Created by Sam Esmail
Not sure the music supervisor has been mentioned in the initial paragraph of any review before, but if ever there was a reason, it would be for Sam Esmail’s FANTASTIC “Homecoming”. Yes, it looks like no other show. Yes, it is acted to within in an inch of its life by its stars. And, yes, it’s thrilling, quick and engaging. But it also features a soundtrack made up entirely (well, almost entirely) of some of the greatest film scores of the seventies and eighties, including the main themes from David Shire’s “The Conversation”, “Taking of Pelham 123” and “All the President’s Men”, Ennio’s ‘The Thing”, John Barry’s “Body Heat”, and on and on. Hell, even John Williams’ “Eiger Sanction” compositions. The effect of a soundtrack that brilliant and disjointed is how it keeps you off kilter…never sure where the show is going. And while Esmail had to both think of it and find the best pieces to fit each moment, music supervisor, Maggie Phillips, had to obtain the rights to all these pieces. Not surprisingly, she’s been interviewed in almost every trade rag, and if you love film music even one eighth as much as I do, you should seek these interviews out. But enough geeking out. as stated, the music is only one of several reasons you should binge this show.
First and foremost is the myriad ways Esmail uses his camera to instill mood, attention and suspense. If you watch “Mr. Robot” you know he almost always puts the character speaking alone on the screen, in the near corner….preferring to utilize the negative space to create a sense of being overwhelmed by their place – and to remind us that it’s not the reaction to what’s being said that matters, it’s the actual thought process of the speaker. In “Homecoming”, Esmail uses a huge toolbox. Within thirty minute episodes, he utilizes long, painfully slow tracking shots. He frames his characters so they are overwhelmed by the size and shape of the environment around them (see the main image above). And, breaks a million rules by playing liberally with aspect ratio – regularly flitting between 16:9, 4:3 and even 1:1. And just when you think you’ve got it figured out as to where we are in the timeline based on these ratios, he changes it all up…sometimes mid-scene. It’s easily the most deftly shot television show I’ve seen. No, it doesn’t have the expanse or wonder of Game of Throne’s “Battle of the Bastards”, but it doesn’t need it. Like the actors and the music, the camera is an equal partner in this show – pinpointing your emotional focus. And I have no idea how he shot vehicles from overhead the way he did.
And the story! I have not heard the podcast on which it’s based, and I’m quite glad I haven’t. I am not cluttered with trying to get the pod’s vocal performances out of my head as I watch the story unfold. Nor did I have a clue what was coming. Nor can I imagine how the pod would work as well given how visual this production is. In it’s five hours of running time, I don’t think I took more than five breaths, got up to pee, or ate. It’s all-encompassing.
But, of course, without performances that match the production elements, what’s the point? Amazingly, all four stars are more than up to the task. I truly believe it is the most three-dimensional performance of Julia Robert’s career. It’s as if everything has led up to her Heidi Bergman. And matching her earnest qualities is Stephan James. Star of the soon to be released “If Beale Street Could Talk”, he is perfection. And let’s talk about Shea Whigham for a minute. Breaking out in “Boardwalk Empire” after two decades of character work, Whighim is now one of the top two or three character actors working today. He is the perfect Everyman, and he might be the most sympathetic character in the series. Bobby Canavale is either REALLY good or simply perfectly cast. His on-screen ticks more often than not resemble Nicholas Cage in “Vampire’s Kiss” in my mind. Don’t believe me? Watch him take a bump of cocaine in “Vinyl”. Absolutely Cage-esque . Here he still has a lot of those Canavale-isms, but it’s much more restrained – or, rather, focused – which makes it infinitely more real. Finally hats off to the many actors with smaller roles who match the quality of our leads… Jeremy Allen White, Hong Chau (who is incredible), Sissy Spacek and Alex Karpovsky. Seriously, there are no misses.
“Homecoming” proves a couple of things. One: Sam Esmail IS a genius. Two: a thirty-minute drama episode is not only doable, but, perhaps, preferable. And three, and most importantly, the Golden Age of Television shows absolutely no signs of slowing down.
“Homecoming” is a masterpiece.
Written on 11/19/2018