“Here and Now” feels like an hour long version of woke chicken. How many hot-button social issues can we slightly graze at breakneck speed until the hour is over? Every conflict feels like an exhausting Facebook comment feed. Showrunner Alan Ball excels at creating complex family dynamics. “Six Feet Under” continues to stand as one of HBO’s best series ever. However, Ball majorly misfires with this under-baked supernatural drama.
The show centers on the Bayer-Boatwright family, a progressive Portland household that has assembled a diverse array of children who have grown up with competing relationships to their eccentric parents. Ashley (Jerrika Hinton), adopted from Liberia, rejects her family’s constant celebration of her heritage. In doing so, she embraces all things white, including marrying a handsome former Republican, Malcolm (Joe Williamson). However, her marriage feels stale to her, which is why she feels drawn to one of her models. Ashley shares her feelings with her brother Duc (Raymond Lee), adopted from Vietnam, a life coach practicing celibacy. The idea of the diverse members of the family resenting their position as a statement for how woke their parents are is interesting. However, the show seems to explore this only on the surface. We see these characters have problems, but it’s not dramatized in interesting ways that make sense.
However, the main child the show follows is Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), who was adopted from Columbia. As an openly gay man, Ramon has never brought a man home to the family, until he falls for a free-spirited man, Henry (Andy Bean). However, Ramon sees visions or hallucinations revolving around 11:11. This leads to a freakout in the middle of his Father’s 60th birthday. His family grapples with the possibility that this may be related to a mental illness. On one hand, the show seems interested in Ramon having some sort of spiritual connection or power. Yet, it revels in giving its characters labels, which is why it’s so eager to explore the possibility that it is mental illness. He is treated by Dr. Farid Shokrani (Peter Macdissi), whose family becomes important later in the show. Do they also represent untraditional ethnic and gender roles? Of course.
Finally, Kristen (Sosie Black) resents her position as the lone white member of the family and engages in Facebook catfishing. This disgust manifests in low self-esteem, culminating in her losing her virginity while wearing a horse head. Yes, the show conveys character information that literally.
The heads of the household are going through troubles of their own. We catch up to Greg (Tim Robbins) on the day of his 60th birthday. An old hippie who feels the world has strayed so far from the light, Greg suffers from depression at this milestone. He retreats from his wife and finds solace in the arms of a sex worker. Audrey (Holly Hunter), a lawyer, juggles all the household tasks herself. Yet, her true hobby is diagnosing every behavior of her children with a mental illness, including every action she does. Hunter radiates screen presence at every moment. However, even she can’t fully spin gold from the tired dialogue she’s given. Tim Robbins, unfortunately, appears to have given up from the get go of the show.
On a basic script level, the show fails. Character traits aren’t revealed, they are baldly discussed. It’s as if every character stands up and announces what makes them a minority. Whether it be race, sexuality or mental state, every member of the family collects traits that make them different. The script builds buzz words on top of buzz words like the world’s most annoying jenga. One particularly aggravating scene finds Ashley and Duc talking at a completely perfunctory character and arguing by yelling exposition at each other.
In its attempt to be relevant, “Here and Now” feels completely unnecessary. The show possesses no idea of what it wants to be. Is it a family drama? Is it a supernatural mystery? The show excels at nothing because it tries to be everything. “Here and Now” exists solely to show representation matters. However, it does a bad job of actually representing anything about these character’s unique identities. If the show aims to tell a story about an interracial family dealing with the world, it needs to look outside of this family’s insular life.