Thursday, October 18, 2018
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Review: HBO’s ‘Here and Now’ needs to decide what type of show it wants to be

Here and Now is pretty explicit.

Explicitly about raw family drama, sexuality, mental illness and racism. And it's explicitly set in the year after the election of President Donald Trump.

As for the rest of the show's first season, it's main plot points aren't anything we haven't seen before. And all but a few of its characters are extremely insufferable.

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Here and Now follows the Bayer-Boatwrights, headed by Greg and Audrey (Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter, respectively), and their multi-ethnic, wealthy suburban family in Portland, Ore.

Greg and Audrey are parents to three grown, adopted children from around the world and one teenage biological daughter (Sosie Bacon), who dubs herself "the boring white chick in the family." Fashion executive and married mom Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) is from Liberia; "motivational architect" Duc (Raymond Lee) is from Vietnam; and 22-year-old student Ramon (Daniel Zovatto) is from Colombia.

The series mostly follows the goings-on of their lives, with the dial turned up to 11 to concentrate almost all of the issues that punctuate our fractious times into one family.

Within just four episodes of the 10-episode season, Here and Now tackles racial profiling, LGBTQ acceptance, mental illness, abortion, drug use, transphobia, xenophobia and an overall uneasiness following the 2016 election.

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It's a lofty mixing pot of ideas to cover, and creator Alan Ball (Six Feet Under, True Blood) is more than qualified to make it cohesive. But he rarely lets these controversial issues breathe before jumping to Audrey's infuriating helicopter parent antics and Greg's sad grasps at returning to his more youthful days.

It's hard to empathize with any of these characters. Ashley is a smart, savvy businesswoman and mom, yet parties with cocaine and hot models from her agency for no apparent reason. Duc claims he's celibate to his family, but in one particularly graphic stream of scenes, he's clearly not. And Bacon's Kristen runs with her assessment of "boring white chick" and becomes the near-sighted, naive teenager begging for attention.

The only authentic, relatable and genuinely likeable character is Ramon. Much of that comes from the heartwarming affection and tenderness between him and his new boyfriend. And when Ramon starts seeing visions of 11:11 and dreaming of people talking to him in Farsi, the series gives us a reason to want to stick around.

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The strange, interjected mysticism leads us to psychiatrist Dr. Farid Shokrani and his progressive yet devoutly religious Muslim family. The dialogue between Farid and his wife and their genderqueer, hijab-wearing son (Marwan Salama) is a refreshing improvement from the eye roll-inducing Bayer-Boatwrights.

Here and Now is at first a promising chance to have people of color blatantly discuss how white privilege and fragility surrounds and affects them. But it quickly becomes overwhelming, pushing issues that need more time to be fleshed out to the back.

TV can handle a soapy, insufferable family drama and it can handle a progressive paranormal series. But messy, unfocused Here and Now needs to pick what type of show it wants to be.

Contact Chelsea Tatham at [email protected] Follow @chelseatatham.

Watch

Here and Now

10 p.m. Sunday, HBO

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