Apple TV+’s Bilingual Now & Then Offers a New Spin on a Familiar Murder Mystery Formula

TV Reviews now and then
Apple TV+’s Bilingual Now & Then Offers a New Spin on a Familiar Murder Mystery Formula

Let me ask you a question: when you were in high school or college, did you and a group of your closest friends commit murder and then cover it up?

I didn’t think so. In real life, I have to assume (I hope!) that this is a fairly rare occurrence. But on TV, it happens. A lot. By my rough calculation, fifty percent of the teens on television are killers. Peacock’s One of Us is Lying. Showtime’s Yellowjackets. Freeform’s Pretty Little Liars. Maybe I Know What You Did Last Summer is to blame for kicking off this trend. Last year, Prime Video even had a TV series based on the 1997 movie.

So the premise of Now & Then isn’t new. Twenty years ago, as they were about to graduate from college in Miami, Ana (Alicia Jaziz), Pedro (Dario Yazbek Bernal), Sofia (Alicia Sanz), Marcos (Jack Duarte), Daniela (Miranda de la Serna), and Alejandro (Jorge López) are celebrating on the beach. They are discussing their hopes for the future while drinking, swimming, laughing, and canoodling. Daniela, who dreams of winning an Academy Award, is capturing their every move with her video recorder—something that soon becomes a key piece of evidence.

Then tragedy strikes, and Alejandro is dead. The five friends have kept the secret of what happened on that fateful night for two decades. But, as pop culture tells us all the time, nothing brings out the truth like a reunion. The five former friends all receive the same text “Tomorrow alumni reunion. Be there or I tell all.” They are being blackmailed for $1 million each. But who is doing the blackmailing, and what actually happened all those years ago?

That tale unfolds over eight episodes that jump back and forth to tell the story of these characters at the proverbial prime of their lives, as well as where they are now deep into adulthood. Marcos (played by Manolo Cardona as an adult), who once planned on joining Doctors Without Borders, is engaged to Isabela (Juana Acosta) and is a plastic surgeon giving wealthy Miamians face lifts and tummy tucks. Pedro (José María Yazpik), who we soon find out is living a duplicitous life, is running for mayor of Miami; his wife Ana (Marina de Tavira), who had political aspirations of her own, is now consistently sidelined by Pedro’s campaign manager Ernesto (Eduardo Noriega). Best friends Daniela (Soledad Villamil) and Sofia (Maribel Verdú) don’t have anywhere near the successful lives they envisioned

AppleTV+ is really expanding the way a TV story can be told and, as with Pachinko, characters aren’t confined to just speaking in English. Think of all the shows where it made no sense that all the characters were talking in English. Thankfully that doesn’t happen here. The majority of the dialogue is in Spanish with subtitles. Characters move in and out of speaking Spanish and English effortlessly, sometimes beginning a sentence in Spanish and ending it in English, or vice versa. This is how people who are bilingual communicate. And each character has his or her own Spanish dialect: Puerto Rican Spanish, Colombian Spanish, Argentinian Spanish, to name a few. The show is a multicultural celebration simply by providing a more accurate portrayal.

As the series moves through time, with different actors playing the younger versions of the characters, it can get a little confusing keeping track of everyone. The consistency in both timelines are Rosie Perez and Željko Ivanek, who play both the younger and older versions of their respective characters, Detective Flora Neruda and Detective John Sullivan. Flora is a brand-new detective when she and Sullivan investigate the fateful scene of a car wreck. She is immediately suspicious. But Sullivan is not. “Two cars. Two dead people. Unless the medical examiner says otherwise, it was an accident,” Sullivan tells her.

But the unsolved case has haunted Flora for 20 years. And when another person turns up dead with the same group of suspects, this is her moment, her chance to finally solve the case. “I know they’re behind this and I’m going to prove it,” Flora says. Now she’s the seasoned detective with a new partner Belinda (Ella Kweku) who she is training much the same way Sullivan trained her all those years ago. Perez, already so terrific on HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant, truly shines here as a woman who has always put her career first and whose dogged determination will finally bring justice to the victims. Ivanek is equally terrific as the world-weary detective who has seen it all. The humor in their easy going rapport is a highlight.

As with many murder mysteries, hints and red herrings are dropped along the way. What’s so satisfying about an eight episode drama is we don’t have to wait long for the answers. The final, big, jaw-dropping twist will keep you guessing right until the very end.

And while the murder(s) mysteries drive the story telling, it’s the characters who make the series work. There’s such poignancy to the performances, whether it’s the pervasive sadness of Pedro, the disillusionment of Marcos, or the desperation of Sofia. Showrunners and series creators Ramon Campos, Teresa Fernandez-Valdes, and Gema R. Neira understand the juxtaposition of who you are in your early twenties versus who you end up becoming. The series also knows that guilt is something you can never escape.

There are a few missteps. We really don’t need any TV show going forward to reference the pandemic as if it’s a thing in our past. Better to just ignore it and live in alternate, COVID-free reality. Also, far too many characters keep large amounts of cash in easily accessible safes. And as good as a detective that Flora is, she doesn’t do some obvious things until the very end.

But these are small quibbles. With Miami as its gorgeous backdrop and diversity at its center, Now & Then is an entertaining and gripping take on a familiar formula.

The first three episodes of Now & Then premiere May 20, followed by new episodes each Friday until the finale on June 24.

Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).

For all the latest TV news, reviews, lists and features, follow @Paste_TV.

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