Amazon’s Homecoming: To turn podcasts into TV, do more than earbuds can offer

The second trailer for Amazon's Homecoming. Its 10-episode first season debuted this weekend.

Homecoming, Amazon Prime's new political techno-mystery series starring Julia Roberts, has a tough task: how do you translate an effective podcast into effective television? The story here started off as a successful fiction series from Gimlet Media, a podcasting entity started by This American Life alum Alex Blumberg. But even with a hit blueprint to work from, a lot of creative people currently struggle with this transition conundrum—Gimlet included. Its podcast StartUp became ABC's recently canceled, Zach Braff-led Alex, Inc., and The New York Times reported another Gimlet show (Crimetown) has partnered with FX for a potential adaptation.

With its basic story already available in audio form, the bottom line is Homecoming has to offer something more. Luckily, having Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail and his Anonymous Content team on board this go-round means the production itself—the score, the cinematography, the set design, even the decision to keep scripts at a half hour—can often hold viewer interest on its own. Add that to a fast-paced story and some hard-to-look-away-from performances, and Gimlet likely doesn't need to worry about its second TV endeavor ending in the same manner as its first.

Sights to see

Played on mute, Homecoming might appear mundane at first. The show is slow to reveal much plot, and initially everything seems innocuous. Soldiers come back from deployment and spend a few weeks at a facility that helps them reintegrate through therapy and sessions focused on life skills like job interviewing. But cues from composer Komeil S. Hosseini and needle-drops (i.e., the use of just a small portion of a song) from music supervisor Maggie Phillips indicate something a bit more nefarious may be in play. On the surface, phone calls or ho-hum office tasks take place on screen, but subterranean orchestral hits conjure up classic horror movies. Electro-passages that'd be at home on Mr. Robot also hint that some techno-thriller turns may be ahead.

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