Just four episodes in, Here And Now has succumbed to a too-familiar pattern: another speech, another family gathering, another vision. “Hide And Seek” stands out only by limiting itself to one formal speech, one assembled audience, one room full of folding chairs, where previous episodes have given speeches to two or three characters, in two or three settings, with a wide array of dull justifications. By comparison, Duc’s brief encouragement before he yields the mic to his client is remarkably restrained.
Few television characters are so compelling that they deserve lengthy monologues in every episode. Even fewer of them lead lives that demand, or even allow opportunities for, off-the-cuff speeches. In political dramas like Scandal or The West Wing, the central characters are world leaders and high-stakes political players, people who will find a ready audience anywhere they choose to speak. Not so, the Boatwright-Bayers. (That sounds like a phrase H. Gregory Boatwright might utter, so A. I am sorry and B. I’m letting it stand.)
Greg, a professor by profession and a windbag by nature, is in his element lecturing, whether to the students saddled with his classes (even there, they rebel, asking, “Aren’t we supposed to be talking about Schopenhauer?”) or to the captive audience at his sixtieth birthday party. Audrey, too, is accustomed to giving speeches, urging the students in her care to listen to each other, summing up school crises to news crews or administrative boards. But on Here And Now, almost every main character eventually wanders to center stage to deliver a statement on how things are. Even without the presence of a room full of folding chairs or a microphone, these people are rattling off speeches, not talking to each other.
Maybe these characters have become so abstracted from each other that all they can do is give speeches. That would fit in with Greg’s remark to Michael that “maybe grand gestures are the best we can offer at the end of a dying civilization.” The closest thing to a one-on-one connection in “Hide And Seek” is Greg spitballing a metaphor about marriage as a rowboat while his TA eggs him on, and that’s just a speech given to an appreciative audience of one. If that is the goal (believe me, I am tired of giving this speech in every week’s review), the writing needs to make the point more clearly, and it needs to give us a reason to care about that distance.
Instead, it gives us more speeches, giving the whole series the feeling of a rambling, unfocussed series of public addresses. And not good ones. The people on Here And Now haven’t thought through the intricacies of their own positions and opinions, but who can fault them? The show’s writers haven’t, either.
The bystander letting Duc know there’s something hanging from his nose as he films a confident speech on “the body-mind connection” is clearly intended to undercut his image of perfect self-command, as is her barb that “it seems like it would be important to you.” Duc’s defensiveness could be a revealing lapse of control, but the anonymous woman veers so quickly into scolding that his reaction isn’t especially revealing. Look, lady, a dangle of snot ruining a take would be important to almost anyone bothering to make a video, and “I’m good” isn’t typically a boast, so take your sententious “pride goeth” prattle and shove it into your locker with your swim cap.
When Kristen asks, “What are you?” after seeing Navid in full makeup, his response is the rare Here And Now speech that feels organic. A genderfluid teen may have been rehearsing and refining this speech, waiting for the right moment to express his full identity to a peer on his own terms, on his own turf. But Kristen barrages him with more questions: “Do your parents know?” “So, are you Arab, or…” “What’s with the hajib [sic]?” Not even his gentle correction—“hijab”—prompts her to realize she’s barging around someone else’s complex identity without knowing anything about it, or them.
The only question that gives him pause is “Are you, like, a real Muslim?” Navid’s openness is a contrast to the cool asperity with which Farid parries the dispensary staffer’s reductive questions about his origin in “If A Deer Shits In The Woods.” But the contrast is presented without comment, without context, without meaning.
In their first sign of friction, Henry spouts off to Ramon about the emptiness of a life lived through technology and the savagery of the wilderness. Andy Bean’s portrayal of Henry has been so engaging, and the affection between him and Ramon is conveyed with such simple earnestness, it’s easy to overlook how insubstantial the character is. He has no known existence outside of Ramon’s orbit; in “Hide And Seek,” he ostentatiously avoids discussing his past, then disappears without explanation. If he hadn’t made such an impression on Ramon’s family, I’d suspect he was a specter, another sign of Ramon’s visions.
The most potentially affecting story in “Hide And Seek” is Hailey’s (Avynn Crowder-Jones) potential heartache if her classmates don’t show up for her birthday. But there’s no substance to the mix-up, to Ashley’s struggle to gather some guests, or to the parents’ brief squabble over it. Instead of an actual problem, it’s a device to get the family out to Forest Park, where Ramon can experience another break in mundane reality.
And there’s that pattern, episode after episode: a few speeches, a dismal sex scene (sometimes augmented by a less dismal sex scene), some bickering, a family gathering, and—ta-da!—a flash of an otherworldly vision. But Ramon’s visions aren’t the sustaining element Here And Now relies upon them to be. The connections are clear: Farid’s childhood scars from Ashura, the wing-shaped flaying on Ramon’s drawn figures, two women decades and continents apart clawing at their own faces as their children watch from a distant of years, the implication of a great universal interconnectedness. But they’re not woven into the characters’ narratives well enough to earn the potent emotional impact such images demand.
“Try to use what’s specific to the medium to get your viewpoint across,” Kristen’s teacher instructs her class, and that’s advice television writers and directors should take, too. This indifferent script is an unwelcome surprise from Mary Oliver, a Six Feet Under staff writer credited with a handful of its most poignant, penetrating episodes, as well as the meditative intimacy of Lars And The Real Girl. In the hands of director Jeremy Podeswa, “Hide And Seek” is as beautiful to look at as the bubbles floating around the family’s frolic in Forest Park, and as insubstantial.
- Readers, we have come to the end of A.V. Club coverage for Here And Now. Thanks for joining me. We’ll always have the slideshows.
- Greg enlisting Michael to read and summarize Duc’s manuscript is a violation of trust so profound, I gasped. No less egregious is Audrey’s backhanded compliment to Ashley, dismissing her daughter’s entrepreneurial career as “so much easier than trying to make the world a better place.”
- “Rewards? For charity? That’s insane, that’s the opposite of charity,” says Audrey, who probably has a closet full of PBS tote bags.
- Least plausible moment in the Here And Now: Ramon, who’s created a game where the only exit is under the bed in his actual apartment, doesn’t look under the bed when Henry vanishes in the middle of the night. Runner-up: Kristen texts the pic of the cock sling to her siblings rather than posting it to four or five different social media sites simultaneously.