"Here and Now" somehow manages to take what looks like the log line for a bad network soap and, under the guidance of Alan Ball, turn it into something strange and intriguing -- an unexpected offspring of the producer's two previous HBO series, "Six Feet Under" and "True Blood."
That's because this family drama, about a couple with three adopted children of different ethnic backgrounds, as well as a younger daughter of their own, mixes the trappings of a traditional soap with a vaguely supernatural component -- a small wrinkle that nevertheless plants a hook within the concept, while counting on the characters to reel in the audience.
The point of entry is the 60th birthday of Greg (Tim Robbins), an academic and self-enlightenment guru who authored the book "A Layperson's Guide to the Here and Now." Greg, however, is clearly miserable, despite -- and partly because of -- the best efforts of his wife Audrey (Holly Hunter) to throw him a grand celebration.
Building up to the party, meanwhile, includes introducing the couple's kids: Ashley (Jerrika Hinton), who works in fashion and has begun flirting with a male model, even though she has a seemingly idyllic life with her doting husband; Ramon (Daniel Zovatto), who has come out to his parents, but still isn't keen on exposing them to guys he's seeing; and Duc (Raymond Lee), a therapist with an unorthodox attitude about relationships, owing in part to his upbringing in Vietnam. Finally, there's 17-year-old Kristen (Sosie Bacon), who the couple had after adopting the other three.
The children harbor various resentments, not the least being a perception that their folks -- who met at Berkeley -- adopted them, as one puts it, to use as "advertisements for how progressive and evolved our parents were."
Frankly, the Robbins-Hunter combination would already put "Here and Now" more than halfway to being worth watching. But Ball endeavors to up the ante, as Ramon begins experiencing eerie visions that he can't explain, while Greg's oppressive sense of melancholy -- the midlife crisis in "American Beauty" comes to mind -- adds a layer of tension that hovers over the whole show.
"Here and Now" builds upon those core elements as the episodes progress, including Ramon's visits to a therapist (Peter Macdissi, who starred in Ball's feature "Towelhead"), whose personal history also gets drawn into the show's peculiar mystery.
Admittedly, praise for "Here and Now" comes with a significant disclaimer, since the 10-episode show faces a delicate balancing act. There's a lot going on here -- perhaps too much -- and the threat that the cryptic clues and surreal flashes will grow tedious, or the payoff -- whenever it arrives -- will prove disappointing.
While Ball could easily wind up dropping the ball, but through four episodes, "Here and Now" has enough to recommend it to spur curiosity about where it goes from here, and what might come tomorrow.
"Here and Now" premieres Feb. 11 at 9 p.m. on HBO.
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