Stay up to date with notifications from The Independent

Notifications can be managed in browser preferences.

Homecoming review: Amazon Prime drama fails to live up to past glories

Janelle Monáe is a worthy replacement for Julia Roberts, but the Amazon Prime drama struggles to gain momentum like its predecessor

Isobel Lewis
Thursday 21 May 2020 07:43 BST
Homecoming season 2 trailer starring Janelle Monae

In the age of prestige television, high-quality dramas that once would’ve topped end of year lists can slip under the radar. One such show is Homecoming, the 10-part drama from Mr Robot director Sam Esmail that premiered on Amazon Prime Video in 2018.

The first season starred Julia Roberts – in her first move to the small screen – as Heidi Bergman, a former counsellor at a rehabilitation centre for military veterans. It eventually became clear that the programme, named Homecoming, wasn’t just rehabilitating its inhabitants, but secretly running a drug trial with the intention of erasing the soldier’s memories and PTSD to send them back to service.

Heidi’s story was pacy and gripping, so when it was revealed at the beginning of 2019 that Roberts wouldn’t return for a second season, many fans questioned how the show could go on. The answer, naturally, was to bring in the multihyphenate to end all multihyphenates, singer/rapper/dancer/actor Janelle Monáe, a woman who barely ever puts a foot wrong.

So it pains me to report that when it comes to season two, the stakes seem lower, the plot slower and everything just a bit more inconsequential. Life inside the Homecoming centre was always more interesting than life outside of it, and as the show’s focus has shifted, so that intrigue has gone.

Season two opens with the promise of excitement. We’re plunged into the (literal) deep end as we find Monáe’s character abandoned in a boat in the middle of the lake. Gasping for air, Jackie – or at least that’s what her ID says – can’t remember who she is, where she lives or how she got there.

Monáe’s performance as Jackie is captivating and leaves the audience desperate to find out what happened to her and how she got there. But as the story progresses and we revisit the days before the incident and Jackie’s connection to the mysterious Geist Group that ran Homecoming, that spark slips away.

Without Esmail’s direction, some of the things that made Homecoming so special – its dramatic soundtrack and unique use of camera perspectives and aspect ratios – have been toned down. Even when familiar faces are introduced (Stephan James as army vet and Homecoming inhabitant Walter Cruz and Hong Chau as Geist employee Audrey Temple), they’re not telling the stories you want of them.

It feels unfair to focus on these aspects, because the performances really are exceptional. Monáe proved in Hidden Figures that she’s not one to underestimate, but it’s equally as enjoyable watching her come into her own as Audrey progresses from an assistant to key player at Geist, while James’s performance as Walter is still strong, if underused.

But while things pick up pace in the show’s final episodes, the series never quite reascends to its former glory, and in a season of only seven fairly short episodes, it feels like too little too late. Homecoming’s inhabitants had their personalities dampened – and so, too, has Homecoming itself. It’s a bitter pill to swallow.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in