‘Here and Now’ is so desperate to be woke, it feels like a satire of itself

Here & Now is the prestige TV equivalent of a Hillary Clinton 2016 campaign ad. Of the current iteration of The Daily Show. Of Lena Dunham’s entire being. It is, quite possibly, the worst thing that has ever been broadcast on HBO. This in spite of its undeniable watchability, largely the result of its sheer absurtdity. Alan Ball, the man who crafted the magnificent nuances of American Beauty and then detoured into crass soap with True Blood, shows all the restraint of a man who hasn’t been told “No” in the two decades since writing one of the best films ever made. If Here and Now is so profoundly frustrating for a viewer like myself, who likely shares every one of Ball’s political beliefs, I imagine it could be used as an actual torture technique for registered Republicans. It’s insipid and righteous and has a confidence in its own importance that can only come from the hand of an arrogant scribe. It is, at the same time, completely compelling.

Here’s the basic premise of the show: Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins are parents to a bunch of multi-ethnic adopted kids, and one biological daughter. These (grown-up) kids have all got problems, mostly relating to their sex lives. It’s a goddamn Alan Ball show, you can figure it out. One son, Colombian-born Ramon, has a hallucination at his father’s birthday party in Episode 1, so in Episode 2 everyone thinks he’s schizophrenic. His Liberian sister Ashley does cocaine with beautiful male models. Vietnamese Duc refuses to have sex. Kristen, the one biological child, loses her virginity while wearing a horse’s head, and contracts chlamydia. It’s very Six Feet Under, without any of that show’s knowingness. Because Here and Now is so remarkably tone-deaf at every turn, it’s as if Ball hasn’t been proof-reading his own scripts.

For the majority of Episode 1, I was quite on board with this show: there was good use of a Portugal The Man song (though what good did that do Kevin (Probably) Save The World?), and both Daniel Zovatto (Ramon) and Sosie Bacon (Kristen, and Kevin Bacon’s daughter) are really engaging performers. But then it goes totally off-the-rails. Episode 2 introduces Ramon’s therapist, about whom he’s been having strange, quasi-erotic dreams. The therapist’s son is experimenting with gender fluidity, in the context of their Islamic culture, which is a really interesting idea that the makers of Here and Now are totally unprepared to tackle in any insightful way. Instead, the parents just argue about the terminology they should be using. Which pretty much sums up the spirit of Here and Now in a broader sense.

Meanwhile, Kristen goes to a PlannedParenthood clinic to get advice on her STI; she’s confronted by a pro-lifer and ends up kicking him in the groin. But he can’t press charges, because he’s a registered sex offender. It seems like that’s supposed to be the comedic high-point of this episode. Anything funny about this show definitely isn’t intentional. Which is sad, because Bacon has a really natural charisma and wit; she’s effectively playing the Lauren Ambrose character from Six Feet beat-for-beat, but she does it well.

Episode 2’s worst sequences, however, are focused on the two parents of the Bayer-Boatwright family. Robbins’s Greg is a philosophy lecturer — possibly the crappiest in the world — and he’s depressed. As most philosophy lecturers are, in fairness. He’s talking to his class about “why we should think about thinking” but realises that his lecture is a stupid waste of time (I actually don’t think it is) and tells his students to “Go outside! Live! Love someone! Hate someone! Punch a fucking nazi!”. Oh yes, Alan Ball, you got us GOOD. “Punch a fucking nazi”… what a poet you are.

Even more galling is Audrey (Hunter)’s storyline: she’s called into the high school — it’s unclear what her profession is — to chair a debate between the students who want to set up a Northern European Heritage Society (ie. straight white pride) and the black/latino/generally woke kids who think that’s #OffensiveAF. Now, it is a pretty stupid/provocative idea for a society, and I’d certainly mock it in real life, but the debate that ensues between the two groups has got to be one of the poorest things ever written/broadcast for American television (following, I might add, a debate about The Scarlet Letter and slut-shaming earlier on that implies Ball has never read that novel or spoken to a teenage girl in his life): within 30 seconds, the white kids concede that their idea is, indeed, offensive, and Holly Hunter goes “yay” and claps her hands. It is horrifying; if liberal Hollywood thinks that’s how political compromise works, they can look forward to 30 more years of President Trumps, Pences and Bannons. Fuck me it’s appalling.

I’m gonna keep watching Here and Now for a few more weeks, if I can bear it. I’m a tiny teeny bit invested in the plots involving Kristen and Ramon/his boyfriend (played by Aldi-brand Jared Leto). Two later episodes will be directed by Lisa Cholodenko, who made the superb miniseries Olive Kitteridge. However, another one will be penned by the screenwriter of Lars and the Real Girl, which feels horribly appropriate for this series.

Eugh, Here and Now.