Julia Roberts goes full Hitchcock in new series Homecoming, the ultimate paranoia-inducing thriller
The Oscar-winning actress has hit a home-run with her very first TV show.
Homecoming began life as a podcast, one of the first big-name scripted stories, and it quickly became a bit of a phenomenon to those who take their podcasts seriously. The cast list for the show was very impressive, including Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, David Cross, Michael Cera, and Alia Shawkat.
Now we have the TV adaptation, being brought to the screen by Sam Esmail (creator of Mr. Robot), who directs all eight episodes of the show, and the writers of the podcast have also written the scripts for this version. But those who have listened to the original version and think they know how this is going to pan out... you're only half right.
As with the podcast, we follow the story of Heidi (Roberts), in two different periods of time.
In the first, it is 2018, and Heidi is a therapist for the Homecoming initiative, a facility set up to help soldiers readjust to life back in America and curb any potential PTSD. Heidi develops a natural affinity with one her patients - Walter Cruz, played with natural charisma by Stephan James - as well as being constantly on-call by her eternally on-the-move boss Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale, in full douchebag mode).
In the second, it is several years later, and Heidi is working as a waitress in small-town diner. She is approached by a government agent (Shea Whigham, stealing every scene he's in) who begins to question her about her time at Homecoming, and Heidi soon realises she has no real memory of her time there. Also, in that interim, Walter Cruz appears to have disappeared completely...
So we go back and forth between the two time periods, trying to figure out the collision point between 2018 Heidi, and what must have happened to force Future Heidi to block it out so severely.
Also in the mix are Sissy Spacek as Heidi's over-protective but takes-no-shit mother, Marianne Jean-Baptiste as Cruz's mother, and in an inspired piece of casting, Roberts' My Best Friend's Wedding co-star Dermot Mulroney as her needy boyfriend/even-more-needy ex-boyfriend.
Esmail puts the entire narrative and chronological jigsaw together with direct influence from Hitchcock, as well as the muted tones and genius camerawork of Alan J. Pakula (The Parallax View, All The President's Men) and Brian De Palma (The Untouchables, Body Double).
In the very first episode, we follow Heidi through the entire Homecoming facility in one long shot, over walls and through doors, from her office to the parking lot outside. It then cuts dramatically to latter-day Heidi, and the ratio on the screen cuts almost in half. The normal widescreen video is now basically a box in the center of the screen, matching Heidi's shrunken worldview, as well as the walls of her own life closed in around her.
The visual ingenuity is matched by the soundtrack, which goes back and forth between old-school Bernard Hermann orchestral scores, to more modern, Trent Reznor-y sounding atmospherics, always propelling the psychological thrills forward, but not always in the same direction.
Tying it all together is Roberts fantastic performance, essentially playing two variations of the same person; bright and welcoming in the before, dulled and cut-off in the after. In the four episodes shown to press, each one around the 30-minute mark (so, yes, you could consume the entire thing in one afternoon), Roberts and the supporting cast perfectly nail the tone of old-school conspiracy thriller mixed with a new-school mentality.
It is around episode four that some of the biggest diversions from the podcast's story begin to really take hold, which also represented some of the most exciting developments in the show itself. Whether or not they can stick that new landing remains to be seen, but if it can maintain the momentum of the first half, the Homecoming will be an absolute must-watch.
Homecoming debuts on Amazon Video on Friday 2 October.
Clips via Amazon Prime Video