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'Here and Now' is HBO's Answer to 'This is Us' and a Miss

by Jason St. Amand
National News Editor
Sunday Feb 11, 2018

HBO's new family drama "Here and Now," which bows Sunday night, is... a lot.

On paper, it's got the makings of the perfect prestige TV show for today's political climate, but it plays out as if an algorithm was asked to create the premium cable version of "This is Us." Starring Oscar winners Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins as parents to a diverse and ultra-liberal family in Portland, Oregon, "Here and Now" was created by out screenwriter Alan Ball, who gave HBO hits with "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood." (Ball also won an Oscar for his "American Beauty" screenplay and an Emmy for directing "Six Feet Under.")

It's not often I'm not sure what to make of a new TV series but after watching four episodes of "Here and Now" I'm left a bit perplexed albeit intrigued. It's hard to nail down the show's actual plot; it's more of a springboard for Ball's thoughts on modern politics with characters existing as avatars for ideas about our current culture. The drama follows the Bishop-Black family: lawyer Audrey Black (Hunter) and her husband philosophy professor Greg Bishop (Robbins), who have three adopted adult children: Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) from Somalia, Duc (Raymond Lee) from Vietnam and Ramon (Daniel Zovatto) from Colombia, as well as a biological daughter, high school student Kristen (Sosie Bacon). The members of the family not only deal with the complicated inner workings of their unique family but they also respond to the post-Trump world around them.

Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter in a scene from "Here and Now." Photo credit: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

In a scene from the first episode, Ashley, the owner of her own fashion site, and Duc, a life coach who calls himself a "motivational architect," have drinks (and later casually do a few lines of coke) with one of Ashley's male models. In an incredibly annoying exposition dump, the siblings bemoan their "progressive" and diverse family and how their parents are well-meaning but are more concerned about appearance, wanting to look Norman Rockwell's version of the perfect liberal family.

They also layout their parents' relationships with their kids, specifically how they treat who they perceive to be the favorite, Ramon, who is gay. This being a Ball show, there's more here than complicated family dynamics. LGBTQ rights play a role on "Here and Now" and Ramon's storyline proves to be the most real - the show starts off with him meeting his new boyfriend Henry (Andy Bean), a barista. Ramon's story is also the show's most interesting - and important - thread to follow. He's going through a crisis of sorts that both divides and brings the family together, giving "Here and Now" an unexpected and necessary edge.

But "Here and Now" is bogged down by too much stuff and it handles the topics it tackles clumsily. Here, the subtext is the text as the show hammers you with its views on gender identity, sexuality, mental health and much, much more. "Here and Now" doesn't delve deep into many of the topics it explores, biting off way more than it can chew. Like in one episode, when Ashley takes Kristen to Planned Parenthood and they encounter pro-life protesters. After assaulting a man who singles out the teen, calling her a baby killer, Kristen and Ashley are booked. The show shifts gears from women's rights to a weak take on Black Lives Matter - "Here and Now" shows the vastly different experiences Kristen, who is white, and Ashley, who is black, face while in the local jail. Thankfully, Hinton carries the scene and it doesn't fly off the rails.

From left to right: Necar Zagaden, Marwan Salama and Peter Macdissi in a scene from "Here and Now." Photo credit: Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

A Muslim family is also featured on the drama. Farid Shokrani (Peter Macdissi), his wife Layla (Necar Zadegan), and their gender fluid teen Navid (Marwan Salama), who goes to school with Kristen and seems to have a crush on her, figure into the main story and they are intertwined with the Bishop-Black family. Farid struggles with his religion and finds it difficult to balance his beliefs with his those of wife's. Their child, who may be transgender, is expressing their gender identity by wearing a hijab and makeup while at home but goes out in public as male presenting; out of fear of being harassed or assaulted for being both Muslim and queer. Farid and Layla are totally accepting of Navid but "Here and Now" doesn't explore the teen's identity further than that - at least in the four episodes provided for review.

The first season of "Here and Now" will be 10 episodes and it's possible the show reveals itself for what it really is in the following six episodes. The acting is solid all around (even when the cast has to sell some really uneven writing), though the characters portrayed here can be detestable at times so prepare to watch unlikeable people hurt each other. As it is now, this is a messy family drama with a blunt message that takes some unexpected turns. "Here and Now" shows us a dark world, messed up world but it's not anything we don't already know.


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