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Hilary B Gayle/Amazon via AP

Julia Roberts
Hilary B Gayle/Amazon via AP

Television

Homecoming

Bad language and depictions of adultery mar an otherwise compelling series

If you’re an Amazon Prime customer, you’ve seen a lot of hype for Homecoming, a new series of 10 half-hour episodes released in early November. Critics love the show. Should you watch too?

Julia Roberts stars as Heidi Bergman, the head of a transition center, helping veterans whose combat memories make normal life difficult. Despite thin credentials, Heidi runs the isolated campus as its primary counselor. One patient, Walter Cruz (Stephan James), recalls every detail of the death of one of his men and blames himself for his friend’s demise.

Heidi’s cell phone is a constant connection to her off-site boss Colin Belfast (Bobby Cannavale), a controlling, malevolent force with a surface charm. Heidi drops everything, including connections to family and friends, whenever he calls, mostly to berate or chastise her about what a poor job she is doing.

The Homecoming facility is a private venture, run by a mysterious corporation named Geist. Are the patients truly volunteers, or are they prisoners undergoing experimental treatments? Walter’s mother does not trust this strange program, and she sleuths her way to the undisclosed location. Her maternal instincts tell her something is not right, but she can’t convince her son to leave.

The storyline bounces back and forth between events at the Homecoming center and four years later. Future Heidi is a waitress back in her hometown, and she has almost no memory of her years at Homecoming, except a vague feeling that things ended poorly. When Thomas Carrasco from the Department of Defense (Shea Whigham) begins investigating what happened to Heidi and her patients, her unease heightens.

Bumbling and endearing, Carrasco doggedly pursues the case. He wins the trust of Walter’s mother, and the pieces start to fall into place.

Slow buildup, beautiful cinematography, and enough mystery to keep patient viewers interested all add up to an intriguing viewing package. Regrettably, frequent profanity, some depictions of adultery, and blasphemous language mar the experience, making Homecoming a difficult series to recommend.

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Jonathan Wenk/CBS

Brandon Micheal Hall (left) as Miles Finer and Violett Beane as Cara Bloom
Jonathan Wenk/CBS

Television

Questioning his Maker

In CBS series God Friended Me, an atheist doubts the divine, with unexpected results

If God sent you a Facebook friend request, what would you do? That’s the unlikely scenario at the beginning of the new CBS series God Friended Me.

Miles Finer (Brandon Micheal Hall) is an outspoken atheist eager to share his unbelief with the world through his new podcast. He toils absentmindedly during the day in a call center: His real passion is his podcast. Miles lights up with enthusiasm as he debates the existence of God with guests. “There is no proof of God anywhere in the universe,” he states.

Although convinced there is no God, Miles is strangely angry at this nonexistent being. He and his sister Ali (Javicia Leslie) were raised in a religious home, and their father Arthur (Joe Morton) is a pastor. When their mother became seriously ill, 10-year-old Miles prayed fervently for her healing, and his prayers seemed to be answered. Tragically, on the way home from the hospital, Miles’ mom died in a car accident. How could a righteous and perfect God allow that to happen?

With no easy answers to that question, the young man turns away from church to find his own solutions. As he reminds his father, “I tried to make sense of it, but the only way I could was that there was no God, because if there was it means that He is cruel, and I don’t want to live in a world governed by someone like that.”

A Facebook friend request from an account identified as “God” rocks Miles’ world. After declining the friend request numerous times, Miles finally accepts it, and a series of strange events begins. In the first episode, Miles meets Cara Bloom (Violett Beane), a reporter struggling with writer’s block. His story intrigues Cara, and the two investigate who could be behind the God account. Meanwhile, every friend suggestion from the mysterious source brings together people in need of help, and Miles finds himself the instrument of aid for these former strangers.

The show is surprisingly respectful of Christianity, at least in its first episode. When Miles visits his father, the Rev. Finer is reading from the book of James as he practices his sermon. When was the last time a whole portion of Scripture was read aloud on prime-time TV without criticism or mockery?

Miles’ questions about the divine reflect themes common to humanity. In the right context, these questions can be helpful for Christian viewers: How do we address the existence of misery and evil in the world as we talk to our nonbelieving friends and neighbors?

So far, the show has not offered easy answers. But as the miracles and amazing events unfold, Miles seems open to the idea that there is indeed a higher power at work.

If the entire series proves so respectful and intriguing, God Friended Me may be welcome viewing for Christians.

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Karen Neal/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Jay Hernandez as Thomas Magnum
Karen Neal/CBS ©2018 CBS Broadcasting, Inc.

Television

Modern Magnum

Lighthearted Magnum P.I. reboot avoids sexism, showcases diversity

CBS’ newly remade Magnum P.I., which premiered Monday, sticks roughly to the premise of the original 1980s hit show starring Tom Selleck: a light, funny, mystery storyline about a former Navy SEAL “repurposing his military skills to become a private investigator.”

But now, we’ve updated to 2018. The original Magnum was a Vietnam war vet. Now he’s a POW from Afghanistan. “Jonathan” Higgins, the annoying property manager at the lavish estate where Magnum works security, is now “Juliet” Higgins (Perdita Weeks), a poised Brit and former MI6 agent. (I think we all know how that story ends.)

The writing is mediocre, but most standard network fluff doesn’t showcase a fabulous Hawaiian island the way this show does. Happily, the new Magnum replaces most of the blatant sexism of the original series (in which female characters frequently showed up in bath towels, swimsuits, or less) with the strong, smart Juliet—who can hold her own just fine in a fight. 

The newer Magnum P.I. boasts more racial diversity, too. The casting director’s boldest move was in choosing a nonmustachioed Hispanic, Jay Hernandez (World Trade CenterScandal), to play lead character Thomas Magnum.

“No one is going to replace Tom Selleck,” Hernandez told TV Guide in May. “You can’t do that. You gotta sorta reinvent it, take what works from the original show and sort of make it new, so that’s what we did.”

So far, they’ve succeeded: Hernandez is as charming now as Selleck was in 1980. Anyone tired of seeing Hispanic men playing drug dealers will find Hernandez’s Magnum refreshing and worthy of applause, such as when he comforts his best friend’s grieving child.

One thing won’t be the same—the Hawaii estate used for filming. The chair of the library search committee for former President Barack Obama purchased the original “Robin’s Nest” property in 2015 for $8.7 million, but let it fall into disrepair. It was demolished in April.

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