Editor’s Note: Only the first four episodes of HBO’s “Here and Now” have been screened for the purposes of this review. This review will be updated following the conclusion of the season.
When it comes to family dramas, two series immediately pop into my head as being compelling and gripping to watch. Those two shows are NBC’s “This Is Us” and HBO’s “Big Little Lies,” both of which reel the viewer in with relatable characters and storylines. Unfortunately, HBO seems to have missed the mark with its latest venture in “Here and Now,” which tries to emulate the most gripping aspects of the aforementioned shows, but ends up falling flat instead. This isn’t to say that the series is terrible, but there are just too many factors at play and everything feels completely disconnected. That being said, if you love to watch an upper-middle class family bicker and get into sticky situations, you might just find something worthwhile here.
The basis of any good show is the characters. Even if the plot is unoriginal or just plain bad, a strong band of characters can keep things interesting. The problem with “Here and Now” is that the characters aren’t great; in fact, they are quite terrible. The exception to that is Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), who may just be the saving grace of this series due to his intrigue, charm and potential. Ramon was adopted by Audrey (Holly Hunter) and Greg (Tim Robbins), who are also the adoptive parents of Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) and Duc (Raymond Lee), as well as the biological parents of Kristen (Sosie Bacon). The family is affluent and liberal, something that the series loves to slam over the viewers’ head repeatedly; there’s a clear difference between having strong representation and being preachy and heavy-handed, which this series very much is. Each member of the family has their own life and while everyone does interact from time to time, it seems as though the dynamic is just on the verge of imploding due to the many strong attitudes.
Going back to the character of Ramon, he is by far the most compelling aspect of this series for a variety of reasons. For starters, he feels far more genuine and real than anyone else; plus, he is pretty much the only one that isn’t irritating to watch for an extended amount of time. Ramon is openly gay and as the season progresses, he develops a romantic relationship with Henry (Andy Bean); their attraction for one another is palpable, as is their support and care for the other’s well-being. The viewer also learns that Ramon is an aspiring video-game developer, something that is also a great stress-reliever for him. This is important to his character when a strange phenomenon begins to occur, one which is not fully explained right off the bat and the viewer and characters are left to wonder if this is a supernatural element or schizophrenia. The reaction of Ramon’s family muddy this story element a bit, but that seems to be a recurring theme when the family deals with anything. If the series was focused more on Ramon and his struggle to deal with this mysterious phenomenon, there would likely be more praise to be given.
So, what does “Here and Now” do right? There is certainly a sense of awe present in watching the bitchiness unfold with this family. Even though they are irritating and unlikable, there are definitely moments of fascinating drama that make this series feel like a reality show at times; it’s not great, but you can’t help watch and be engrossed by what the characters say and do. If the series could scale it in a bit and focus more on the inter connectivity of the family as a whole, while also spending time with each character individually, this series could be something greater than it is right now; each subplot feels so detached from the main narrative that there are times that the characters feel completely disconnected with each other. There’s also the setting of Portland, which is a major highlight as that city isn’t one which is explored all that much in television; there is plenty of potential for the rich culture and diversity to be put on full display. “Here and Now” isn’t bad and it does have plenty to offer, but at the moment, there are just too many working parts and none feel like they are doing their job the right way. This is the type of series that may be best to binge once the full season has wrapped rather than watching on a weekly basis. Still, if you need just one reason to watch, then watch for Ramon and Daniel Zovatto’s portrayal.
New episodes of “Here and Now” air Sunday nights at 9 p.m. on HBO.