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Here and Now Is a Whole New Alan Ball Game

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The creator of True Blood and Six Feet Under brings an ultra-modern family with some superb stars and some supernatural issues with Here and Now...

Take a successful or hot idea that resonates with viewers, twist it into another format, and hope that it sticks to the wall.

In this second-wave Golden Age of Television, with more than 400 shows on the air and seemingly infinite media for viewers to choose from, series premises eventually become cyclical and derivative. That has, after all, been Hollywood’s way for years: Take a successful or hot idea that resonates with viewers, twist it into another format, and hope that it sticks to the wall.

So it’s no surprise that given the success of family-based comedies such as the runaway, tear-jerking smash series This Is Us, shows revolving around families are in hot demand these days.

It’s no wonder HBO is in the Alan Ball business, especially when his latest project aligns with what viewers are demanding.

Yet when it comes to Alan Ball’s new clan-based show for HBO, Here and Now, it’s safe to say the surprises are only just beginning. After all, what else would we expect from the man who brought magical realism to life in a family-run funeral home for five seasons on Six Feet Under, helped paved the way for shows like Game of Thrones by proving viewers were hungry for fantasy fare through his translation to the screen of Charlaine Harris’ True Blood series, and won an Oscar for penning the script on the artfully dysfunctional suburban family in American Beauty?

It’s no wonder HBO is in the Alan Ball business, especially when his latest project aligns with what viewers are demanding.

To backtrack, the critically acclaimed and award-winning Six Feet Under not only put names like Peter Krause, Rachel Griffiths, and Michael C. Hall on the map, but also marked the start of Ball’s long-running relationship with HBO and ongoing development deals. Although the show is often lost in the shadow of other transformative cable series like The Sopranos and The Wire, its high-concept premise and intense storylines proved that Ball understands gripping, family-based drama like no one else. That experience alone means that Here and Now is poised to cut through the white noise and present an entirely new take on the genre.

The series stars heavy hitters Holly Hunter and Tim Robbins (recently of HBO’s dark political comedy The Brink) as a socially aware couple who long ago consciously built a racially inclusive family by adopting kids from Vietnam, Somalia, and Colombia before going on to have their own daughter when they were in their forties. But while life seems idyllic for this clan at the outset, deeper issues of identity and self-awareness start surfacing. Then one of the children begins seeing things others cannot, lending supernatural undertones to the show and incorporating Ball’s showmanship from his True Blood era.

“What I really wanted was a family show, and when I heard Alan had a family show, we jumped at the chance to do it,” HBO’s president of programming, Casey Bloys, explained last summer at the 2017 Television Critics Association summer press tour. “It’s interesting because in the way that Alan is, it is a family show with some supernatural elements. So it’s a nice mix for Alan of True Blood and Six Feet Under — I don’t know if he’s going to be mad at me for describing it that way; but at its core it is a family show.”

“Family is this great experiment,” Robbins’ character promises in the early preview of the series, a top-secret offering revealing little information, in typical Ball fashion.

When viewers first meet the kids — including biological daughter Kristen (Sosie Bacon, daughter of Kevin Bacon and Kyra Sedgwick in her first full-time role), they’re all grown up. There’s Duc (Raymond Lee), who was adopted from Vietnam when he was five and today has aspirations of following in his adoptive father’s footsteps and becoming a successful motivational speaker. Unfortunately, in order for him to move forward in his career, he must face his past and several ghosts from that era.

Also unsure of her past and what community she fits into is Ashley (Jerrika Hinton), the creator and owner of an online fashion retailer. She follows in her parents’ footsteps in terms of adopting her own four-year-old daughter, a Somali refugee whose mother died and whose father was deported, but faces a tough road when it comes to navigating her own culture. Then there’s Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), a video game major in college who has been with his adoptive parents since he was 18 months old. One begins having unexplained visions, serving as the launch pad of the series.

“Family is this great experiment,” Robbins’ character promises in the early preview of the series, a top-secret offering revealing little information, in typical Ball fashion.

Still, viewers should have nothing but confidence in the man who cut his teeth on such female-driven family sitcoms as Cybill and Grace Under Fire. With such an array of projects on his resumé (including producing the grisly Cinemax offering Banshee and the Oprah Winfrey-approved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks), darkly imagined family drama is this writer’s forte.

Let’s just line up the accolades now, shall we?

Amber Dowling is a Toronto-based writer and the founder of TheTVJunkies.com.