If you feel like an uninvited guest at a party while watching the first episodes of “Here and Now,” don’t worry.
The storylines – and connections – come into focus as you dig deeper into the very diverse Bayer-Boatwright family.
On the surface, the parents are practically made for a progressive television commercial. He’s a philosophy professor and author; she’s a therapist who deals with conflict resolution in middle and high schools.
Their children represent a melting pot of adoptions. But, at Greg’s 60th birthday party, plenty of angst comes bubbling to the surface.
Tim Robbins plays the dad with the life-altering birthday; Holly Hunter is his controlling wife. The kids aren’t snowed by the fronts they present but they have no idea how deep these dysfunctions go.
The youngest son, Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), has an outburst that could crack everything open. Created by Alan Ball, the man behind “Six Feet Under” and “True Blood,” the new HBO series doesn’t skimp on nudity or frank discussions. Mom, in fact, isn’t as proper as you might think; dad has a separate agenda that could topple everything he has built.
While “Here and Now” isn’t as engaging as “Six Feet Under,” it has an intriguing quality that invites you to snoop around. Ramon, for example, has so many aspects to his young life, it’s hard to figure which element is going to be the guiding one – his sexuality? His hallucinations? His career? His sense of style?
Then, too, there’s sister Ashley (Jerrika Hinton) who’s married but shows an interest in the models she hires for fashion shoots. She has a seemingly nice husband and a sister, Kristen (Sosie Bacon), who’s even kinkier than she.
Toss in brother Duc (Raymond Lee) and his career as a “motivational architect” and you’ll realize this isn’t business as usual.
Set in Portland (where, apparently, these kinds of issues thrive), “Here and Now” has echoes of Ball’s Oscar winner “American Beauty.” Both are about men in crisis and the people who love them.
Robbins isn’t quite as polished as you’d like – this is a role Tom Hanks might have slayed – and Hunter tries too hard to press a non-Southern accent. Are they supposed to be obnoxious liberals? Or is that just a byproduct of the world they’ve created?
Zovatto comes off best (the younger daughter is just plain weird) but that’s because he’s the most sympathetic and, likely, the one who doesn’t belong in this screwed-up family.
Where Ball intends to take this is anyone’s guess. There’s a “Stranger Things” thread slipping in here and there but it’s never clear (at least not from the first couple episodes) where that will ultimately lie. Although it’s nice that marquee creators like Ball get these opportunities it’d be nice if they were a bit more transparent.
We’ll hang with the Bayer-Boatwrights because we know their creator hasn’t steered us wrong. But with each passing slight, it’ll become difficult to understand why it is they do what they do.
“Here and Now” airs at 8 p.m. Sundays on HBO.