Amazon has produced many award-winning comedies, like Transparent, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Mozart in the Jungle, but with Homecoming, a TV adaptation of the Gimlet podcast starring Julia Roberts and Bobby Cannavale, could it finally crack the drama code?
We’ve added a new circle to the Venn Diagram of pop-culture-spawning-pop-culture, and it’s the podcast.
That thing you listen to on your way to work is now that thing you can binge when you get home from work, with upcoming podcast-to-TV adaptations including Bravo’s “limited series event” Dirty John, starring Connie Britton and Eric Bana, and Amazon Studio’s Homecoming. The latter, which comes out during the Golden Globe nominating sweet spot, is Amazon’s Outstanding Drama hopeful, directed by Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) and starring Julia Roberts and Bobby Cannavale. Despite some critically acclaimed drama series in the past like Sneaky Pete, Amazon might actually deliver a serious awards contender in the form of this twisty ride.
Given Mr. Robot‘s moodiness and sense of mystery, Sam Esmail is the ideal candidate to take on the Gimlet podcast by the same name about a program designed to rehabilitate American soldiers—or so it seems. The original podcast included A-list names like Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, David Schwimmer, Amy Sedaris, and David Cross, and while it would have been interesting to see all of these actors return to their roles for the TV adaptation, Roberts and Cannavale both bring their larger-than-life quality to the small screen that suits the adaptation.
Once known as Will’s sweet hot cop boyfriend Vince on Will & Grace, in recent years, Cannavale has found a niche as TV’s Best Supporting Asshole in Boardwalk Empire (for which he won an Emmy), Master of None, and Mr. Robot (and of course, don’t forget his Best Leading Asshole turn on HBO’s Vinyl – RIP). In Homecoming, Cannavale revisits familiar material in his schmuck repertoire, but it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing Colin Belfast (other than Schwimmer, of course, who played the part on the podcast). He’s menacing but weak, which becomes all too clear in his last scene of the series; not many actors can pull off that adverse vulnerability like Cannavale.
Shea Whigham, who might actually be TV’s most underrated Best Supporting Actor, with turns on Fargo, Vice Principals, and Waco, plays Tom Carrasco, the man from the DOD who’s trying to piece together what happened with the Homecoming rehabilitative program. His “everyman” quality casts him as a hero on a mission for transparency, caught between cover-up and confusion.
Roberts delivers a restrained performance, and while it’s hard to compete with Keener’s frayed and lived-in vocals on the podcast (Keener has one of the most interesting voices – period), the Academy Award winner reminds us why she’s one of the most respected actresses in the game. Roberts’ Heidi Bergman is a broken woman who only wants to do what is right, and while we don’t get a complete backstory on her, where she came from and how she got there, Roberts’ composure and world-weary eyes fill in the blanks. (Bonus: We also get a glimpse at what a Jules and Michael relationship would have been like in My Best Friend’s Wedding, since Dermot Mulroney plays her ex-boyfriend.)
Stephan James, previously seen as Jesse Owens in 2016’s Race and in the upcoming Oscar hopeful If Beale Street Could Talk, plays Walter Cruz, a role originated by Oscar Isaac on the podcast, brings damaged depth to the part. The Cruz role could easily be just a catalyst to the story, a role that’s forgettable, especially when competing against the likes of Roberts and Cannavale with screentime, but James’ quiet reserve and hopeful eyes are haunting.
While Esmail is known for his USA baby Mr. Robot, where he has complete control over story and direction, it’s nice to see him bringing his unique sense of style to one finite tale, where Mr. Robot can sometimes take you down one rabbit hole after another. Homecoming is straightforward and completely bingeable; the 10 thirty-minute episodes fly by, always making you want more when the “Directed by Sam Esmail” text pops up at the end. God forbid, if movies ever want to do another Hitchcock remake, Esmail should be sent to the top of the directors list, as Homecoming might be the closest thing to a Hitchcockian television series, especially with the inspired music overseen by our music supervisor, Maggie Phillips.
Amazon gave Homecoming a two-season order, and while it’s unclear how a Season 2 might play out, especially with the way Season 1 ends (on a beautiful, perfect note), Amazon clearly has a vision for the future. Maybe in the second season it will give more to do to its other A-listers like Marianne Jean-Baptiste and Sissy Spacek (yes, THE Sissy Spacek is on this show).
The series drops at the perfect time before the Golden Globes, with the deadline for film and TV submissions on Wednesday, October 31. Since the Golden Globes love celebrating A-list movie actors performing on television, Julia Roberts could land in the Best Actress – Television Series Drama race next to Elisabeth Moss for The Handmaid’s Tale (especially since Claire Foy isn’t in the race this year). The Golden Globes love Amazon shows (see Transparent, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, and Mozart in the Jungle) and Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot won Best Television Series – Drama in 2015)—Homecoming should surely welcome some Golden Globe love.
Homecoming drops on Amazon on Friday, November 2.