Warning: This story refers to the events of Back home S1 but try to avoid any major spoilers for FX Devs and the new second season of Back home.
Sometimes Hollywood as a whole seems to adopt Google’s famous strategy: do two of everything and see what sticks. Who recently asked for twin dog tears as a best friend but at the end of life? And did the public need two “Nikola Tesla to make electricity” biopics with beloved heartbeats? (In a world where Prestige already exists, probably not.)
Streaming TV has also adopted this strategy this spring. A pair of shows centered on secret and shady startups – companies that do almost otherworldly things that sparked government interest but really made an employee’s life worse – each came in with casts glorious and filming pedigrees behind the camera. Like a conscientious TV critic, I watched the first four episodes of the two series. Despite everyone having a lot of style, we felt opaque and unnecessarily complex, like putting together a puzzle without knowing what the complete picture was at the start.
And the other one is from Amazon Back home, hitting Prime with seven new episodes this weekend. (My apologies to the FX Devs, which I will probably never finish.)
Although Back home lost a top talent before S2 – the character of Julia Roberts does not appear and Sam Esmail did not make any of these episodes – you would not call this series sold out after watching this new series of episodes. In her first televised role, Janelle Monáe is more captivating than ever. She plays a woman named Jackie who has difficulty remembering how alone she was and passed out on a boat in the middle of a distant lake. And instead of Bobby Cannavale representing our main corporate cog for the giant, Hong Chau (the actor behind Lady Trieu of Watchmen) resumes her role as Audrey. Her chief executive of a few words was last seen as a pseudo-fat villain at the very end of S1, but she develops a bit here.
Jackie’s journey and the dynamics between Jackie and Audrey could be the most exciting parts of these new episodes, similar to how the conversations between Roberts and Stephan James as Walter turned out to be the most fascinating part of S1 . The only downside for Chau and Monáe comes from the circumstances: Roberts and James had the advantage that the overall product and the Geist scheme were a mystery that our two main characters learned and went through with the public. This time, the audience has a lot more information, which removes a bit of the intrigue and tension from the series. If the story sometimes seemed secondary to the performance for you in S1, this dynamic will be amplified here.
The chemistry between its tracks, of course, was only half of Homecoming initial call. Mr. Robot creator Sam Email had generously applied his cinematographic lens for small screens, using different aspect ratios, lens filters and a robust palette of 1970s cinematic tributes. New director Kyle Patrick Alvarez has done previous work on Starz ‘visually inventive Counterpart, so it seems to have the chops to use some of the same visual languages of S1 (with an emphasis on “some”, given how inventive Esmail has always been). For Alvarez, the Prime Minister of S2 in particular feels delightfully Hitchcock-ian, because Jackie sometimes seems engulfed by tall pines or locked in a scary motel straight out of Twin peaks.
As for the story that takes place in these episodes, well, there it is Devs Between.
Prestige is not the goal
Understand the intrigue of Back home S2 absolutely requires a “previously activated” assembly. Rather than Shea Wigham detecting in a new case (lateral bar: nothing gets better by losing Shea Wigham), these episodes revolve around the same basic events, just from new perspectives. We look again at the signature Geist product being cultivated and applied, the government continues to contract with them to do unsavory things, Walter Cruz is still under less than ideal circumstances.
As such, the mysteries (like, why did Janelle Monáe go out to sea again?) Are a little narrower compared to S1. We don’t watch the plot grow to a grand conclusion; we learn more about the mechanics of the plot, things previously in the background.
It sounds bland when you put it like this, but some of the best TV shows in recent memory have deployed this basic concept to some extent. Watchmen gave viewers multiple perspectives of the same events in consecutive episodes; You better call Saul is all about the mechanics of how a nasty lawyer became his bag. Back home is not of the same caliber, but this show knows the story it tells and is committed to exploring it from new angles. S2 has a confined plot and pledges to reveal it in style and succinctly (with this and I don’t agree with that, the half hour drama is still my favorite bingeable format), and with some nice new characters. (In addition to Jackie and Audrey, Geist himself makes an appearance, played by Chris Cooper of “rage-y neighbor in American Beauty » This season does not crack Mount Rushmore from television or Alan Sepinwall’s Top 20 in 2020, but it’s really nice (think more Strange things S2 that Mr. Robot S2).
This piece of reflection kept reminding me Devs. Television critics generally seemed struck by the ambition of this program and puzzled by the small size Back home decided to be in S2, but I left feeling the opposite. Devs ‘ hour-long episodes could be a slog, as the series didn’t seem to know if it cared more about kinetic personal action (our employee “hero” trying to gain the upper hand and understand his spooky employer) or a possibly magical machine with greater philosophical implications. The first one is what got you through the first few episodes, but the second one had so much time to spend that you couldn’t help but feel “it must be the point” even if the series didn’t seem to understand how to translate it for everyone who stays with the show. So after four episodes, I stopped, not “oh, you have to hold on until the final! Justification could bring me back.
Back home, On the other hand, never feels too heavy or chore. Focus set and faster run time (you can watch Homecoming two seasons in roughly the same time as Devs ‘ a) means that no streak seems obviously aimless or like a charge. The show showcased what Geist is doing as a fact without anything occupying it, so the series remains quite interested in the action. After four episodes, I wanted to see how everything was going and I had to keep from “playing next” throughout the process. (Amazon has described a number of things that critics have been unable to reveal, and it appears that a number of these will come together in the second half of the season – temptation avoided.)
To take up the analogy with the Hollywood twins, one of these evil spectacles was aimed at the glory of prestige and ended up becoming The equalizer. The other knew he wanted to be a competent b-movie all the time and delivered John Wick. And if being parked on my couch looking for a new show to watch right in the middle of the pandemic has taught me something, it’s that sometimes it’s OK to put pressure on for the ambitious grandeur waiting for a minute and just enjoy something. As you can imagine, Janelle Monáe guarantees a certain basic level.