Apple TV+’s Now & Then opens on a night to be remembered, though not for happy reasons. On an evening shortly after college graduation, six friends head to the beach for beers and a bonfire. After a severe accident, only five return. The incident weighs on the survivors for years after, derailing their lives and lingering in their nightmares — which is perhaps why they don’t seem entirely shocked when, on the eve of their 20-year class reunion, they receive blackmail threats from someone claiming to know what really went down that night.
It’s an inherently juicy series for a premise, even if not a wildly original one. And for a spell, sheer curiosity feels like enough to keep Now & Then afloat, especially once the show tosses in a pair of cops, Flora (Rosie Perez) and Sullivan (Željko Ivanek), who’ve been haunted by the case for personal reasons of their own. But over eight hourlong episodes, thinly drawn characters and sleepy pacing hold the series back from reaching its full potential — and unlike the awful night in question, Now & Then proves all too easy to forget.
Now & Then
The Bottom Line
Easy to consume, easy to forget.
Both the series and its characters start out with a solid sense of promise. The first episode, directed by Gideon Raff, establishes in broad, efficient strokes the bittersweet contrast between the destinies its characters once dreamed of in their 20s — declared in giddy screams at the beach, to a camcorder being held by one of their own — and the ones they actually find themselves living in their 40s.
Some have found more success than others: Although Sofía (Maribel Verdú) and Dani (Soledad Villamil) are barely scraping by financially, Marcos (Manolo Cardona) — already the scion of an extremely wealthy family — has become one of Miami’s most sought-after plastic surgeons, and Pedro (José María Yazpik) is running for mayor with college-pal-turned-wife Ana (Marina de Tavira) by his side.
None have the lives they actually wanted, however, and the death of Alejandro (Jorge López) hangs over all their thwarted hopes as the ultimate what-if. If only Alejandro had survived, who knows what could have been different?
Now & Then‘s choice to cut between two entirely different sets of actors in the past and present emphasizes the painful distance between who they were in 2000 and who they’ve become in 2020. In a poignant artistic touch, the series occasionally swaps in younger actors for some of the dreamier scenes set in the present. When exes Marcos and Sofía hook up in his car after the reunion, for example, the fleeting presences of their younger counterparts, played by Jack Duarte and Alicia Sanz, make clear that they’re making love not just to each other but to their memories of the people they used to be, half a lifetime ago.
But the emotional gravity of the premise is somewhat undermined by the series’ lack of personality. Though it’s primarily set among well-to-do Spanish-speaking immigrants in Miami (and though the series itself is presented mainly in Spanish), the show captures nothing especially distinctive about the community. The characters, too, seem constructed as generic types, even if a few of the performances, including de Tavira’s icy turn and Perez’s rock-solid one, manage to rise above the writing. In the absence of specificity, Now & Then can feel too much like a grab bag of established tropes — many seen over just the last year in shows like Yellowjackets, I Know What You Did Last Summer, One of Us Is Lying and The Afterparty.
To the extent that the series does have something to say, its mind is on class divisions. Now & Then makes a point of splitting its cast between haves and have-nots, and showing us how money shapes the dynamics between them. We can see that Marcos is as simultaneously insulated and imprisoned by his father’s money as a child of Logan Roy’s, and yet from Flora’s perspective he’s just another privileged brat getting away with possibly literal murder. But such ideas fall short when the series seems only so interested in unpacking, say, the inequality inherent in the friendship between a young Alejandro and a young Pedro (Dario Yazbek Bernal), who first met when Pedro’s mom started working as a housekeeper for Alejandro’s family.
For that matter, Now & Then doesn’t really seem to have stopped to consider who any of these people might be beyond the archetypes they represent or the biographical details relevant to the central storyline. The lack of shading results in characters who feel oddly static, despite the dramatic transformations they’ve undergone in the past 20 years and despite the steady trickle of plot twists and backstory reveals — some exciting, some low-key heartbreaking, some simply confusing.
In the final hour of the season, one of the characters muses in voiceover that the idea that a person’s destiny can be shaped by one bad moment is a lie. “The truth is that every little step you take, every path you choose, every word, every person you meet, even if it’s just for a second, changes everything,” she says. It’s a sage bit of advice, and one that Now & Then, with its emphasis on deadly surprises over depth of character or richness of detail, would have done well to heed.