‘Homecoming’ 2: Bring Julia Roberts back next season

Janelle Monae: I'm an open wound every time I go to a project.

“Homecoming” season 2 (Amazon Prime series); Starring: Janelle Monae, Hong Chau, Stephan James, Chris Cooper; Created by: Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg; Rating: * * and 1/2 (two and a half stars)

By Vinayak Chakravorty

The problem is it feels like more of the same. TV and web series often run the risk of familiarity, which in turns breeds boredom, but that normally happens a good four or five seasons later. “Homecoming” hits that hurdle in its second season. It is sleek and still has a quota of suspense, but it is more of the same.

Perhaps, the makers were eager to cash in on what worked the first time. The challenge they faced must have been to recreate the quiet, unsettling tension that the first season revelled in. The tougher deal would be sustaining seven fresh episodes minus Julia Roberts. The talismanic star of season one has cut herself out from the action in her own show this time (Roberts is an executive producer of this series). While it is unclear if her character Heidi Bergman will return in season three, for now the burden of taking the story forward falls on Janelle Monae in the second season.

Monae is flung right into the adventure, literally in the deep end of the water. She wakes up on a boat with no recollection of how she got there. A park ranger takes her to a hospital. She is identified as Jackie, a veteran. Over seven episodes, Jackie’s hunt for identity will lead her to the Geist Group, the ‘wellness’ firm that set up the controversial Homecoming programme.

To give out more details would be to serve spoilers, and the basis of “Homecoming” as a concept banks on subtle plot progressions that usher spin in the story. Series creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg try their best to keep the plot moving, but at some level it would seem like this season does not have sufficient story to play out the allotted runtime.

You would think nothing concrete actually happens over most of the series, which is surprising given the fact that “Homecoming 2” does not exactly serve up long episodes — at 24 to 37 minutes the runtime of the seven episodes in season two would seem perfectly timed to keep the drama taut.

That doesn’t happen. Horowitz and Bloomberg spread the saga too thin over most of the season before trying to create a frantic wrap-up measure in the last couple of episodes. It is one thing to build a suspense drama gradually, it is quite another if the overall lack of urgency starts disinteresting the audience.

The mystery here wouldn’t seem too original either, compared to season one. Faithfully trying to recreate a similar aura, season two ends up revealing a lack of creativity.

Overall, “Homecoming” season 2 is a less engaging revisit of an idea that had seemed like an instant winner the first time around. The narrative is sporadically elevated by the scenes where the cast manages to rise above the mediocre characters that they get to play out.

At least, bring back Julia Roberts in season three. If all else fails we can sit through the episodes watching an amazing artiste and her stellar act.