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Review: In ‘Here and Now,’ Alan Ball Makes America Grim Again

Review: In ‘Here and Now,’ Alan Ball Makes America Grim Again


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Tim Robbins and Holly Hunter are the parents of a blended family in “Here and Now.”

Credit
Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

After his hit series “Six Feet Under” ended in 2005, Alan Ball indulged his inner fanboy, creating the vampire melodrama “True Blood” and working on the gothic small-town-crime story “Banshee.” The move suited him — his aptitudes for dark comedy and unsettling atmosphere were a natural fit for genre entertainment.

But with “Here and Now,” his new family drama for HBO (beginning Sunday), he’s back to making Big Statements, his mode in his Oscar-winning screenplay for “American Beauty” in 1999. “We’re living in a new reality” is the tagline on the show’s billboards, and Mr. Ball wants to say something definitive about it.

Unfortunately — and this was also true of “American Beauty,” despite its multiple Academy Awards — he doesn’t have anything new or particularly interesting to say. Straight white people are self-loathing and lame. Dads are depressed but redeemable, moms are pretty much a lost cause. We’d all be better off if we put away our cellphones and got outside.

Through four episodes of its 10-episode season, “Here and Now” works the well-plowed soil of middle-age suburban malaise, the ground of Updike, Cheever and their many imitators. The suburbs have been replaced by Portland, Ore., and the ennui-ridden father, Greg Boatwright (Tim Robbins), is 60, the new middle age. (Kevin Spacey’s Lester Burnham in “American Beauty” was 42.)

The biggest update is that Greg and his wife, Audrey Bayer (Holly Hunter), have raised the kind of blended family that exists primarily as a screenwriter’s conceit: Ramon, from Colombia (Daniel Zovatto); Ashley, from Liberia (Jerrika Hinton); and Duc, from Vietnam (Raymond Lee); all adopted and all now adults. The brood is completed by the teenage Kristen (Sosie Bacon, the daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick), Audrey and Greg’s biological child, who calls herself “the boring white chick in the family.”

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Mr. Robbins and Raymond Lee play father and son.

Credit
Ali Paige Goldstein/HBO

The children constitute a rainbow chorus calling out the pretensions and blind spots of their parents, a philosophy professor (Greg) and professional conflict resolver (Audrey) whose smug ’60s liberalism is indicated by the scent of patchouli and the sound of Joni Mitchell. Mr. Ball is particularly hard on Audrey, missing no chance to paint her as controlling and narcissistic.



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