Given the political climate, it isn't too surprising that dystopian TV shows are thriving. It was The Handmaid's Tale that got Hulu its first Emmy, and many consider the British science fiction series Black Mirror one of the best shows in the world. This trend certainly doesn't seem to be subsiding, but Amazon's Homecoming is fresh enough to offer something different.

The series is helmed by the more than capable Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) and is based off of a podcast that Julia Roberts herself is a fan of. In Homecoming, Roberts is Heidi Bergman, a well-meaning caseworker who works at a facility that is meant to aid soldiers in their transition into civilian society - but of course, like all dystopian dramas - there is something more sinister brewing behind the scenes.

The acting in the show is superb, and includes some familiar faces. Stephan James (Selma) is brilliant as Walter Cruz, a soldier eager to return to his life before the war, and who develops a close relationship with Roberts' character. Bobby Canavale (Ant-Man and the Wasp) does an incredible job of playing the ruthless supervisor, urging Heidi to push her boundaries morally in order for the interests of the sinister Geist Corporation.

It probably isn't surprising – considering that the show was born out of a podcast – that the beauty of Homecoming doesn't lie in explosions, fight scenes, murders, or even shouting matches, as much as slow and haunting realizations that help to unravel the lives of its characters. Much of the show is based on how much our past affects us, and how that past can be manipulated. It harkens back to the famous Orwell quote,"He who controls the past controls the future."

The show does an excellent job of not revealing too much too quickly, and the digestible half-hour episodes make it a great binge watch. It must also be said that one of the strengths of Homecoming is that it never attempts to test your boundaries too much. It doesn't try to scare you, as much as warn you, and the chills that some episodes can give you can end up delighting you more than anything else. It might be a great choice for those who consider Black Mirror too intense, for example, or who consider Handmaid's Tale a bit too depressing.

Esmail does not disappoint at all – cleverly injecting humor at much-needed intervals, and sometimes when least expected. Shea Wigham, who has grown to become quite the familiar face on the small screen from True Detective Season 1, Fargo, and Waco especially, plays Thomas Currusco, the Department of Defense auditor trying to put everything together. He might even have his best performance in Homecoming since he gained attention as Eli Thompson in Boardwalk Empire.

Sissy Spacek plays a concerned mother, which seems a bit tired considering she played a similar role in Bloodline, but she certainly delivers an improved performance here. One of the best performances comes from Jeremy Allen White (Shameless), who plays Shrier, a soldier from the same unit as Cruz, although that isn't too surprising, considering he is easily one of the best young actors on television right now.

The storyline moves along at a perfect pace, as Bergman seems to slowly understand her occupation, and its implications. Roberts is understated, but it works perfectly for the character. While many movie stars have transitioned to television with a role that seems predictable or "big", Roberts seems to have opted for some subtlety here, and it certainly pays off.  The viewer feels for Bergman and her plight, and delights at seeing how she works to empathize with the soldiers while still doing her job, even though it becomes clear that her job is not what she thought it was. The episodes often end when the viewer is most confused, which certainly leads to the viewer wanting more clarification – a tactic that works particularly well in Homecoming's case, although it might not work for every show.

Esmail does a wonderful job of toying with conspiracy here - which conspiracies are right? Are the characters delusional, or are they simply observant? Which characters really understand what's going on, and to what extent? The viewer is constantly wondering whether they are being too naive and too cynical, and Esmail plays upon this effortlessly. He also dabbles with the structural narrative with a deft hand –ping-ponging between Currusco and Bergman to keep the narrative fresh. 

The music is nothing short of incredible, as Handmaid's Tale and Fargo’s Maggie Phillips quite honestly creates some of the most creepy and unnerving music I have ever heard in a TV show. The music and visuals clearly pay homage to Hitchcock in more ways than one, and the influence doesn't seem derivative, but respectful.


While Homecoming might not necessarily blow your mind or move you to tears, it certainly does its job, and hits the sweet spot as one of the best psychological thriller shows of recent memory. For a movie star to transition to TV, Roberts might have just found the perfect role.