Julia Roberts’ face is starring in the 10-episode limited series Homecoming, which you may stream-view as part of the Amazon Prime delivery service subscription. The same fee I pay to get ARyee 5.25V 3A Micro USB AC Adapter Laptop Charger Power Supply for HP Google Chromebook and Value Set of 6 Clear Plastic Drop Cloths – 9′ X 12′ .8 mil thick shipped to my door allowed me to enjoy this creepy and entertaining and Limited series, and let’s hear it for the Limited Series.
So many televisual entertainments that start off well, such as Homeland (no relation to Homecoming), House of Cards, Billions, and The Simpsons, go on for too many episodes in their success and end up curling back under themselves to become increasingly more implausible and contrived beyond all suspension of disbelief, eating their own tail with derivative story arcs and a Soap Opera-ish lack of boundaries and consequences for the characters.
The Limited Series renounces full-sized television, but by choosing to do less, it gains access to a higher level of prestige. It can bring in talent from outside the normal television realm, because it asks for a specific and limited amount of time and energy. It can focus on quality without worrying about having to keep on doing it indefinitely.
Homecoming (inspired by a podcast), is largely and stylishly set in a rehabilitation/transitioning facility for returning combat veterans. It is directed by Sam Esmail, who created Mr. Robot, and along with a shared theme of personal identity and the elusiveness of memory, there is a shared visual sensibility that is harsh but also emotionally evocative and slightly surreal. There are successful visual gimmicks that allow us to see events happening in different timelines, and the viewer might enjoy the satisfaction of “getting it” and that you’re watching a program that is making an effort to be unconventional in its presentation while not letting innovation get in the way of telling the story.
Julia Roberts’ face is the main element of her total physical instrument as a successful actor, and this series takes full advantage of her control of it in gripping, compelling, and occasionally unflattering closeups. The typical on-brand expressions that have contributed to Ms. Roberts’ success as a movie star are almost nonexistent in this performance, and the extreme closeup camera work allows us to witness her exacting power in projecting emotion with the slightest of natural movements. In her exchanges with the other characters in the drama, you are intimately confronted by Ms. Roberts’ face, which hides nothing her character is thinking.
Homecoming is being touted as the Academy Award–winning Ms. Roberts’ first starring role in a television series, a claim that both over- and undersells what’s going on with the collapsing status hierarchy of moving-image-based entertainment. It’s not like she’s slumming on ABC; this show—this Limited Series—makes it apparent that her goal at the moment is to attach herself to Quality, and so she’s going where Quality is to be found. What’s she going to do on the big screen, sign up for a Comic Book Movie franchise paycheck? The machinery that makes movies, even Quality Indie movies, doesn’t currently work anywhere near as efficiently as the streaming services process, where there’s ready cash to put ever more and fancier content onto a near limitless supply of screens. So Ms. Roberts lends her star power to a production, and the production gives Ms. Roberts a thoughtful place to direct her energies.
The closeups method is used well with many of the other stars in the show, notably Stephan James, as a returning soldier who is a client of the facility where Ms. Roberts’ character is employed as a counselor, helping soldiers identify and confront specific moments of trauma that may be affecting them as manifested by their delayed-stress symptoms. Mr. James’ expression slides from affable and good-natured to puzzled despair.
Bobby Cannavale, who turned in an excellent and nuanced performance in HBO’s Boardwalk Empire, is Ms. Roberts’ boss, and he brings his considerable menace, desperation, and manic energy to bear, maybe a bit too much, or maybe he’s just too convincing, as the head of the non-governmental facility invested in the rehabilitation of combat veterans.
Shea Wigham, another Boardwalk Empire alumnus, is compelling as a relentless Government Employee, and he keeps his performance in control, a slow-burn Civil Servant struggling to understand a simple case file and reconcile it with The Rules.
Sissy Spacek, another Academy Award winner, also appears in this production, and seems to be in that phase of her career where she’s collecting her chips for being in the game so long. She does not appear to exert herself, but it’s in the confident manner of a seasoned vet who lays in the cut knowing exactly when to turn it on and make her words hit hard.
Part of the streaming-content experience is seeing the episodes lined up on the screen, and we appreciated the PowerPoint-deck look of the title cards. The episodes are each around 30 minutes long, not the usual hour typically associated with Drama, so if you are immediately sucked in to the story, you are going to want to watch more than one episode in a sitting, and one of the annoying innovations of streaming services such as Amazon Prime is that they force you to decide if you want to watch the end credits. However (something we also recently noticed with the latest Twin Peaks: The Return series), there’s still a part of the show to watch as the end credits roll, so it was annoying to be immersed in the show and then have to grab the remote in time to cancel the start of the next episode, which we wanted to watch, just not right exactly at that moment. There used to be a way to cancel the auto-start, so if you know how, we advise you do so.