Matt Denby from WHO's popular TV podcast, Binge List, previews the biggest new show of the week.
She ruled the multiplexes for most of the 90s, and beyond, before taking time out to raise her family – but Julia Roberts is back, in a very strange place.
Joining the conga line of big screen actors who are making the transition to TV, Roberts this week makes her series debut on Amazon Prime’s new mystery thriller, Homecoming - which is available from November 2.
Based on the celebrated podcast drama by Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, this has Mr Robot guru Sam Esmail’s quirky fingers all over it – and it remains to be seen what fans of Pretty Woman and My Best Friend’s Wedding will make of that.
The show follows Roberts’ character, Heidi Bergman, across two time frames, as she tries to make sense of her stint at a distinctly odd veterans’ rehabilitation facility called Homecoming. Exactly how she ended up waiting tables in a Florida backwater following her high-flying administrative role at the facility plays a key part in the unfolding mystery.
Usually framed in brief, 25-minute episodes, this series is purpose-made for modern digital audiences, especially those committed bingers who love unpicking a convoluted mystery.
But however brief the episodes, they do sometimes tend to linger in ponderous mode as they build a world that is at once familiar and disorienting. Where is Homecoming, when is it, and is all as it seems?
This show reminds me a bit of Maniac - the self-consciously weird set design, and a certain strange ambiguity about time and place. Mysteries build and coalesce, and at the end of each episode we’re often given a very solid reason to want to see the next.
Why is Roberts doing a quirky little mystery series on a second-tier streaming platform? Maybe she thought it was Erin Brockovich part 2; virtuous woman vs corporate monsters – or maybe after so many years of formularised big screen vehicles she’s dying to try something a little edgier.
If Roberts wanted weirdness, she’s probably happy with the end result. An early shot of an out-of-place pelican making strange noises in the Homecoming courtyard seems to gratuitously scream, ‘We’re quirky and sophisticated – and you need to stick with us to find out what it all means.’
The mystery as to what is going on at Homecoming is periodically very compelling. At other times the filler material and mood building become tiresome.
Whether you stick with this depends on your patience levels and if you love decidedly strange mysteries – but in an age when TV of the caliber of Bodyguard is just a click away, croaking pelicans and a crumb-trail of bizarre clues might not be enough to hold many.
My Binge List colleague Gavin Scott was a lot more enthusiastic about the show - check out our debate on this week's podcast - out now! See details below.