Within the first episode of Amazon's new award hopeful original series Homecoming, our heroine Heidi (Julia Roberts) explains her new recording device is ‘new and a bit bewildering’, a sentiment that can easily be expressed about the show itself. While the increasingly popular sub-genre of ‘Mystery Box’ thriller series is not a new concept, the way the writers (Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg) chose to lay out their story differs somewhat from the norm, although whether this experiment with the genre pays off is debatable. The series centres around Roberts as a councillor in a new mysterious organisation called ‘Homecoming’ that aims to rehabilitate returning soldiers back into civilian life.
The series hops between the present day when Homecoming is just starting out and 2022 wherein an agent from the department of defence is investigating the organisation and the reasons it had ceased to exist. While ‘Mystery Box’ thrillers are famously slow-burning, Homecoming takes this to new heights, with nothing of note happening until the seventh episode of this ten-episode series. Other such series’ usually feature an event within the first episode to coax some interest from their audience, for example: the mass disappearances in the first episode of The Leftovers, or the plane crash in Lost. However, within the first half of Homecoming, nothing really seems amiss, in fact, it plays more like a corporate drama than sinister thriller, with the only recognisable antagonist being a traditional evil capitalist boss that considers profits more important than humanity. This cliched stereotype does tease the audience with some glimpses of complexity but always falls back into predictable ‘bad guy’ rhetoric, leaving audiences unsatisfied. That is not to say that Bobby Cannavale’s performance is in any way lacking – on the contrary, Cannavale plays the morally bankrupt Colin wonderfully, carrying the writers’ intentions for his character to effective heights.
The same can also be said for the rest of the cast, while their material isn’t always as good as it could be, the actors play their roles with the mysterious intensity expected within this type of drama. However, the pace is another issue in this somewhat eclectic show in that it is a show of two paces, and while there are some fast-paced moments, they often add nothing to the overall story and feel remarkably out of place, as if they've come from nowhere. That being said, there are some moments in the later episodes that captured my attention and actually held it. These gripping moments are courtesy of director Sam Esmail who deserves utmost praise for his work on the series. While there is much to be desired in terms of content, the show is consistently sleek and stylish, with many sequences so well-choreographed and eloquently designed, it distracts from the monotony of much else from the show.
While much of what is on the small screen today is cinematic and pristine in quality, Esmail goes above and beyond in his attempt to make ‘Homecoming’ stand out – and it works. By using some style borrowed from noir films from the 1940s and b-movies from the 1960s – namely the super-8 dimensions used for the vast majority of the flash forward sequences that add a sense of tension by creating a grim and claustrophobic effect – Esmail adds style and flair to an otherwise lacking show. In terms of moral or meaning, the show reaches some of the more basic lessons such as “maybe we should hold humanity in a higher esteem than money” but fails to make any waves; in other words, it feels as though the show has a larger point to make but struggles to make it explicitly.