After his failed pilot This is How the World Ends for MTV in 2000, Gregg Araki has once more ventured into television, this time with ten-part comedy series Now Apocalypse.
Now Apocalypse is pure Araki. If you’re familiar with his 90s ‘teen apocalypse trilogy’, ending in Nowhere, or with 2010’s Kaboom, you will recognise much of what happens here in terms of themes and motifs. If it wasn’t obvious from the title of the show itself then the first episode title ‘This is the Beginning of the End’ really gives away the paranoia- or possibly doom-tinged path that the story is leading us down.
Set amongst the beautiful and occasionally somewhat shallow young people of Los Angeles, the show centres around Ulysses (Avan Jogia), who, in between getting high and pursuing as much sex as possible, has begun to have a bizarre recurring dream about a disturbing creature, which he believes to be a premonition of dark things to come. His best friend Carly (Kelli Berglund) is a struggling actress coming up against all the barriers one has come to expect, and his housemate Ford (Beau Mirchoff) is pretty but dim and working on his first screenplay. Ford is dating Severine (Roxane Mesquida), a sexually ambitious scientist who is working on something… classified. The story centres around these four, and although the plot doesn’t race along (at least in the first five episodes) it is an intriguing and entertaining slow build.
Now Apocalypse explores the nature of love and relationships, and the power dynamics inherent within them. Araki has often presented a somewhat cynical view of love within his work, especially of the frustrations and deceits endured by those seeking ‘true love’ in the romantic sense, and Now Apocalypse also examines these angles, looking at the similarities and differences between promiscuity, polyamory, and betrayal. Right from the opener it’s clear that there will be nudity, and scenes of a sexual nature, and these occur between same sex, opposite sex, and mixed sex partners. It will come as no surprise to Araki fans that the show explores varying and fluid sexualities, as well as often overlooked aspects of sexual harassment and assault in line with the #metoo and ‘Time’s Up’ movements.
Whilst sex is the driving force of the show, the season story-arc revolves around weird dreams, cosmic visions, and hints of a cult or conspiracy – all motifs touched on by Araki to varying degrees in his previous works. It’s that internal angst, the sense that things aren’t quite as they seem, the fear that the centre won’t hold and things will fall apart that was the zeitgeist of the new-age nineties where the world might mystically end at the millennium, and that takes on a new relevance in today’s world of fake news and dystopian television.
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The dialogue – partly realistic, partly stylised and theatrical – has a rhythm that feels particular to Araki, and has been picked up well by series co-writer Karley Sciortino. Some of the acting too is deliberately a little larger than life, slightly comic-book or cartoon, and this is played out well by both the leading and supporting actors. The humour – because this is a comedy – is low-key, ironic, surreal: a smirk rather than a guffaw, but satisfying nonetheless. A palette of overly bright colours set against darkness and weird visuals completes the Araki-an feel of the show.
Avan Jogia turns in a slightly mesmerising performance as Ulysses who, despite his premonitions, seems to be the most stable character in this show of twenty-somethings trying to navigate their dreams without falling off a metaphorical cliff. Now Apocalypse is bizarre, sexy, and so much fun. It might be somewhat cynical, but it is also full of energy and spirit, friendship and love. Ulysses’ adventure is fascinating, and where it ultimately leads we are yet to find out.
Now Apocalypse debuts on StarzPlay from Sunday.