One of things that makes “Homecoming” great is what it can’t show you.
As one of the driving creative forces behind the most popular scripted series in podcasting, Eli Horowitz explains that it took a while to figure out how to make that limitation work to his advantage. Horowitz created “Homecoming” alongside Micah Bloomberg, with whom he also wrote and directs every episode of the series. As the show releases the premiere of its second season on Wednesday, he thinks they’ve finally started to figure out how this world operates.
“In audio, certain things are harder: establishing the setting, establishing who’s talking, giving each scene its own texture,” Horowitz said, in a recent IndieWire interview. “At first those seem like obstacles or limitations: chores you have to do. What we’re starting to get better at is using them as creative prompts. How can set this in a place that will have its own audio fingerprint and then how can that place help drive the action?”
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Season 1 of the show was a six-part dive into the world of Homecoming, a secretive government program designed to help war veterans deal with the trauma of their time in combat. Through the experiences of Walter Cruz (Oscar Isaac), therapist Heidi Bergman (Catherine Keener) and her overbearing boss Colin Belfast (David Schwimmer) tussle over the true nature of the initiative and whether their psychological experiments are doing more harm than good.
Producing the series through its first batch of episodes was comprised of mostly overheard recordings of therapy sessions, cafeteria conversations and intense phone calls. In the opening of Season 2, as Walter’s whereabouts are unknown, Heidi and Colin both find themselves on separate paths to discovering what became of their most important patient.
“Season 1 was about roles. Heidi was the employee, Colin was the boss, Walter was the patient. A lot of the tension and the drama came from that power dynamic. In Season 2, those roles have all been obliterated and they get recombined and reconfigured multiple times throughout the season. It’s much looser and free-wheeling. Season 1 is essentially in a few rooms. Season 2 is essentially wherever it wants to be,” Horowitz said.
Part of that freedom comes from the idea that Horowitz and Bloomberg weren’t exactly sure whether the podcast would continue beyond the episodes released last fall. Crafting the next chapters in this series meant venturing out into a world beyond a research facility and creating a new way for fans to experience the journey.
“We tried to wrap up a story and leave a door open and trust that there would be something interesting on the other side of that door,” Horowitz said. “I’d never done a sequel before. So it was fun to have these characters already established and then pick them up again and put them in new situations and combinations, kind of like playing with action figures. We wanted to put a whole new dramatic engine in it, to really give it its own flavor. That’s why the music is totally different. We didn’t want to keep nibbling at this same cookie.”
While Season 1 may not have gotten Horowitz thinking too much about the future of “Homecoming,” this newest batch of episodes left him little choice. Shortly before the Season 1 finale aired, “Mr. Robot” creator Sam Esmail picked up the “Homecoming” story rights for TV. On Wednesday, shortly after the newest podcast episode dropped, Deadline reported that the TV version would be heading to Amazon with Julia Roberts in the lead.
Horowitz and Bloomberg are heading up the “Homecoming” TV show’s writers’ room as well. Still in development, Horowitz couldn’t say whether the exact same characters from the podcast would be making the jump to the screen, but he did describe the storytelling lessons that the team would bring with them.
“We learned all these great lessons by doing this in audio about really focusing on the characters; letting the scenes and the conversation create the action instead of describing the action. So the focus and compression and density that audio requires, I think we can bring to television,” Horowitz said. “Audio is essentially all foreground, at least in the way we presented it. But then television obviously brings so many more tools that we can use. The idea of going deeper into the setting, the idea that there’s more space in the frame.”
Season 2 provides the chance for Horowitz to bring the “Homecoming” world to a third different medium, expanding on the story in written form as well. In a partnership with iBooks, “Homecoming” will release a new chapter of a companion novella that will help bridge the gap between the two seasons.
“In the audio, they’re all looking for Walter. He’s the ghost that haunts the season. This book is all following Walter, starting from him four-and-a-half years ago when he got home from Homecoming, after the events of Season 1, tracking him up until the present day of Season 2,” Horowitz said.
Much like the new opportunities that writing a TV show will afford, the companion book gave Horowitz and the “Homecoming” creative team a chance to fill out this world by using some different creative muscles. Horowitz previously co-wrote the novels “The New World” and “The Pickle Index,” in addition to serving as the Managing Editor of McSweeney’s for the better part of a decade, so he’s no stranger to the written word interacting with less tangible, recognizable forms. Acknowledging the limitations of the podcast world helped guide what the show could fill in elsewhere.
“No one can be alone in a podcast. If someone’s alone, there’s no scene. They’re inaudible, in the rules we’ve set up for ‘Homecoming,’” Horowitz said. “There’s a lot of things you can do in text that you can’t do in audio, in terms of giving a rich sense of an internal state, the way that scenes can flow in and out of each other, the way you treat time. We would never tell the story of Walter that we’re telling in this book in audio. It would be an awkward fit. You don’t have to do them both, but the two things work together in counterpoint.”
As for the podcast’s future, Horowitz explained that the same season-by-season approach will still govern whatever comes next for the show.
“I’m sure when Season 3 rolls around, we’ll look at Season 2 and think, ‘Oh, back then, we were still figuring it out. Now we got it.’ That’ll go on infinitely,” Horowitz said.