The week in radio: Homecoming; The Tuffers and Vaughan Cricket Show

The return of psychological thriller Homecoming reminds us just how gripping podcast drama can be. And anyone for cricket?

Homecoming | Gimlet Media
The Tuffers and Vaughan Show (BBC 5Live) | iPlayer

Oooh, Homecoming is back. Actually, this podcast drama has been back for a few weeks now, but I deliberately didn’t listen: I enjoy binge-listening when it comes to my favourite shows, rather than having to wait a week for my fix. (I’m not alone in this, of course, and many podcast producers have noted it: S Town and Jon Ronson’s The Butterfly Effect released all their episodes at once. With a non-newsy, finite yarn, it often makes sense to do so.) Anyway, I plugged in while on a long drive and was immediately sucked back into the strange world of the Homecoming memory programming scheme of Walter Cruz, Heidi Bergman and horrible Colin Belfast.

Should I do a recap of series 1? You don’t really need to have listened (I’d forgotten everything until I heard the new series), though you should, because it’s really good. Both series of Homecoming have the same things going for them: a mystery gradually revealed, a sense of time running out, fallible heroes who can’t always remember what actually happened to them and the old-fashioned notion that there are companies and governments running sinister secret systems that can draw in innocent people as collateral.

This last concept reminds me of The Prisoner, or Nineteen Eighty-Four, of those old fear‑of-communism stories that assumed that, in the future, people in power would bother to keep minutely detailed information on every aspect of your life, when in fact, no one seems able to locate your repeat prescription even when you turn up in person with your NHS number tattooed across your face.

So, Homecoming 2. I’m not going to reveal the plot, or tell you who our heroes are, but it’s clear who we’re not rooting for: Colin Belfast, played by David Schwimmer, who co-stars with Catherine Keener and Oscar Isaac. The key to Colin Belfast, and to most of the characters, is status. We hear conversations in bars, on doorsteps, on the phone (a lot) and in each case, Belfast changes his demeanour, moving himself up and down the status bar, depending on who he’s talking to. He’s wily, condescending and triumphant with those he considers beneath him; pleading and officious with those above him. He flips between scenes, and sometimes even within scenes, revealing everything simply by changing his attitude. No need to spell out motivation or intention; it’s there in the voice.

It’s not just him; the acting (and writing) is uniformly great – nothing is flagged up, everyone comes with a realistic and believable outlook, with baggage that reveals itself as conversations progress. In fact, my only problem with Homecoming 2 is the advert for an iBook within it. The book is meant to enhance your experience by offering you an extensive backstory to one of the characters, released week by week. But a) I don’t need to know about the book until the episode is over and b) I don’t actually want to know what’s been going on, I’m happy to imagine for myself. That is, though, my only quibble. It’s an excellent series and, as ever, a showcase for just how slick and absorbing audio drama can be.

‘Weirdly absorbing’ Michael Vaughan, left, and Phil Tufnell, ‘chuntering on’ for 5 Live.
‘Weirdly absorbing’ Michael Vaughan, left, and Phil Tufnell, ‘chuntering on’ for 5 Live. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The very opposite of slick, but also weirdly absorbing, is 5 Live’s Tuffers and Vaughan Cricket Show. Here are Phil Tufnell and Michael Vaughan chuntering on, trying to sound cross but failing, trying to sound ecstatic but failing at that too, grumbling a bit, analysing a bit, offering insights such as, “Gotta get a 100. Not even a pretty 30, couple of nice clips.” “Two half centuries?” “A 70 or 80 minimum, for me”. England are not doing well (I gather), but there isn’t the despair or vitriol of football analysis. Even though the show opened with, “The West Indies have pulled off a stunning victory to win a Test match in England for the first time in 17 years!”, nobody seems that bothered in Tuffers/Vaughan world. “If you’re bowling well and you can swing the ball away, it doesn’t matter if you’re running up doing jazz hands,” reports Tuffers.

Chappers (Mark Chapman) is here, too, keeping things in line and on time. He asks stats questions, like: “In total, three different England head coaches have had 14 picks, in terms of specialist batters. Name the coaches. And how many of those 14 have become permanent?” God. It’s all very pub quiz, three middle-aged blokes having a chat and a laugh. Amiable, informed, comforting. A good accompaniment to sorting out the washing or doing other little jobs. And yes, that is a compliment.


Miranda Sawyer

The GuardianTramp

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