For months, I’ve anticipated last week’s premiere of a new HBO show called “We Are Who We Are” from Italian director Luca Guadagnino, who is probably best known for the film “Call Me By Your Name”, which stars Timothee Chalamet and Armie Hammer. Set in 2016, “We Are Who We Are” follows a group of adolescents and their families who live on an army base in Venice, Italy. The two main protagonists, fourteen-year-olds Fraser and Caitlin, are both hinted at being queer in the first episode. Fraser questions his sexuality, while Caitlin questions their gender identity.
“We Are Who We Are” does have striking similarities to last year’s hit “Euphoria” with its coming-of-age storyline, queer focus, and availiablity on HBO. However, based on the first episode, it becomes clear that the two shows are very different. Where “Euphoria” is a drug-filled fantasy set expertly to perfect music choices, “We Are Who We Are” grounds itself heavily in reality. In the first episode, the viewer meets Fraser at the airport as a petulant child bemoaning the loss of his luggage. He’s been transplanted from New York to Veneto because one of his moms has been named the new commander of a military base there. The first episode largely revolves around Fraser discovering what life is like on the base. It becomes very apparent that he’s not the typical army brat, based on the way he dresses and his irreverence for the base’s rules.
Fraser makes it very clear to his moms that he doesn’t want to be there. He’d much rather be back in New York, to which one mom quips that he didn’t like New York much when he was there either. Fraser has borderline Jughead from “Riverdale” vibes, but so far he isn’t nearly as tiresome, so don’t expect anything to the caliber of Cole Sprouse’s iconic “I’m a freak, I’m a weirdo” monologue. Much of the episode follows Fraser as he aimlessly wanders the base, from the school to training areas to the prefab homes, while listening to music and refusing to follow the rules. He takes rules about where he should and should not go merely as suggestions.
A girl named Britney, played by Francesca Scorsese, notices Fraser following her group and decides to show him around, particularly to the grocery store where they lift liquor. She tells him there that all grocery stores on army bases across the world are designed the same way “so we don’t get lost” because of the frequent moves involved in army life. She then asks Fraser if he feels lost. He doesn’t respond, but the answer is obvious. She then invites him to the beach with her and her friends, where he doesn’t go in the water. Fraser leaves when the others try to get him to join them, tripping over a fence on his way out, in one of the first episode’s few laugh-out-loud moments.
Later, Fraser follows his neighbor, Caitlin, as her friend group leaves their house, dressed in more masculine-presenting clothing and fake mustaches. He watches as Caitlin flirts with a girl before leaving immediately upon his new friend noticing him. The second episode intends to follow the same day from Caitlin’s perspective, so we might soon know more about their gender identity.
Perhaps I’m burying the lead here, but Kid Cudi plays Caitlin’s conservative father in the show. In the show’s trailer, Cudi is seen dawning a MAGA hat, so the series definitely won’t be shying away from politics. Still, I have to hope that, like “Call Me By Your Name”, “We Are Who We Are” will offer some level of escapism over these next few weeks as the United States careens towards authoritarianism and illiberalism. The idyllic Italian setting, juxtaposed with the foreboding nature of a military base, promises a mix of both.
While it’s too early to judge whether the show will be good or bad, the first episode at least left me optimistic. There are, however, a few reasons one might be squeamish about the show. In the first episode, Fraser violently slaps his mother during an argument, but they do quickly reconcile. This occurs mere hours after he put his mother’s finger in his mouth to stop her from bleeding after a minor cut. It’s obviously a very weird, perhaps Norman Bates-level mother-son relationship. There are also hints at a romance between Fraser and a young soldier, an age gap that admittedly feels pretty uncomfortable. But, nevertheless, we’re in a fucked up time right now, and “We Are Who We Are” promises to be a fucked up show with a tinge of escapism. I’m tentatively here for it.