Julia Roberts is predictably outstanding. As for the rest of this podcast-turned TV show? Calum Henderson investigates.

If you remember one thing about the podcast version of Homecoming, it's probably the fish tank. Bubbling away in the background, it was a clever way of setting the scene inside the office of the show's main character.

When you see it brought to life in the opening episode of Amazon Prime Video's highly anticipated TV adaptation, it's kind of how you always imagined it would look – maybe just a little smaller, and there aren't as many types of fish, but still, it feels familiar.

This podcast-to-screen adaptation suffers in the same way as so many book-to-screen adaptations: no matter how good it is, it can never quite live up to the version that first existed in your imagination.

Advertisement

That's unfair, of course, and it's not for a lack of creativity. With Mr. Robot creator Sam Esmail directing, the show has a distinct visual style that sits perfectly with the tense, paranoid mood of the show.

Adapted for the screen by original creators Eli Horowitz and Micah Bloomberg, the first episode in particular still relies heavily on the original dialogue, which allows Esmail and Mr. Robot cinematographer Tod Campbell to go wild with the kind of spectacular long tracking shots Alfred Hitchcock would have been proud of.

The longest continuous shot clocks in at almost three minutes, and offers a grand tour of the Homecoming facility during an eyebrow-raising phone conversation between caseworker Heidi Bergman (Julia Roberts) and her boss (Bobby Cannavale).

The facility is ostensibly a place where returning US soldiers can safely readjust to civilian life, supported by caseworkers like Bergman. Her phone call, and the dizzying cinematography that accompanies it provides the first real indication things may not be quite what they seem.

Roberts is predictably outstanding as the idealistic Bergman, especially in her long, absorbing office scenes talking with returned soldier Walter Cruz (Stephan James).

Her story takes place over two separate timelines – there's the current day, working at Homecoming, and four years into the future, where she's working as a waitress at an unfathomably bleak waterside diner.

When an investigator from the Department of Defense shows up with a few questions about her time at Homecoming, she weirdly remembers almost nothing about it.

These future scenes, in which Bergman begins trying to piece together the mystery of her missing memory, have been shot in an almost portrait aspect ratio – kind of like you're watching on your phone.

Once you realise your stream isn't playing up, that it's actually meant to be like that, it's just another part of the show's idiosyncratic visual style.

The original podcast was brilliant because it worked the format's limitations to its advantage, making you feel like you were eavesdropping on its conspiratorial phone calls and recordings of counselling sessions.

Some of this is lost in the switch to the screen – the TV version feels much denser, the type of show you want to watch twice to fully appreciate.

It's brilliant too, just in a different way.

• Homecoming is available through Amazon Prime Video now.