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February 13, 2018

Bingeworthy™ Breakdown: Self-Important ‘Here and Now’ Is Already Exhausting

The Bingeworthy™ Breakdown is an occasional look at new TV shows. Over 500 scripted seasons of TV are expected to air in 2018, and to help you sort the wheat from the chaff, we’re going to give you the lowdown to help you work out whether it’s worth tuning in every week for them or waiting to binge later. Today we look at HBO’s “Here And Now.”

Allow me to lead by an example you should refuse to follow: every single thing about “Here and Now” is obnoxiously self-important, narratively grating and rote with faux intellectualism through which every character is charged with the need to be the smartest person in the room. The dialogue exists in a vacuum where every line must be delivered with a self serious declaration of knowledge, every word dripping with meaning and each time we’re given context of who these characters are, how they came to be and how they coexist are delivered as perplexingly broad and expository statements. We don’t just learn that three of the lead characters were adopted — in the same breath we’re also directly told that two of those characters hold their parents in contempt for how they were raised as tokens of diversity, how they resent a brother whom they claim was able to assimilate himself easier into their parents’ world, topped off by their troubled relationships with substance abuse, habitual lying and marital problems.

This all happens in a single scene and it’s exhausting. The show doesn’t relent from that moment on, making sure that every character, to an extent, is unforgivably intolerable while simultaneously using the diversity of the cast and the progressive nature of the family as a flimsy blanket to try and hide just how thinly drawn out its characters are. That’s not even to mention the offputting choice to collate a characters potential mental illness with hints of the supernatural.

What is it actually about?
“Here and Now” follows a multiracial family made up of a husband and wife with their four children, adopted from Somalia, Vietnam and Columbia respectively, whose bonds are tested when one of the children begin to see visions that the rest of the family aren’t able to. A show that buries itself in an cloud of self-importance and arrogance, the characters are already in the midst of tension far before the tagline would suggest, with siblings Ramon  Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) and Duc (Raymond Lee) having a rough relationship due to how they were all raised. Younger sister Kristen (Sosie Bacon) serves mainly as a reminder that no one remembers what teenage girls talk like (when I learned she was supposed to be playing a 17-year-old I was gobsmacked), while parents Greg (Tim Robbins) and Audrey (Holly Hunter) are going through their own midlife crises.

Was Alan Ball’s contribution a deciding factor for you?
Goodness no. I was too young to dive into “Six Feet Under” when it came out and, while “True Blood” had its fans, I watched one episode, felt a touch squeamish and backed out immediately. Needless to say, I’ve never been immensely drawn to anything he’s created.

What was it then that compelled you invest time and energy into this show?
Short answer: I honestly don’t know. Admittedly, I’m a sucker for any series that is a conceptual risk taker and isn’t afraid to wear its heart on its sleeve, so the trailer, with all of its schmaltzy heartfelt zingers and mind-bending science-fiction hints, was enough to catch my interest. I’m especially biased towards series these days that aren’t strictly about straight white dudes and their pain/angst — especially if that pain is derivative of a “Breaking Bad” scenario where the characters makes a corrupt decision for “his family” and is led down a series of unfortunate events (hello “Ozark”).

Sometimes, the bias towards the surreal, the playful or the brazen leads me to something I adore, such as “Hannibal”, “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend”, “Sense8” or “The Magicians”, while sometimes it leads me to “Here and Now”, which wishes it was half as brazen, playful or surreal as any one of those shows.

How long into the episode did it take you to realize just what you’d gotten yourself into?
Literally in the first few seconds.

Goodness, why?
It begins in a trip of a dream where a women in quickly edited jump cuts stands on a beach screaming and carving the numbers “11:11” into her face. Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), sporting a man-bun which looks terrible, then wakes up and explains his dream to a barista he’s been flirting with, not getting through more than five minutes of the show without a character explaining every goddamn thing we just saw two minutes ago. Trust the audience to be smart human beings who maybe decipher the meaning (or hey, lack thereof) on their own.

Is there any remote chance it improves as the series moves forward?
Maaaaaybbbeeee? I will be enthused if somehow this one manages to right itself — stranger things have happened — but I won’t bet on it. I can’t think of the last show that grated with the immediacy of this one aside from the odd clip of “The Big Bang Theory” while channel surfing. Maybe it will get better…but it probably won’t. So let’s just hope Holly Hunter has a slew of projects lined up that will make up for this mess. [D]

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