The issue with Now & Then isn’t that its characters are uninteresting, or that the story seems very familiar – though at times, both are true. The issue is that for as much as the show centers Latine characters (if not always Latine actors), there’s very little to distinguish the characters from each other, or from the stereotypes we’ve seen again and again.
Now & Then starts from an interesting, if a little overdone premise, as it follows on a group of characters in two separate timelines. We see their younger selves, and the mistakes they make, and then follow their adult selves as they’re forced to confront consequences, in their case, coming a little later than expected. Not exactly groundbreaking, and considering how telegraphed some of the twists are, it’s likely the show isn’t trying to hook you with the premise or the plot.
Instead, it relies on the characters, and the performances, to somewhat mixed results. Because even if sometimes you find yourself rooting for Pedro, Ana, Marcos, Sofia, and Daniela, the truth is that you never quite feel like you know them. Whatever feelings you might have for them are dictated by the plot, not by a particular character moment or a sense that these people are particularly relatable in any personal sense.
This isn’t on the acting, which is about as good as it can be considering there isn’t any depth to the characters or there isn’t a lot of depth to them when you compare them to just about anything else. Yes, everything sort of works if you’re looking at Now & Then in a vacuum. It’s just none of us watch TV that way.
Even the incomparable Rosie Perez (Flora), one of the few actors present in both storylines, cannot make the investigation she’s leading more interesting, much less make you feel like there’s any real suspense to where this story is going. As close as Flora and Sullivan, her partner, got in the past, you already know they’re not going to solve the case – you’ve seen them in the future. You also, very distinctly, don’t care if they do, in either timeline.
Presumably, the reason for the flashbacks, for the constant updates on an investigation that we already know is getting nowhere, is to make us care about Flora and Sullivan, or to give us hints to what the real story is, so we can figure it out long before the cops ever do. But the mystery isn’t that mysterious, and the glimpses at Flora and Sullivan just not cracking it end up just being frustrating instead of interesting.
If the show had any chance of telling a truly compelling story, it was in the differentiation between the characters that make up the main group of friends, and the ways economic success affects not just the way they face (or don’t face) consequences, but also the ways they relate to each other. Unfortunately, this story remains mainly in the background, even as the show attempts – and mostly fails – to create compelling characters that relate to each other in ways that don’t feel overdone.
That ends up being the biggest failure of a show that does a lot right, but nothing spectacularly. In a landscape so saturated with quality entertainment, Now & Then had to tell either a truly compelling story or present differentiated, captivating characters fans couldn’t help but root for. They manage neither and that, sadly, makes the show just another easily forgotten footnote.
The first three episodes of Now & Then are available to stream now on Apple TV+, with new episodes available every Friday.