There’s no denying that Americans everywhere (and maybe the entire world, who knows) are obsessed with NBC’s hit family drama This Is Us. The sprawling, multigenerational family drama is not new territory in terms of subject matter for a television show, but there’s something about the balance of darkness and lightness, the liberal wokeness woven through the characters and the opportunity to present different kinds of major life obstacles through each character in This Is Us that feels engaging and interesting. Not to mention that the writing on this show is just sentimental and melodramatic enough to make you burst into tears at least once per episode.
So, it’s really no surprise that another network is creating a show in the vein of This Is Us in a bid to grab some of those high ratings. HBO’s new show Here and Now follows the Bayer-Boatwright family, weaving into its plot a lot of en-vogue liberal idealism with various hot topics of the day: systemic racism, white privilege, nativism, mental health, sexuality. And while Here and Now creator Alan Ball (of Six Feet Under and True Blood fame) doesn’t state outright that this show is inspired by This Is Us, the themes and character relationships are so similar that, for me at least, it’s kind of off-putting.
Let’s talk about the kids first. Randall is the only adopted child on This Is Us, allowing his life to be a new lens through which parents Jack and Rebecca and siblings Kevin and Kate must at various times confront different forms of prejudice, white privilege, issues of class and feelings of exclusion or lack of love from one parent.
Here and Now flips the script a little when it comes to the adult children. Rather than having one adopted child be the character through which the show deals with various societal issues, there are three adopted children and one biological child who are all so vastly different that the opportunity to shoehorn in a ton of hot-button issues is kind of mind-boggling.
There’s Ashley, the adopted daughter from Liberia who works as a fashion designer and works through an unhappy marriage. In the trailer, we see her deal with her seemingly ideal home life, where she has continued in the liberated mold of her parents by marrying a white guy. There’s also Duc, one of two sons, who was adopted from Vietnam and who now works as a New Age healer of sorts. Then there’s Ramon, the other son, who was adopted from Colombia and who appears to have to the most compelling storyline. Ramon begins to have strange visions filled with mystical imagery, and the number “11:11” appears everywhere. And then there’s Kristen, the lone biological child, who jokes in the trailer that she’s made her peace with being the boring white chick in the family.
No doubt Here and Now will find a way to pick apart each of these characters to focus on a specific issue currently plaguing our nation. Perhaps, in doing so, it might problematically make scapegoats or figureheads out of the very characters the show is trying to present as part of a seemingly ideal modern American family. For example, it could get very tricky trying to use Ashley, a black woman, as the filter through which Here and Now discusses systemic racism or gun control or even police brutality — all things hinted at by the show’s trailer. I remain cautiously optimistic that the show won’t drop the ball when it comes to presenting fully realized characters not defined by their race or racial stereotypes.
And this brings us to the parents. On This Is Us, we get to watch Jack and Rebecca Pearson fall in love, fall out of love and grapple with threats of divorce, alcoholism and death, all while trying to raise three very different children. While they have to bear the slings and arrows of parenthood in different ways, be it Jack trying to help Kate cultivate a positive self-image or Rebecca standing up to her subtly racist mother when it’s clear she treats Randall differently than she treats Kevin or Kate, the Pearson parents don’t always get it right, but they do things with pure hearts and open minds.
Similarly, on Here and Now, Greg (Tim Robbins) and Audrey (Holly Hunter), are presented to us as the ideal liberal white parents. They fall on the younger side of the Baby Boomer generation, and it’s easy to see that their hippie, utopian ideals have completely infiltrated their lives and colored nearly all of their decisions about creating and raising their family. Then again, what would you expect with a philosophy professor for a dad and a holistic conflict resolution specialist for a mom?
Naturally, viewers can expect Here and Now to peel back this façade of wholesome white goodness in the same way that This Is Us exposes the blind spots parents have when confronted with issues related to their children. And of course, Greg and Audrey may have to reckon with the fact that they aren’t perfect parents or that perhaps the answers they used to fix their problems or present a certain image to the world may not have been the right ones in the long run. How else would you have dramatic tension on a drama like this?
All this goes to say that while Here and Now may not be a total rip-off of This Is Us, its striking resemblance to the hit show may entice a few curious viewers to check out the first episodes.