Film & Television

Guilt-Free Holiday Bingeing. . .On Amazon Prime

When the weather outside is frightful, it’s particularly delightful to find something worthwhile on TV. Something you can watch in sweats, pajamas, or your comfiest robe and slippers. Light a fire, sip hot cocoa (or maybe something stronger).

In fact, it’s a great time to catch up on one or more of the original series on Amazon Prime; there are several with strong female leads to choose from. And, of course, if bingeing is a guilty pleasure for you — as it is for me — you can pretty much camp out on the couch until spring.

A new series, Homecoming, marks Julia Roberts’s first foray into television, and she’s chosen an impressive vehicle for her transition to the small screen. “I’m not interested in TV or movies, specifically,” she says, “I just want good stories. This was such a great story. I felt like I got to play two different characters. I had a playground of cast mates to do these scenes with who I just adored. It was a near-perfect experience, so do I want to have more of that? Yeah. If that’s TV, OK.”

A gripping thriller, Homecoming was created for Amazon by Sam Esmail, whose acclaimed series Mr. Robot has earned praise for its suspenseful blend of realism and fantasy. Roberts plays Heidi Bergman, a counselor at the Homecoming Transitional Support Center, a program for returning soldiers suffering from PTSD. Taking orders from her demanding and slightly unhinged supervisor, Colin (Bobby Cannavale), via cell phone, Heidi attempts to help the vets acclimate, even as she begins to have feelings for one of them, and to question whether the work they’re doing may be more sinister than it appears.

The series — served up in bingeable, bite-sized 30-minute episodes — moves between Heidi’s time at Homecoming and a few years later, when she is working as a diner waitress and living with her mother (Sissy Spacek). An investigator from the Department of Defense comes to see her, and she realizes that she doesn’t really remember her time at Homecoming or immediately thereafter. What’s more, it becomes apparent that the memories she’s suppressing could have life-or-death consequences.

Episodes are filled with tension and move quickly; it’s hard to resist moving on to the next one whenever an episode ends. Roberts is terrific, as ever, and Cannavale is manipulative and evil enough to confirm any conspiracy theories you may be predisposed toward.

Another new title, The Romanoffs, is from Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, and is billed as a “contemporary anthology.” Each of the eight 90-minute episodes stands alone; they take place in different cities, countries, and continents, and focus on discrete stories. The thematic thread that stitches them together is that in every case, one or more of the main characters is a descendant of the Romanovs, the Russian royal family that was executed by the Bolsheviks in 1918.

Stories range from romance to slice-of-life, mystery to horror. They are beautifully shot, with the unwavering attention to detail Weiner insisted on in Mad Men. The stellar cast includes Diane Lane, Isabelle Huppert, Christina Hendricks, Amanda Peet, Kathryn Hahn, Radha Mitchell, Marthe Keller, and many more.

Although each story is engaging, it’s hard to pinpoint any one message from the series as a whole. The Romanov connection is front and center in some of the episodes and barely there in others. And, some of the episodes end with a non-ending of sorts, frustrating after the 90-minute investment you’ve just made. Then again, the opening sequence, in which the royal family’s brutal murder is set to the late Tom Petty’s “You Don’t Have to Live Like a Refugee” is a two-minute masterpiece, and well worth catching even if you find you don’t have the wherewithal to make it through eight full episodes.

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