Another Dysfunctional, Metaphysical (?) HBO-Alan Ball Family

Here and Now: Does It Work

Six Feet Under, despite being a vital part of the revolution that help lead television and HBO in particular into the current Golden Age, has never held up as well as the other great troika of series or the three David’s that ended up being considered icon of the television broadcast. There’s a good reason for that: Despite being extraordinarily well acted and often very well written, Six Feet Under was by far the most erratic production of the HBO series to come up in the 21st century. It could never really make up its mind as to how metaphysical it was supposed to be, or how grounded. And despite having one of the greatest final episodes in the history of the medium, it never defined itself as well as The Wire or The Sopranos did as to what, exactly, it was all about.

Paradoxically, Allan Ball, the creative force behind Six Feet Under has been far more successful in his follow-up projects than either Milch or Simon has been. True Blood was one of HBO’s greatest hits, even though it was barely a step above pornography. And because it was mainly an adaptation of a series of novels, one could hardly say that there was very much that Ball added. So, in a sense, Ball’s most recent collaboration with HBO, is a return to basics. Sort of.

Here and Now deals with the story of Audrey Bayer and Greg Boatright, a couple who have been together for nearly forty years, and have raised a very multi-cultural family. Audrey (Holly Hunter) is a therapist who specializes in dealing with the raising of empathy and a new form of psychiatry which she mainly practices among teenagers. Greg (Tim Robbins, doing some of his best work in a decade) is a philosophy professor teaching at a university in Portland. Both are extremely troubled. Audrey is overbearing and incredibly politically active, but has no patience for her own family. Greg has been having a relationship with an escort for nearly a decade, and is on the verge of an emotional breakdown, which comes at his sixtieth birthday and seems to be accelerating.

Their children, three adopted from various troubled countries, and one biologically born teenager are all equally troubled. Duc (Raymond Lee) is a life-coach and psychiatrist on the verge of a major publication, but because of the trauma of growing up in a Cambodian whorehouse, has decided to remain celibate. Ashley, from an African country (Jerrika Hinton) is married with a child, but is so bored with her life, she decides to flirt with people she shouldn’t. Kirsten (Sosie Bacon) is the natural-born and most troubled. She is constantly at war with her mother, is troubled using drug, and decides to have her first sexual experience with a stranger, in which she contract an STD.

All of this would be enough material for a good series. Where the show seems to be putting everything in is its focus on the eldest son, Ramon (Daniel Zovatto) is from Colombia, a video game designer and gay. But the focus of the series seems to be on his seeing visions, mainly those where the numbers ‘11/11’ keep coming up. When he sees them in fire at Greg’s sixtieth birthday, Audrey immediately thinks he’s having a schizophrenic break, and wants him to be medicated. When she takes him to a psychiatrist, who doesn’t do what she wants, Ramon sees a photo of the man’s mother and him — and it’s the same vision he had in a dream in the opening episode.

Here & Now has a lot of intriguing ideas in it, and you really wish that Alan Ball would be more inclined to follow the real ones over the spiritual, because they’re the ones that resonate the best. There was a brilliant sequence in last night’s episode where Ashley took Kirsten to Planned Parenthood to get diagnosed for her STD. After dealing with it, they engaged a particularly unpleasant protestor (Ashley kneed him in the balls), they went to a police station, and there was a brilliant three minute sequence, which by showing how these sister were each treated by their booking officer eloquently demonstrated the way African American’s and white people are treating by law enforcement. And like Six Feet Under, its incredibly well acted, particularly by Robbins, whose emotional breakdown is far better to watch than the paranormal influences. What I am afraid of — and what I am pretty sure that Ball will do — is that he will try to emphasize the more unexplainable aspects of his story than the more grounded elements of his characters. The Fisher family had so many facets, the fact that they kept seeing ghosts eventually became distracting, and ultimately did more to damage the coherence of the series.

Despite all this, maybe even because of it, I’m going to give Here and Now a chance. Because there are good ideas here, and there are characters that are more well drawn than what you see on so many TV shows these days. (I haven’t even gotten to Ramon’s doctor, who has a child who seems to be gender-fluid and has anglicized his name to try and withdraw himself from his Muslim faith). I’ll probably end up regretting it, but I’m willing to go down the path. Maybe this will help solidify Ball’s reputation more than a faerie-telepath waitress.

\My score: 3.5 stars.

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After years of laboring for love in my blog on TV, I have decided to expand my horizons by blogging about my great love to a new and hopefully wider field.

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