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'Here and Now' Tries Too Hard but Maybe That's the Point
February 11, 2018  | By David Hinckley

If you hired a mad scientist to write This Is Us, you might end up with something like HBO’s new Here and Now.

Here and Now, which premieres Sunday at 9 p.m. ET, takes an enlightened, color-blind, gender-blind, non-judgmental family and has this family do everything short of giving the dog a chair at the dinner table so they won’t be guilty of species discrimination.

Since a family like this naturally can’t be run by a patriarch, the driving wheel is Audrey Bishop (Holly Hunter, top), a lawyer and former counselor who knows a hundred ways to say “empowerment” and is convinced she has imbued her family with all its benefits.  

Her husband Greg (Tim Robbins, top) teaches philosophy and writes thumb-sucking books about how civilians can absorb the great thinkers into their daily lives. Clearly he has been open to Audrey’s vision of a family unit in which the human soul can be set free.

The Bishops have four children, the first three of whom they open-mindedly adopted.

Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) was born in Liberia. She’s now married to Malcolm (Joe Williamson) and they have a daughter. She also runs a thriving photography business.

Duc (Raymond Lee) was born in Vietnam. He’s a life coach, except in the Here and Now world the sign on his door reads “Motivational Architect.”

Ramon (Daniel Zovatto) was adopted from an orphanage in Colombia and has adapted nicely to life as an American millennial. He’s a college senior majoring in video game design and he rides his bicycle all around Portland, Oregon, which seems to be a perfect place for what the Bishop family is aiming to do.

The biological Bishop child, Kristen (Sosie Bacon), is another free spirit. She’s in high school and floating somewhere between normal teenage life and the more liberated life her mother promotes.

All four kids get along and they all understand the skewed nature of their upbringing. They joke about their parents, mostly in a good-natured way, and they seem to appreciate that their lives are basically good.

If that were the defining takeaway from Here and Now, of course, it would be a pretty boring show.

So we quickly see that all this enlightenment has not brought Zen-like contentment, nor has it headed off many of the more base urges, instincts and problems to which the rest of the human race is prone.

We learn this because one of Audrey’s big successes was making her kids unfiltered. Sex, drugs, feelings, bodily functions – they talk about all of it.  

So we soon see that Ashley, for instance, is restless in her happy marriage. We see that Ramon has concerns about Mom bigfooting her way into his life. We see that Kristen has more teenage insecurities than her mother would like to acknowledge.

Gary is at the head of the line, however, in wondering whether the Bishops took the right road.

Audrey throws him a 60th birthday party, with party favors that include soy candles and bamboo knick-knacks, because bamboo is a renewable resource.

He doesn’t want a 60th birthday party. He doesn’t want to be reminded that he’s 60. He especially doesn’t want to give a speech at his 60th birthday party. Audrey bullies him into giving one anyhow, because she says it’s an occasion that needs to be marked.

So he does. It’s not the speech Audrey wanted to hear, because it reflects how Greg is really feeling these days, and that’s not where this enlightened Utopian approach was supposed to deliver him. Or the family. Or anyone else.

There’s a certain droll humor to the moment, as there is in other scenes where Audrey, in particular, shoots off the charts. Add that to the knowing humor the kids toss around and it’s fair to call Here and Now a dark comedy.

Its more serious aspiration, presumably, is to suggest a lot of Americans are wrestling with the same question as Greg and Audrey Bishop: I was so sure I was living my life the right way, but now, looking back and looking around, is that really true?

And if not, does that make me desperate and delusional?

This Is Us says asking that question is actually reassuring, because it makes us human. What Here and Now says, at least at the beginning, is less clear.

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