The Buzz: ‘Here and Now’ Is a Political Allegory That Completely Misfires
It's rare that a television show is uncomfortably fascinating, but Here and Now, the latest offering from HBO, is one such case. I can roughly make out what the show is trying to be; an extensive allegory about racial divide, gender politics, police brutality, and any other pressing issue currently plaguing the United States, but these topics are weighed down by a narrative so randomized and poorly rendered that the line between tasteful drama and pretentious pandering becomes painfully clear. So far, we’ve spend the first four episodes firmly planted in the latter.
It is impossible to discuss the characters in Here and Now without also addressing it's allegorial intentions, as the two are brazenly interlinked. A family made up of biological and adopted children represents the country, and each children represents a different ethnicity, sexuality, or otherwise mistreated demographic. As signifiers, the family members are literally given ethic and sexual identities-- Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) is an African American woman who works for a clothing website, Duc (Raymond Lee) is a Vietnamese man who works as a “motivational architect” (?), and Daniel (Daniel Zovatto) is a Colombian man who is also gay. There’s a lone biological daughter, the Caucasian Kristen (Sosie Bacon), but the only trait the writers saw fit to give her is that she’s worried about being boring.
The parents of this sprawling, college pamphlet of a family are Audrey (Holly Hunter) and Greg Bishop (Tim Robbins). One is an activist, the other is a philosophy professor, and both take great pleasure in reminding their children that they used to be hippies. That’s really it. The rest of the show follows the family members through their daily lives, occasionally stopping to criticize modern society and pat itself on the back for being so genuinely “woke.”
The problem with this format is twofold. One, Here and Now has absolutely nothing to say about gender politics or racial tensions that haven’t already been said by countless other films and shows. It regurgitates statements made by better-informed creators, and does so in a way that removes any of the subtlety or that came with said original statement. Second, it doesn’t even manage to twist the hook of an unrealistically multi-ethnic family into lurid entertainment. That’s not to say such weighty topics should be exploited, but there are moments that seem prime to reach glorious soap opera heights, only to be snuffed out. Everyone respects everyone’s choices. Reason always prevails. Arguments are heard, and resolutions are arrived at in record-breaking time. Rinse and repeat.
It's as if showrunner Alan Ball saved every impulse he had to be political while making True Blood, and when finally given a canvas to express himself, haphazardly poured them out without caring whether they looked good or made logical sense. Every subject is explored on the surface, and is then pushed to the side to address another subject. None of them are given the full attention they deserve, and it makes the show feel not only amateurish, but structurally lazy.
Somewhere in the midst of watching the second episode (or the third, it doesn’t really matter), I was struck by the similarities between Here and Now and Darren Aronofsky’s latest film, mother! Both use their characters as allegories for bigger issues, and do so in a way that leaves little to the imagination as to what those issues are. The difference is that Aronofsky, a filmmaker who specializes in envelope-pushing, takes the story to its necessary (and admittedly insane) breaking point. Without its polarizing ending, mother! is a toothless exercise in visual tension-- interesting perhaps, but far less memorable. It's as if Here and Now is only trying to copy the opening minutes of mother! which is to say, it is alien, uncomfortable, and lacking the climactic bow that ties it all together.
I could dig around for positives to help balance out the scale, like the invested performances of Hunter and Robbins, but given how little Here and Now invests in the viewer, it would feel unearned. The show has good intentions, a capable cast, and an arc worth of social topics to unfold and examine at their leisure. What Ball and his writers lack, and what is guaranteed grounds for condemning in the television world, is a lack of direction. Right message, wrong messengers.