Calum Henderson: How good is Julia Roberts in Homecoming, her first TV lead role?


Julia Roberts is thought to be extraordinary. As for the rest of the TV shows that aired this podcast? Calum Henderson investigates.

If you remember one thing about Homecoming's podcasts, maybe it's a fish tank. Drifting in the background, it's a smart way to set the scene in the main character's office.

When you see it being brought to life in the opening episode of the highly anticipated Amazon Prime Video TV adaptation, it is the type of how you always imagine it will look – maybe just a little smaller, and there aren't many types of fish, but still, it feels familiar.

Adapting this podcast-to-screen suffers in the same way as so many book-to-screen adaptations: no matter how good it is, it can never really fit the version that was first in your imagination.

That's not fair, of course, and it's not due to lack of creativity. With robot maker Mr. Sam Esmail directing, the show has a different visual style that sits perfectly with the tense atmosphere, paranoid the show.

Adapted to the screen by original creator Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, the first episode in particular is still very dependent on genuine dialogue, which allows Esmail and Mr. Robot cinematographer Tod Campbell to go wild with a spectacular type of long shot Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud.

The longest hour is continuous in almost three minutes, and offers a massive tour of Homecoming facilities during a raised eyebrow telephone conversation between social worker Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) and her boss (Bobby Cannavale).

This facility is as if a place where returning US soldiers can safely adjust to civilian life, supported by social workers such as Bergman. His telephone call, and the dizzying cinematography that accompanied him gave the first real indication of things maybe not quite what they seemed.

Roberts is suspected of being as idealistic as Bergman, especially in the long and interesting office scene talking to soldiers returning Walter Cruz (Stephan James).

His story took place on two separate timelines – there are today, working at Homecoming, and the next four years, where he works as a waiter at a very bleak seaside restaurant.

When a Defense Department investigator came up with a few questions about his time at Homecoming, he hardly remembered that.

These future scenes, where Bergman begins trying to gather the mystery of his lost memory, has been shot in almost portrait aspect ratios – like you are watching on your phone.

After you realize that your stream isn't being played, it's actually meant to be like that, it's just another part of the show's idiosyncratic visual style.

Original podcasts are brilliant because they work with the format restrictions for their benefits, making you feel like you are eavesdropping on conspiratorial phone calls and recording counseling sessions.

Some are lost in the switch to screen – the TV version feels denser, the type of event you want to watch twice to be fully appreciated.

This is also brilliant, only in a different way.

• Homecoming is available through Amazon Prime Video now.


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