With bold and provocative films like The Living End, Nowhere, and The Doom Generation, Gregg Araki became a standout figure in queer cinema during the 1990s. He’s directed a little bit of television since then, including some episodes of Netflix’s controversial 13 Reasons Why, but the Starz network’s Now Apocalypse is the first series Araki has created himself, bringing the full brunt of his idiosyncratic voice to TV screens. I’m not sure that the world is really ready for that.
Attempts to describe Now Apocalypse in terms of plot are largely futile. The series is a gonzo and surreal half-hour comedy (mostly?) about dating and sex and the quest for fame and possibly an alien invasion and/or the end of the world set against the cartoonish backdrop of America’s most absurd city, Los Angeles. Our hero on this odyssey is Ulysses Zane (Avan Jogia), a twenty-something slacker who admits up front to being addicted to danger and reckless stupidity. He cheats with married men and puts himself into other precarious situations to avoid boredom and “just for the fucking fuck of it.”
Uly occasionally makes half-hearted attempts at going on acting auditions, but mostly wastes his time smoking too much weed and recording a vlog that he insists isn’t a vlog, talking about his life and the feelings of foreboding he has that something very bad is coming soon. He has recurring nightmares about witnessing something terrible in a darkened building.
Most of Uly’s friends are trying to break into show business in some form or another. His dimwit roommate Ford (Beau Mirchoff) is a wannabe screenwriter who’s not gay, except that maybe he is a little bit. His best friend Carly (Kellie Berglund) does webcam porn in between acting lessons. Uly pines for hunky actor Gabriel (Tyler Posey from Teen Wolf), who seems to be catfishing him until they finally meet in person, at which point Gabriel is way too clingy. About the only person in Uly’s circle not interested in Hollywood is Ford’s inexplicably brilliant girlfriend, a NASA scientist studying UFOs(!).
Hidden almost subliminally between all these subplots are hints that something very serious is happening in the world, but none of the characters pay attention to them. At the end of their first date, Uly and Gabriel give each other handjobs in an alley and fail to notice a weird explosion in the sky as they both orgasm.
Following that, Uly falls off his bike and hears noises that lead him directly into his premonitory nightmare come to life. He follows the sounds into a building, where he sees a man being raped by a lizard monster in what looks decidely like a rubber costume.
Episode Verdict / Grade: I Don’t Even Fucking Know???
Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this one. Filled with copious nudity and sex (both gay and straight), filmed in garish hyper-saturated colors, mostly performed by actors doing porn-quality line readings, and with a plot that is completely wackadoodle to put it charitably, Now Apocalypse is the work of someone with a very distinct and precise personal vision that makes very little sense to my sadly square brain. I don’t want to say it’s terrible, but I also do want to say it’s terrible. Or maybe it’s audacious and visionary and brilliant. Your call.
I’ll just say that the show wasn’t made for me. I suspect that I would need to take a lot of hallucinogens to properly appreciate it. Barring that, I support its existence for those who are into it, but I’m also glad it’s only half an hour, because I’m not sure I could take more than that in one sitting.