracking scenes that feel like they could go on forever.
The show’s sound design reminds you that Homecoming originates from an auditory medium. Despite the unparalleled cinematography and production design, you might even be tempted to close your eyes and simply listen to the show. Between old-timey Hollywood orchestral swells to the most subtle sounds of an office aquarium bubbling, attention to detail is crucial in realizing Homecoming.
As an adaptation, the television series is faithful to the source material, but builds upon it with visual flair, stellar performances, and heightened stakes. Homecoming provides not only technically sound television, but a viewing experience that takes its time, inviting you to know everything– but not just yet.