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'Here and Now' is ambitious — and awfully formulaic

The new HBO series is hard to watch for all the wrong reasons.
Here and Now HBO Holly Hunter Tim Robbins
Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins in HBO's latest, "Here and Now." HBO

Here and Now wants to be the This Is Us of cable television. It’s formulaic enough — and dramatic and diverse enough — to satisfy even the most unimaginative of critics. And yet, the family drama falls short.

The series follows the Bayer-Boatwrights, a family made up of adopted and biological children parented by very good actors Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins. There’s nothing much special about the family — they’re basically rich with vaguely hippie origins — but when their son Ramon (Daniel Zovatto) starts having visions, blurring the line between madness and mysticism, everything goes downhill. Well, kind of. 

The series is promising in that it has been brought to life by Alan Ball, a man who brought us American Beauty and Six Feet Under, but also gave us the glorious hot mess that was True Blood. And he certainly means well. But Ramon’s magical element is far from the most important theme of Here and Now. Instead, the series is distracted more by the possibility of touching lightly on every single thing that’s wrong with America right now. It's exhausting.

And that’s the thing. As much as Here and Now would like to be an ambitious and timely commentary on Trump’s America, the series is mostly talking a lot without saying much of anything. Besides, going from aggressive pro-life picketers to young white supremacists to racist cops within the span of ten minutes — without actually making a definitive comment about those things, as happens in the second episode — is maybe too aggressive for any television show right now.

And that’s a shame, because the performances are pretty enjoyable. It’s clear that these actors enjoyed working with each other, but it's hard to focus on that when the show starts beating you over the head with how great of a job it's doing.

Ultimately, it feels like Here and Now is less interested in making a statement and more interested in ticking off a series of boxes. And in the end, it’s awfully distracting — and it makes for a series that is more often than not hard to watch for the wrong reasons.

 
 
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