It is common for popular stories that originate in one medium to be adapted for another. Some of the best movies began as books, and there is almost a synergistic relationship between anime and manga. A recent trend in adaptations is using a podcast as a basis for a television series. Alex, Inc. was a comedy on ABC adapted from StartUp, and Pod Save America had a 4-part special on HBO. However, Amazon has proven to be a better platform for these shows beginning with Lore, which recently began streaming its second season. Homecoming is their second effort at this, and it has already been renewed for its own sophomore season.
We are introduced to Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) who is conducting an orientation with a soldier, who has just come home from overseas, to a program that is supposed to help people adjust to life off the battlefield. From the start it becomes clear that, similar to The Affair, we are switching off between the present and a future time some years later. The show takes us through many scenes that don’t reveal too much about what’s going on. It’s not until the second or third episode that things really begin to make sense. As the series continues, the implications of what’s happening at this Homecoming facility only get weirder and more reprehensible. By the end of the roughly 5-hour runtime, it will feel like you have been on a roller coaster.
Though I haven’t listened to many fictional podcasts, I can say that this type of story is pretty typical of the medium–something really “out there” and told in a nonstandard way. The reason podcasts have to be a little inventive with how they tell a story is because it lacks a visual component. Little tricks like degrading both peoples’ voices on a telephone call are almost necessary. On TV, using other visual indicators like switching between 16:9 and 4:3 aspect ratios and shooting long takes go a long way toward conveying a narrative that transcends the 30 minutes we’re given in each episode.
This nonstandard storytelling is a perfect fit for director Sam Esmail, having also created the outstanding Mr. Robot. He treats this as a labor of love and devotes special attention to all the details outside of the story itself, and it pays off tremendously. Julia Roberts, in her first major TV credit that I’m aware of, completely embodies Heidi and doesn’t hold back. It’s amazing how many other familiar faces were involved in making this series, including Bobby Cannavale (Will & Grace, Mr. Robot), Stephan James (If Beale Street Could Talk), Shea Whigham (Boardwalk Empire, First Man), and Sissy Spacek (Carrie, Bloodline), all of which deftly handle their characters.
One of the reasons this series is so easy to recommend is that you can watch it in one night (like I did). I think this show excels partially because the length is so short. Instead of droning on for hours wondering what’s going on, everything comes to a head quickly. There are even some deep philosophical questions at play here, but stating those would reveal too much about the plot. Homecoming is an achievement in modern television and everyone should give it a watch. I’m anxious to see where it goes in its second season, for which it has already been renewed.