Homecoming was one of my favorite shows of 2018. It made my Top Ten List for 2018.
It was quirky and original (even if based off of a popular podcast), and you could tell Sam Esmail poured his heart into the venture.
Julia Roberts starred (and executive produced), turning in one of her best performances to date.
Fast-forward to 2020 and the release of Homecoming Season 2.
I knew it would look different because Roberts would no longer lead (although she's still executive producing), and Esmail, while still on board, would no longer direct.
But the change is so significant as a result of their diminished roles that there's not much story to tell.
Season 2 centers around a new character named Alex (or Jackie), played by Janelle Monáe, who appears in a rowboat -- much like the protagonist in the original Friday the 13th movie -- with a confused look on her face.
She's got no memory, and the entirety of the story falls on Alex/Jackie, putting her puzzle pieces together to rediscover her identity.
In a way, it's quite similar to Roberts' character from Homecoming Season 1, Heidi Bergman. The difference is that Heidi only lost part of her past, and she wasn't even aware that it was missing until things didn't add up.
We meet Alex/Jackie without any memory of who she is at all, and that means that she's rather devoid of life, too. She has a limited personality. Heidi exuded spunk; Alex/Jackie has no idea if she's spunky. She's utterly lost.
Monáe does what she can with the role, but we never have any reason to warm up to her. We know too little about her, and there's very little to make us care.
The character is merely a vehicle to reintroduce us to some key characters from Season 1.
High on that list is Hong Chau's Audrey Temple. If you recall, she's the spitfire who found herself taking down Bobby Cannavale's Colin Belfast as that season drew to a close.
Through Alex/Jackie, we get to the bottom of her meteoric rise within the ranks of the Geist Emergent Group. It's a fun adventure, but it almost feels like more of an afterthought than a fully blown plot in its own right. Unfortunately, that afterthought is as close as the season comes to the excitement of the previous season.
Through Audrey, we finally meet Leonard Geist in the guise of Chris Cooper. Cooper does his thing, which is often making bland characters more interesting.
Understanding the roots of the cocktail that was served by Colin and his team to the unsuspecting soldiers after their return from active duty could have been worthy of an entire season, but in this particular tale, it, too, is more of a sidebar than fully addressed narrative.
There are glimpses of things that reacquaint viewers with what came before, of course. The Geist headquarters building is recognizable and familiar, but the action within it is lacking by way of comparison to the secrets it held during the first season.
Remember how much of the plot was dependent on that building and others? How the story had a labyrinth of indoor offices and hallways that made it seem like something new was around every corner? Well, that doesn't happen here. The building isn't central to the mystery at all. It's just a building housing Geist headquarters.
Joan Cusack has a small role that can't be spoiled, and Stephan James returns as Walter Cruz. But he's incidental to the overarching plot at this point, and his role could have been replaced with any of the lesser characters from Season 1 with little effect.
What made Season 1 tick was the chemistry Roberts and James and the need to see their characters get some resolution to the trauma they suffered.
The same can't be said here for Alex/Jackie or Audrey. I remained committed to what came before, hoping to learn as much as possible about what came of Walter or to better understand the machinations of Geist Emergent Group. The former wasn't achieved, and the latter didn't live up to expectations.
Still, the cast is worthy of discussion, especially if we imagine how their roles might have flourished under Esmail's direction.
And the difference in directing from Esmail to Kyle Patrick Alvarez is palpable. Esmail trains the eye with his beautiful style. Scenes filmed between Roberts and James during the first season had elegant resonance and played like works of art.
I can't think of a similarly engaging scene from the latest season.
Homecoming Season 2 is only seven episodes, and with each running about 30 minutes, you can get through it in an evening.
It's missing the binge-watching promise that propels viewers from episode to episode. Taking a break isn't a big deal because there doesn't seem to be much at stake without the emotional investment.
If you're a fan of seeing little story threads tied together, then you might get a kick out of the reveals.
But overall, the second season is a missed opportunity to take something great and expand on it by just skimming the surface of its potential with nuggets that might have thrilled if revealed alongside a fully-fleshed continuation of the earlier story.
Homecoming Season 2 premieres on Amazon Prime on Friday, May 22.
Carissa Pavlica is the managing editor and a staff writer and critic for TV Fanatic. She's a member of the Critic's Choice Association, enjoys mentoring writers, cats, and passionately discussing the nuances of television and film. Follow her on Twitter and email her here at TV Fanatic.