Fans of Mr. Robot can point to many things they love about the show. The original storyline, impeccable acting, sharp direction, and stunning twists make it fun throughout its first three seasons. But it’s with Homecoming, the Julia Roberts series on Amazon, that creator-writer-director Sam Esmail shows he’s more than just a guy with cool story ideas.
Don’t worry. No spoilers.
Before we get into Esmail, let’s get the cast out of the way. Roberts, Stephan James, Bobby Cannavale, and Shea Whigham are all perfectly cast in their roles. That’s rare for television; even Mr. Robot had a few casting miscues, but Rami Malek made up for those. In Homecoming, it’s hard to imagine anyone doing better at playing the four major characters.
Now, onto Esmail. This psychological drama is set in two different time periods that Esmail frames perfectly, literally. He shoots the past in widescreen and the present in a square frame. If anyone has ever used this clever differentiating device, that’s news to me.
But beyond his trademark camera cleverness that leans heavily on visual storytelling, Esmail does something extraordinary. He makes a somewhat interesting story premise absolutely enthralling. With Mr. Robot, it’s easy to get engulfed by the story because it’s huge. There are worldwide implications to every machination of multiple good guys and bad guys. The premise is easy to play with, and while Esmail made it his own and told the story brilliantly, the sheer magnitude of the stakes are enough to keep people interested.
With Homecoming, there aren’t insanely talented hackers taking on the biggest corporation in the world with vast criminal organizations intermingled into the plot. Instead, we have a waitress, a low-level government pencil pusher, a creepy mid-level executive, and a soldier. Esmail takes this humble premise and somehow keeps us immersed in intrigue. I can’t say much more without spoiling it, so I won’t.
Season two is already green-lit. We don’t know how well the first season did since Amazon doesn’t report viewing numbers, but the critical response has been strong, scoring a 99% on Rotten Tomatoes. Reports indicate we can expect the next installment in fall, 2019.
One note to those who will watch it – pay attention to the visual mastery. Small screen directors often overlook the nuance of the visual components of their work, but Esmail lives in the nuances. His mastery over shot selection, lighting, and a Fincheresque control of camera movements had me rewinding several scenes in order to absorb it all.
We are seeing the early stages of what could end up being a tremendous directing career. I can’t wait to see Homecoming and Mr. Robot carry on, but I’m even more excited about any new projects Esmail brings to the small screen.