Editor's note: The below review contains mild spoilers.
This week, HBO is debuting its latest teen drama, helmed by Call Me By Your Name director Luca Guadagnino. On the heels of Euphoria’s successful bow last year, We Are Who We Are shares similarities with the trippy Zendaya-led drama at the surface, but it is clear that the former is much different once the show settles into its own groove. The show initially seems to also overlap with Guadagnino’s Call Me By Your Name, and though it shares some general similarities, it is also vastly different for the most part.
Set in 2016, the series revolves around a group of American teens who live on a military base in Italy. The central relationship at the focus of it all is between the two lead characters, Frazier (Jack Dylan Grazer) and Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón). Frazier just moved in from New York City with his mothers Sarah (Chloë Sevigny) and Maggie (Alice Braga) as Sarah is now set as the new commander of the base. Frazier, awkward and introverted, takes an interest in Caitlin, who lives close by. She lives with her conservative family: mother, Jenny (Faith Alabi), her anger-prone older brother, Danny (Spence Moore II), and their military father, Richard (Kid Cudi), who isn’t too pleased that Sarah is the new commander.
From the onset, it’s clear that Frazier is different from everyone else. When they arrive, he makes his way around the base, going in and out of classrooms. We don’t understand too much about Frazier’s sexuality from the beginning, but the show hints at it when he stumbles into a locker room, finding himself in an interesting predicament. Frazier doesn’t seem too keen on conforming to society’s standards, something that he may also sense about Caitlin, the only person he’s interested in connecting with. She’s not reciprocal at first, until Frazier catches her in a moment where she seems to be exploring her gender expression. This develops into a seemingly platonic relationship that neither one of them can define, but everyone else is obsessed with defining. At the end of the day, they just “get” each other.
The show generally moves at its own pace, wading through periods of time over the course of this summer. The first two episodes are two sides of the same narrative, one told through the eyes of Frazier and the other told through the eyes of Caitlin. A bevy of other characters are intertwined, such as Caitlin’s best friend, Britney (Francesca Scorsese), Caitlin’s on-and-off boyfriend, Sam (Ben Taylor) and Craig (Corey Knight), a young soldier and Sam’s older brother By the third episode, Caitlin and Frazier’s stories become more immersed in one another, and room is made for fleshing out the interpersonal relationships within the disparate, but tight-knit group. When all the boundaries are pretty much set by episode four, the show dips further into teens gone wild territory with what’s more or less an orgy of sorts that takes place after an unplanned, pre-deployment wedding.
Not only the teens coming-of-age, their parents also seem to go through similar identity-related issues as well. There is more than meets the eye in Sarah and Maggie’s relationship, and definitely more to Sarah’s relationship with Frazier, one that is equally nurturing and bizarrely violent. The storylines don’t get too political in the first four episodes that were screened for critics, but undertones of 2016 are imprinted all over the series, including Kid Cudi’s Richard being a Trump supporter who orders a MAGA hat which he has to hide. But the way the show understands sexuality and gender seems more like 2020 as opposed to 2016.
Jordan Kristine Seamón and Kid Cudi in 'We Are Who We Are' | Photo: HBO
Just like Zendaya in Euphoria, Grazer has a comparable leading turn, excellently displaying all of Frazier’s complicated facets.S eamón is an excellent find, as her on-screen brother. Moore, who recurs on two broadcast network shows right now and was criminally underrated in Kerry Washington's Five Points, delivers some of the best performances from the young actors, along with Grazer and Seamón. Though they don’t have much to work with in the front half of the season, Sevigny, Cudi, Braga and Alabi all perform as if their stories are at the forefront.
Spence Moore II in 'We Are Who We Are' | Photo: HBO
There’s a certain push-and-pull between the sense of freedom that the teens have and the overall limitations that are placed on them by their parents, by the base and by larger society as a whole. The camera breezily moves in sync with the story in true Guadagnino fashion, sometimes focusing in on its details a bit too much. It’s a blessing at some points and a curse at others. Still, it’s refreshing to be there in these moments. The show works best when following the spontaneous actions of its subjects, especially in the moments when they quite literally have nothing else to do. It’s reflective of the series as a whole -- a continuously fleeting desire to figure out a sense of community when everything else is foreign, both literally and figuratively.
We Are Who We Are debuts Sept. 13 on HBO.