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We Are Who We Are is the first TV project from director/writer/producer Luca Guadagnino (Call Me By Your Name), who’s made his name making intimate portraits of teens trying to figure out who they are and who they love. His Academy Award-nominated film already explored a teen boy in Italy figuring out a new and deep relationship, so with this new series he doubles down by showing this exploration from two teens’ perspectives, with not everything being straightforward.

Opening Shot: A teenage boy with bleach blonde hair and an orange hoodie has his earbuds in and is waiting for his mother to deal with his lost luggage at an Italian airport.

The Gist: The boy is 14-year-old Fraser Wilson (Jack Dylan Grazer), who is in Italy because his mother, Col. Sarah Wilson (Chloë Sevigny) has moved their family from New York so she can take command of an Army base just outside of Venice. Col. Wilson’s wife, and Fraser’s stepmom, Maggie Teixeira (Alice Braga), is an army medic who continues her work at the base’s clinic. Apparently the one thing Fraser wanted was a little hit of something that looks like Nyquil, mainly for the booze.

The Wilson family is greeted by Jenny Poythress (Faith Alabi), a spouse of an officer on the base. As the family sees their new on-base digs, Fraser is understandably frustrated; padding around in his artsy t-shirt and super-long skater shorts, he calls a friend named Mark to tell him what he sees, finishing his message with “I love you.” He decides to stave off his boredom by checking out the high school on the base. While he slinks around “undetected” (considering he’s the new commander’s son, he can’t really go incognito), he’s intrigued by a  girl named Caitlin (Jordan Kristine Seamón), whom he finds out is the Poythress’ daughter.

He stalks out a group who is walking off base, and then approaches a food truck for a beer; that’s not before wandering into a men’s shower room and being awestruck by what he sees. When he looks for a beer, a girl from the group, Britney Orton (Francesca Scorsese) intercepts him and is immediately intrigued by him. She’s American, but has been on international bases her whole life, and she knows exactly how to get around their rules. She takes Fraser’s base ID and they run to a bus that will take them and her group to the beach.

The rest of the group, including Caitlin and her brother Danny (Spence Moore II) are not sure who the shy, awkward kid who’s there with them is. They make fun of his t-shirt, and one of them whips off his shorts and bathes in the bay au naturel. He’s still intrigued by Caitlin, but turned off by the rest of the group, so he decides to walk home. During his long walk, he buys wine off a seamstress, chugs it, and wanders around drunk until late at night; he even cuts his face open when he falls off a bridge railing he was trying to balance on. He calls Maggie to bring him home, and speculates that his mother loves Maggie more than him. Maggie thinks that when they kiss, Sarah thinks she’s kissing a mirror. All three of their relationships to each other are weirdly strange and intimate.

The next day, after Sarah is officially installed as the commander and after school, he follows a disguised Caitlin into town, where she meets a local teen girl at a bar to flirt. Considering that he is also not sure of his identity, sexual or otherwise, he finally decides to talk to his next-door neighbor.

We Are Who We Are
Photo: HBO

What Shows Will It Remind You Of? Pretty much any coming-of-age series, like recent vintage series like Never Have I Ever, Derry Girls or Sex Education, except this one takes place on an American military base in Italy.

Our Take: As meandering as the first episode is, it’s that way for a reason. Fraser has been yanked from a pretty cosmopolitan life in New York — which intrigues us, since both his mothers are in the Army — and is now plopped down in a stiltedly All-American environment in the middle of a country where he’s never been and can’t communicate. He has thought that he found the love of his life back home with Mark, but is likely confused by Caitlin as much as he’s intrigued. After all, he likes guys, right? Well, considering sexuality can be fluid at any age, imagine how it feels to a kid who is in the throes of puberty?

Guadagnino directs the entire series, and he and DP Fredrik Wenzel are able to show both the suffocating and odd life on base as well as the airy and languid existence in town and on the beach. He juxtaposes the bucolic scenery with the brash American teens running through it, just happy they’re off base and can drink.

But Fraser is more thoughtful than that, and it feels like his new home is going to be the right place for him to figure things out, as well as the wrong place. We see that in his penchant to get destructively drunk and his odd relationship with Sarah. At times they argue like lovers (shudder), and when he goes to hug her in the middle of the night, the position they’re in is suggestive to say in the least. But he has no idea whether his mother actually loves him or not.

That might be one of the bigger problems with We Are Who We Are: Guadagnino concentrates so much on the teenagers that the adults might get the short end of the character stick. In the short scenes between Maggie and Fraser, we see that they have the close, warm relationship that each wants with Sarah, instead of the codependent one they each have now. But, given that Sarah is played by the usually-excellent Sevigny, all we see is a cold military pro who is weirdly attached to her teenage son. Let’s hope we find out more as we go along.

Sex and Skin: Sarah gets naked as she gets into a bath with Maggie, and we’ve mentioned the various male full frontal scenes. There’s a vague sexuality to them but they’re more there as just a matter of course.

Parting Shot: Fraser sits next to Caitlin on the beach after following her into town and says, “So what should I call you?”

Sleeper Star: It’s pretty obvious that Francesca Scorsese has absorbed her acting skill by osmosis from her father (Martin Scorsese, if you didn’t know), because she plays Britney in a flirty, DGAF way that oozes confidence for someone so young.

Most Pilot-y Line: We still can’t get over Sarah sitting up on the kitchen counter and Fraser hugging her while being between her legs. It was as unsettling as what we just typed sounds. And all because she insisted that the roast should be cut thick.

Our Call: STREAM IT. The first episode of We Are Who We Are takes its time to get to where it wants to go, but the ride is pleasant because we’re so intrigued by Fraser and his various relationships.

Joel Keller (@joelkeller) writes about food, entertainment, parenting and tech, but he doesn’t kid himself: he’s a TV junkie. His writing has appeared in the New York Times, Slate, Salon, RollingStone.com, VanityFair.com, Fast Company and elsewhere.

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