Now & Then Review: A College Graduation, Murder, And A Thrilling Mystery

Posted 2022/05/23 2 0


The crime and thriller movies have nailed down a formula in the past twenty years, especially when it comes to tropes that work for commercial success. Whether it is the final girl, the fact that adults seem virtually useless in any capacity, or a friend group that stumbles upon an accident, these storylines have captivated audiences repeatedly for a while now. It does not matter if there is a time jump in between the moment where tragedy strikes, as seen in shows like Yellowjackets—some things will come back to haunt you no matter what. That is the plot of Apple TV+’s newest television show.

In May 2022, Apple TV+ debuted Now & Then, a dramatic mystery thriller set in Miami. Do not let the setting of the United States set expectations—the majority of the show takes place in a Spanish-speaking community. The show was created by Ramón Campos, Teresa Fernández-Valdés, and Gema R. Neira. These three have previously worked together on the Netflix shows Cable Girls and Jaguar. The show’s cast brings together some of the Spanish-speaking world’s elite actors. Marina de Tavira (Roma), Rosie Perez (Birds of Prey, The Flight Attendant), José María Yazpik, Maribel Verdú, and Manolo Cardona, among many other brilliant actors star in Now & Then.

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A Tragedy on Graduation Night

Now & Then is Apple TV+’s first television series in Spanish, showing the platform’s commitment to making global television. With the success of Apple’s other newest international television show, Pachinko, it seems that the quality has been there with their non-English releases, and the hype behind the shows has vaulted them to mainstream status. Now & Then, too, has the potential to become another hit for the platform, especially as its premise is particularly enticing. It begins with college graduation, the dawn of a new life for a young group of friends ready for their next chapter.

However, tragedy strikes during their celebrations: only five of the six friends will come out of this night alive. Another innocent individual will also end up dead at the hands of this friend group, leading them to scramble away from the scene of the crime and staging it to look like an accident. The show’s timeline then splits, diverging from the moments after the murder in 2000 to twenty years later, in 2020, when the five friends see each other again at their college reunion.

Ridden by the trauma of what has happened, none of them have truly been able to move on from the experience, and, to add more into the mix, two local police officers with personal connections to the case are getting involved with the investigation. But the catalyst to this show’s conflict throws a wrench in this reunion: a mysterious individual is threatening and blackmailing the group by claiming to know that they know what truly happened the night their friend was found facedown in the water.

This is a premise seen before, adding another challenge in distinguishing this plotline from its predecessors. One might even remember the wildly popular movie I Know What You Did Last Summer, as it has a fairly similar story. But there is a reason this concept has been done again and again in both movies and television: if done correctly, it hooks the viewer into its story and characters, dragging them deeper into the complexities behind what may be the quote-on-quote truth. Does Now & Then succeed in that? Yes and no.

While the show could have used the split timeline sparingly, dwelling in past to set the stage for the events occurring in the future, moments from the past help serve as a mirror for the future. Two of the former friends used to date in college, and when they see each other again for the first time in years at the college reunion, they head outside and hook up. In moments like these, it becomes clear how characters are clinging to the past and the good old days before their friend’s untimely demise occurred. They become a little more human then, almost desperately trying to reclaim the past that deep down they know is long gone.

The Intersection Between Past and Present

The split timelines also help establish who these characters will become in the future. Fresh out of college, one would imagine that they have a checklist of what they will do next, almost like a coming-of-age story. This is even shown in the footage that opens up the series: one wants to be the future President of the United States, while another says they are going to help change the world for the better. And some will indeed achieve some notion of their dreams. Marcos, one of their friends, utilizes his family’s connections and wealth to become one of the most successful surgeons in the Miami area. Another friend, Pedro, is now a top candidate for mayor and seems to have found the typical college sweetheart success story.

Others, however, are barely making it in the world and have to work hard just to survive and afford necessities. These class dynamics come into play within the story, as there are drastic differences between the characters. Marcos comes into more scrutiny due to the fact his family is seen as having an excessive amount of wealth, making his presence among the friend group pretty interesting, especially when he comes under scrutiny for his potential role in his friend’s death.

However, one of the main failures of the show is its capacity to create characters that have depth. In eight episodes, there are many characters to flesh out and develop, leading to many of them becoming rather static. It seems impossible to allow each character the opportunity to shine with the limited time the viewer is given with them, as well as the mystery elements and the clock ticking ominously behind everything going on. The result of this makes them fairly unlikable or superficial, denying the viewer an opportunity to connect with them as a person.

The show’s usage of flashbacks and swapping out the older actors for the younger ones at times try to establish a nuanced rhythm between past and present, but it seems like these subtract from its current-day focus. At times, it works to establish certain concepts, as mentioned earlier, but overall, it slows down the pacing. Because we, as viewers, inherently understand that something horrible has happened to this group since that was directly shown, it seems unnecessary to delve deeper into the past via flashbacks instead of using, say, dialogue to convey that information.

An Old Trope, But With Representation

Now & Then does come with its strengths. Its cast, all seasoned actors in Latin American and American entertainment, brings together a collective performance that rises above the script’s weaknesses. Without these actors, the show would not have come together the way it did and felt incomplete. The decision to set it in Miami champions another factor that does not come across as clearly unless one looks for it: visibility.

Miami is a city known for its vibrant diversity and community; more than half of the city’s population is Hispanic. When one thinks of Miami, it often includes the cultural roots of the Cuban, Caribbean, and Latin American immigrants who reside there. Now & Then is deliberately set inside one of these communities and seamlessly shifts from English to Spanish, offering insight to those who comfortably live in bilingual settings.

This becomes increasingly more common in mainstream television and movies, but Now & Then moves agency from English/Anglo-American culture being dominant to broader Hispanic culture. Too often bilingual characters have been used to portray a stereotype, something that distinguished French as being posh or Russian speakers as being villains. Jane the Virgin does a solid job of introducing bilingualism in families, but Now & Then introduces and normalizes an everyday reality for many communities in the United States.

The show has its shortcomings, but its strengths somewhat help balance the weaker moments. It fails to distinguish itself story-wise from the other shows and movies that have come out of the genre, but if one is looking for a television show in the same vein, it is fairly solid. It pays homage to its predecessors properly but may not enchant newer viewers into loving the show and its genre. Now & Then’s charm lies in the fact that it puts itself outside of Hollywood’s grip on this kind of story, giving it room to breathe and give new life to a concept done what seems to be a thousand times before.

Now & Then is available to stream exclusively on Apple TV+. It consists of eight episodes that will be released weekly until the finale on June 24.


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