Home review: Apple TV+ docuseries builds bigger in dispiriting season 2

Home builds bigger in dispiriting second season [Apple TV+ review]

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Home review Apple TV+: A sprawling 17th-century home in France gets remade on the inside.★★☆☆
A sprawling 17th-century home in France gets remade on the inside.
Photo: Apple TV+

Apple TV+ documentary series Home returns Friday for a second season of wonky architecture and human interest stories. The streamer is banking on the beauty of accessibility as spectacle and drama to bring audiences back for more feel-good TV.

The houses the series showcases look glorious, to be sure. But the stories are meant to be as much of a hook as the sight of impossible angles and cozy nooks nestled in wondrous corners of the earth.

Home season 2 review

Home was one of the first docuseries Apple TV+ produced, in cooperation with A24, the boutique “indie” distributor also responsible for Euphoria, Men and Everything Everywhere All At Once to name just a few of its most-recent products.

Clearly, Home is a show meant to cash in on HGTV architecture porn — a craze more than a decade old but firing on all cylinders in the last few years. But the series also points the way toward sustainable buildings and designs, and the attainability of dreams. It’s an aspirational series, in its way.

Its message: Somewhere out there, a perfect home awaits you that is good for your mental health and good for the environment.

In the second season, we get to see (among other things):

  • A craft studio and three-child home in Mexico.
  • An enormous shed designed for a couple in Australia.
  • A gorgeous, unconventional maze of a home on a farm in France made by a Swedish architect for her family.
  • A home in a traditionally black neighborhood in Sag Harbor, New York.

The photography, by a bevy of cinematographers including Christopher Gill, Jurge Lesse and Josh Flavell, shows you not just the gorgeous homes but the neighborhoods in which they’re situated. You see the neighbors and ecosystems who make the place worth living in.

On becoming a force for good

I had troubles with the first season of Home because so much of the show was only made possible (literally in the case of the hundreds of thousands of dollars spent crafting each episode) because of wealth so massive you couldn’t hope to count it all.

When my review of the first season of Home ran, one of the people involved in the show’s production reached out to me to say that they basically agreed with the fundamental flaw, that there wasn’t much to be done about reconciling the mission of a show about making the world a better place and the fact that apparently the only answer is money. More money than most people have. I don’t want to make assumptions about this person’s decision-making process, but they did not return for season 2 of Home.

And yet, someone at the highest levels of creativity for the show seems to have been made aware of the concerns I raised (I can’t have been the only one to point them out) because season two of Home is like a brand-new TV program.

It is in constant pursuit of a more moral argument for its own existence. No longer do we just see proud, smirking architects flaunting their genius. No, now we have subjects who are designed to ensure we don’t think about money, because we’re too busy thinking about how wonderful it is that these families have their dream homes.

Dream homes around the world

Home review Apple TV+: The docuseries gives us beautiful views of stunning homes in faraway places.
The docuseries gives us beautiful views of stunning homes in faraway places.
Photo: Apple TV+

The house in Australia is owned by two men who came out at a time when homophobia in the country was a hot political talking point. Even their parents admit they had to learn to accept their sons as the men they were.

The couple who own the house in Mexico are former counterculture staples who are now revered by millions, including the episode’s guest talking head, Oscar-winning filmmaker Alejandro González Iñárritu.

The family in Sag Harbor have been fighting gentrification and go out of their way to say that it is a miracle that the black families who still live in the Long Island town still have the money to afford it. And the Swedish woman has a daughter with cerebral palsy who needs a house with an open floor plan so her wheelchair isn’t hindered.

In short: How do you argue that these million-dollar homes are just the product of wealth when they’re helping people?

Beautiful homes and a progressive message

The show is beautifully directed. Kudos to the directors of this series, who make these stories achingly emotional and progressive. We can see how important a house is to the mission of not just surviving but living as one’s truest self.

Where I have trouble fully buying into the rebrand of Home as a show about progressivism through architecture is that it is nevertheless still true that these particular people in need of care and comfort from a hostile world are beholden to millions of dollars, no matter how hard-earned. Every family with a child suffering from cerebral palsy can’t just pick up the phone and call a famous European architect to construct them a house better-suited to their needs.

This is where my suspicion of the brand A24 is my north star, as it so often is. I like as many of the A24 films (First Cow, X, C’mon C’mon, The Souvenir) as I don’t (After Yang, Lamb, The Green Knight, Midsommar). But what is undeniable is A24 has played into the hands of people crafting their narrative on their behalf.

When IndieWire critic David Ehrlich calls Trey Edward Shultz’s film WavesA24’s Magnolia,” what he’s saying is that the money men have had more of an influence on the shape of a film than the director. In the case of an aggressive non-entity like Shultz, I’d let it slide, but it’s bad criticism and bad economic theory.

Why should a company dictate the direction of the art it finances? Doesn’t that stop it from being art?

How can you find something if you’re not searching?

A24 sells things in its shop like printed books of screenplays and hats from film productions at insane markups. It’s selling the idea of the rarefied decision-making that goes on behind closed doors at this studio. You, too, can be near to the greatest art in the world! Just touching the brand is enough to charge $85 for sweatpants, $60 for a screenplay for a movie that’s already out, $48 for a candle and $42 for beard oil. None of this has anything to do with the movies, but it’s a queasy backdrop to a show about expensive houses produced by the same company.

I think perhaps the most galling episode is the account of the unspeakably gorgeous house owned by the white South African ex-veterinarian. In a country with a long, long history of subjugation and violence, how did a veterinarian working through apartheid and a guy who runs an extremely vague business nonprofit make enough money to afford a house so lovely it’s like looking into the next life? (Yes, on the one hand it’s nice to think people are now living peacefully, but still….)

That’s not supposed to matter. Nor is it supposed to matter that nothing we see in Home is available to most of the thousands of people who will watch this show. The current average cost of a house in the United States recently surged past $500,000. I’m a TV reviewer who was also a bartender until COVID-19 (I’ve got asthma and don’t want to … uhh … die behind a bar). The most money I’ve ever had at one point in my life was $15,000, and it was all slotted for rent, groceries and travel to see my family and friends.

Who has this kind of money?

It’s very cool that so many people have built their dream homes. Most of the world can’t afford those, and I question the lasting value of showing off the most stupendous dwellings on earth. The shock value of seeing something so amazing might prove overwhelming. But a week later, we’ll still be in our little apartments, jealous of these people — and no closer to being able to afford houses like theirs.

Nevertheless, Home hits all the social benefits of these houses hard. The Sag Harbor home is introduced on a bustling Juneteenth barbecue, next to a tree where Langston Hughes used to write poetry. That’s pretty unimpeachable; you can’t argue with it.

And the thing is, I don’t even think these people shouldn’t have their lovely houses — people do deserve nice things. But all people deserve nice things.

Home can’t actually be aspirational because until we can all afford these houses, this is basically science fiction. (The son of the now-rich and complacent artists in Mexico actually compares their lavish abode to something out of 2001: A Space Odyssey.) And what usually happens to people in science fiction who have nice things the rest of us can’t afford? As one of the Sag Harbor talking-head teens says of her own house: “Bad things happen on compounds in horror movies.”

A24 horror movies, specifically, like Midsommar and Men. This company is relying on you not doing the math. My curse is I can’t stop.

Nice houses, if you can afford them.

★★☆☆

Watch Home on Apple TV+

The second season of Home is now streaming on Apple TV+

Rated: TV-14

Watch on: Apple TV+

Scout Tafoya is a film and TV critic, director and creator of the long-running video essay series The Unloved for RogerEbert.com. He has written for The Village Voice, Film Comment, The Los Angeles Review of Books and Nylon Magazine. He is the author of Cinemaphagy: On the Psychedelic Classical Form of Tobe Hooper, the director of 25 feature films, and the director and editor of more than 300 video essays, which can be found at Patreon.com/honorszombie.