How HBO's 'Here and Now' Reflects Multicultural America

Alan Ball's new drama, bowing Sunday, follows a family of children adopted from three different countries who were raised by white parents in Portland, along with a Muslim family from the same city.
Courtesy of HBO

In the second episode of Alan Ball's latest HBO drama, Here and Now, Jerrika Hinton's Ashley and her younger sister, Kristen (Sosie Bacon), are arrested. While the white, 17-year-old Kristen laughs her way through her experience, joking with the female police officer in charge of her booking, Ashley, who is black, has a very different experience. She is stoic and quiet as the not-as-friendly cop puts her through several indignities, implying she stole her expensive leather purse, ruining her wig and performing an extra-thorough cavity search.

"[Here and Now is] allowing these characters to live in our real world," Grey's Anatomy alum Hinton tells The Hollywood Reporter. "What it's saying is just that this is the world. And that scene, in particular, that is reality and one of the things I really love about how that plays out is that they're not amping up any melodrama. It toes a very delicate line that situations like that toe."

Kristen is the biological daughter of Tim Robbins' philosophy professor Greg and Holly Hunter's ex-therapist Audrey. Ashley was adopted from Liberia, and their brothers were adopted from Vietnam (Raymond Lee's Duc) and Colombia (Daniel Zovatto's Ramon). While they were all raised by the same well-to-do parents, the siblings experience the world in very different ways — as exemplified by the sisters' experience in jail. That multiculturalism was ingrained in the series from the very beginning, creator Ball tells THR

"I just didn't want to write a show about another white family having white problems because there have been a million of those shows. I just don't think I would do that show very well because I'm not that interested," says Ball, who also created HBO's Six Feet Under and genre effort True Blood. "That doesn't mean I haven't watched those shows and loved them in my life, but in terms of knowing how much work it takes to do a television show, I wanted to do something that was more open."

Instead, Ball said, he hoped that the varied backgrounds of each character would more accurately reflect the experiences of a wider variety of people.

"The idea of having these kids of these different backgrounds felt like it just opened the door to more complicated, more interesting stories," he added. "Also, a lot of the problems we're facing stem from the changing demographics in America and how a lot of people are very uncomfortable with that. There are a lot of forces that want to pit us against each other."

Zovatto — who plays youngest son Ramon, a gay video game designer and college student — said that he welcomes conversations like the discussion of Ashley's and Kristen's very different experiences with police that the series can spark.

"It brings a lot of things to the table that I think people don't want to talk about, or are uncomfortable talking about. I grew up in an international school, so for me, I understand this world, and I understand that color doesn't define you. But I feel like a lot of people don't, and it necessarily doesn't mean that they're less smart, or that they don't know what they're talking about, it's [that] they're not informed," he told THR. "And I feel like this is a good show for that, to inform people. To let them know that if you're a white male that you can identify with Jerrika's character. Or that if you're a straight man, you can identify with my character."

Those conversations also include discussions about mistakes that the family made (and might still be making) while raising their children.

"Greg mentions it at some point in the pilot. He calls [the blended family] an experiment, and I think that's fair. It's a harsh word to call your family an experiment, but I think in a lot of ways, what we're trying out now is a little bit of an experiment in understanding culture and race in America, too. So, there's definitely going to be some missteps," said Lee, who plays eldest son Duc. "I think our parents raised us with the ideals of trying to understand culture through us, and trying to impose their idea of culture onto us. For instance, sending us to picture day in elementary school dressed in our cultural garb when we don't even want that is outlandish."

That's all part of the goal of the series, he said. "I think it adds a lot of color — literally. I think it adds perspective, and I think it's trying to help you understand the idea that all these cultures can coexist."

The series also focuses on the family of Ramon's Muslim therapist and all the worries that come with being a Muslim person living in America today: that his son could be bullied for being not only gender fluid, but also Muslim, and that his wife could be endangered by wearing a hijab.

"We live in this world that's very multicultural and multi-gendered and multifaceted in lots of ways," said Necar Zadegan, who plays Dr. Shokrani's wife, Layla. "I believe in globalism and I live in globalism. I see everybody I know, all these different faces. We live that way already, so for it to be shown and reflected in television is only right. It's about time that the producers caught up to what we are already doing. It's not weird to me to see it because I see it all the time, so to see it on television makes sense."

Here and Now premieres Sunday, Feb. 11, at 9 p.m. on HBO.