Quote of the week: “Thin slices!”
Episode MVP: Sarah Wilson
“We Are Who We Are,” HBO’s latest coming-of-age drama series directed and co-created by Luca Guadagnino (“Call Me By Your Name,” “Suspiria”), premiered Monday night. “Right here, right now #1” is a slow burn of an episode with few plot advancements, but it provides some subtle insights into the characters and relationships we’ll be following for the rest of the season.
“We Are Who We Are” is Guadagnino’s first venture into television, but the similarities between this series and his previous work in film are immediately apparent. The episode begins with an orchestral piece by John Adams, the same composer whose “Hallelujah Junction” underscored the opening credits of “Call Me By Your Name.” The series’ protagonist, 14-year-old Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer), is essentially a 21st century copy of Elio Perlman but with an even worse attitude and a fashion sense modeled after Pete Davidson.
The episode follows Fraser’s struggle to cope with the fact that his life has seemingly ended. Or, to put it less dramatically, that he has to move from New York to a U.S. military base in Italy, where one of his moms, Sarah Wilson (Chloë Sevigny), has been assigned to serve as the commander.
In one scene, Fraser is standing in an airport, looking up at a sign that says “Lost and found,” wondering how his luck could be so bad that his luggage got lost en route to a place he already hates. He makes his displeasure known by swearing at his parents and demanding they give him alcohol. Curiously, the parents say nothing about his behavior, and their silence carries over into the ride home from the airport, where Fraser tells their new neighbor that her kids are “uncommitted” and “inconclusive” based on their zodiac signs.
Held aloft by his unshakable swagger, Fraser begins to explore the military base and finds himself face to face with the high school he’ll soon attend. He sneaks past the front office and saunters down the hall, kicking doors and lockers like he owns the place, but then the bell rings, and the hall floods with students. It’s the first time we’re seeing Fraser in proximity to people his own age, and he’s overwhelmed. Suddenly, the kid who thought he was cooler than everyone else on the base becomes the weirdo with the stupid outfit.
The most striking scene in the episode plays out when Sarah finds Fraser pulling roast beef out of the fridge for a late-night sandwich. They start to bicker about the optimal thickness for a slice of roast beef, and the tension mounts until, out of nowhere, Fraser slaps her across the face. What’s even more surprising than the slap is Sarah’s reaction: She’s not angry or scared, but dejected. It’s not the response you’d expect from a colonel, but it speaks to the nature of their relationship. His moms act more like siblings than parents, and without any fear of discipline, it’s easier to communicate his anger with a slap than a reasoned plea.
At the end of the episode, Fraser notices his neighbor, Caitlin Poythress (Jordan Kristine Seamón), running out of the house dressed in men’s clothes. He follows her to a bar, where he eavesdrops on her flirting with an Italian girl who thinks Caitlin is a boy named Harper. Upon noticing Fraser, Caitlin dashes out the door. Fraser, finally interested in someone he’s met on the base, finds and befriends her at the beach.
For the most part, Grazer’s portrayal of Fraser is appropriately annoying. The actor is skilled at communicating Fraser’s less-than-endearing characteristics, such as his immaturity and impatience. But as the show’s thematic material deepens in the coming months, Grazer will have to bring more complexity to his performance if he wants to keep up. His somewhat one-dimensional take on the character doesn’t yet inspire much confidence, but here’s hoping for a surprise.
It’s too early to tell exactly what the show is trying to say about family and identity, but if this debut is any indication, it’ll be worth sticking around to see.
“We Are Who We Are” is streaming on HBO Max.
Matthew DuMont covers television. Contact him at [email protected].