[***Spoilers for Episode 1 below!]
Signs your 60th birthday party won’t be going off without a hitch:
- Two of your kids are committed to taking blow before the party.
- Your youngest daughter’s wearing a horse mask, like Bottom in Midsummer Night’s Dream, to replicate the anonymity of Facebook.
- There’s a pointed mention of lighting organic soy candles. Post-This Is Us‘ Super Bowl episode, there’s nothing casual about bringing up fire on TV.
- The birthday boy is cheating on his wife.
It’s during the course of prepping for this party that we meet the Bayer-Boatwright family, in Here and Now‘s series premiere. About as prickly as the shindigs they throw, the question is whether you’ll want to spend your time with them for ten weeks. While not abundantly sympathetic, there’s a lot about these characters that works, and one story line in particular that could implode their status quo in ways that (hopefully) force them to have it out with each other.
That, ultimately, is the deciding factor. If the show is about a family nursing their many resentments, it’s going to get old fast, but if the show is a family confronting their feelings, after years of bottling them up, let the bottles be uncapped. The Bayer-Boatwrights are welcome to stay prickly, and I doubt the result will be a family hug, but this charade where nobody’s saying how they really feel is going to break viewers if it doesn’t crack fast. A little more “here and now,” a little less “grudges past,” would do the show good.
Greg (Tim Robbins) and Audrey (Holly Hunter) have four children. Three are adopted and their youngest is their biological child. To get a sense of how this makes their kids feel, in a birthday speech Audrey forces him to give, Greg calls his family the “great experiment,” and it’s not said with love.
Allegiances within the family are drawn but not tested this episode. Ashley (Jerrika Hinton), who was adopted from Liberia, and Duc (Raymond Lee), who was adopted from Vietnam, are the siblings looking to get wasted. Their other brother, Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), was adopted from Columbia, and not invited to partake in the drugs. It’s unclear whether they don’t get along or if they hold their parents’ favoritism against him (their nickname for him is “Baby Jesus”), or if they begrudge his passing for white (in their opinion, at least). Sure enough, at the party Ramon is paired off with Kristen (Sosie Bacon), outwardly causing the family divide to fall along racial lines, but without us getting to hear Ramon and Kristen’s side of the rift, it’s unclear if they realize they’re in one.
Here and Now comes from Alan Ball, whose most comparable project is probably Six Feet Under, but who also created True Blood and was an executive producer on Banshee. Having his name attached to this project as showrunner is another reason to think this show is heading for great things, as it further plunges into supernaturalism.
That’s the side I was referring to before, with the potential to shake things up. Here and Now does a great job integrating the fantastic into its real-world setting. After Ramon starts seeing the same numbers everywhere, he looks for a medical explanation. By introducing these elements early, the news doesn’t come out of nowhere, but still leaves room for surprises and another link to the past, that goes against the show’s present-based title.
One of my favorite scenes is Ramon’s therapy session, after his parents find out he’s been hallucinating. Since the camera goes from his psychiatrist (Peter Macdissi) to Audrey, you think they’re having this conversation alone but then the camera finds Ramon, and Greg, and you realize they’ve been talking in front of them this whole time. Ramon is an adult, and Audrey correcting the doctor to call her “Ms.,” in front of her husband both agrees with her new age mantras and her anger.
Greg is a philosophy professor. Audrey is a former therapist, and it’s not long before this scene derails into too many doctors in the kitchen. That push for a logical explanation, though (drugs; Ramon’s new boyfriend), shows how much these hallucinations are going to challenge their views.
It also says a lot about how they treat their son, Duc, who joined the family profession. Everything’s a competition and Here and Now starts the comparisons off by contrasting Duc’s office door with Greg’s: Duc’s name appears on a plaque, while Greg’s name is etched on the glass. It’s only when Greg’s TA shows up that Greg lets us know he can smile and Audrey uses air quotes when mentioning Duc’s a “motivational architect”.
Here and Now can be vicious and cruel but, with the help of Ramon’s cool head and the mystery he embroils them in, could evolve into a family drama with more heart than glares.
Other thoughts on “Eleven Eleven”:
- In many ways Audrey fits the bill of a wife who’s too concerned about what other people think, but for being a social butterfly, where are her friends? At the party she talks to her children but otherwise doesn’t mingle. Such friendships are frequently fake and empty, but they usually exist.
- When Audrey obsesses over Greg’s jacket, it seems like she’s making a big deal out of nothing but, sure enough, her daughter, Ashley, is on the same page. Without knowing her mom’s been pushing for the silver blazer all night, she asks why he isn’t wearing it. Ashley runs a retail site, and cares about fashion (the present she bought her dad: a pair of custom Italian boots) but one wonders if she would’ve given voice to her opinion, if she’d known her mom felt the same way. Ashley blames her mom for valuing the wrong things during her childhood but they’re not so different as adults.
- Plot Lines Here and Now Can Wipe Out Completely: the affairs.
- Drinking Game: every time the show makes you cringe at modern technology (Kristen acting like it’s terrible that her mom hasn’t set up her Bluetooth; Greg playing Candy Crush at work, but allowing his ego to pass it off as something important).
Here and Now airs Sundays at 9 PM EST on HBO.