Family dramas may not be as prevalent as, say, the forensic thriller or police procedural, but they have remained relevant well into the Golden Age of Television. In fact, This is Us, arguably America’s most popular series, is a family drama that prides itself on how easily relatable its characters are.
But perhaps no family drama has ever been more celebrated as Six Feet Under, Alan Ball’s brilliant series that followed the Fischer clan as the explored the meaning of life, and finality of death, while running a funeral home. So, while Here & Now may not be the most buzzed about series premiere of 2018, having Ball return to the genre that he set the bar for is no small moment.
Here & Now also happens to be one of 2018’s most timely shows, both in that it literally address what a post-Trump world feels like and, for better or worse, feels like a smorgasbord of “hot button” topics. The series follows the Bayer-Boatwright family, led by the self-identified philosophers Audrey and Greg (Holly Hunter, Tim Robbins). These two bleeding heart liberals adopted three children from different countries that America “fucked over,” before having a fourth child on their own.
Now, their adult children deal with their complicated feelings about being made symbols of their parents’ progressive attitudes, while also grappling with their own, personal struggles. Ashley (Jerrika Hinton), adopted from Liberia, and Duc (Raymond Lee), adopted from Vietnam, both resent their parents for the way they raised them, and have strained relationships with their siblings. Meanwhile, youngest daughter, Kristen (Sosie Bacon), desperately tries to make herself feel less “normal,” whether that be by catfishing strange men online or walking around in unusual masks to start conversations with strangers.
What really separates Here & Now from your average family drama, however, is the unusual subplot involving Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), a college senior adopted from Colombia by the Bayer-Boatwrights. Ramon has the best relationship with his parents and younger sister, and even has a burgeoning romance with an attractive barista named Henry (Andy Bean). But he also finds himself plagued by bizarre, foreboding visions that hint at mental illness – or predict a greater purpose for his life?
Here & Now spends much of the pilot exploring how one can feel sane while most of the country feels like it’s on fire, and while it’s hard to tell from the pilot, it seems like Alan Ball might embrace some magic realism in exploring how the Bayer-Boatwrights – and the viewers at home – can survive these uncertain times.
In some scenes, it certainly seems like Here & Now is biting off more than it can chew. By the end of the premiere, when a bizarre twist is made involving Ramon’s visions, it almost feels like a mash-up of Lost and Six Feet Under –a strange, possibly ridiculous pairing. There is also something ironic about a series that (lightly) mocks patronizingly-progressive people, only to try and comment on just about every major political topic. But, at the very least, Ball has the keen ability to create fascinating characters and thoroughly explore their personalities.
By the end of the pilot, the entire Bayer-Boatwrights feel like fully developed individuals, with secrets and past traumas that could keep viewers interested for the rest of the season. Some will doubtfully complain that many of the characters come off as unlikable, which may be true, but such criticism feels lazy – it’s not a TV shows’ job to make you like the character. You’re simply supposed to be interested in them.
The supernatural elements found in the pilot are also fascinating, even if they turn the show into a peculiar balancing act. These moments could very well ruin the show in the long-run, especially if Ball doesn’t think the mythology through before executing it, but it also instantly separates the drama from any other show on TV.
Here & Now feels like the first series developed in Trump’s America, and looks to tap into the sometimes surreal feeling that some viewers – especially those from marginalized communities – feel right now. To have those emotions turned into metaphorical fantasies is, at the very least, a unique hook for a pilot. And the final twist of the hour – which should go unspoiled – really helped the subplot stick the landing.
Based on the pilot, Here & Now will definitely polarize audiences. This is not a show for everyone, but it also doesn’t feel like it was made with the intention of appealing to a mass audience. It’s bizarre, heavy-handed, very dark, and decidedly left wing in its political leanings. But, then again, so was Six Feet Under. And while it’s doubtful that Here & Now will ever evolve into a masterpiece akin to Ball’s last family drama, it looks like an interesting ride worth taking, no matter where the viewers end up.
Rating: 7 out of 10