It’s the end of the world, and Gregg Araki and Steven Soderberg’s new Now Apocalypse series greets the apocalypse with cosmic sex. And since we’re thinking about our collective demise, it’s worth taking a moment to reflect upon how we’re living in a world where these two are executive producing together.
I know it’s strange to start off a review like this, but listen, Soderbergh can bounce effortlessly from blockbusters like Oceans and Erin Brockovich and Contagion to more salacious or niche material like The Girlfriend Experience and Magic Mike. Then there’s Araki, the creator of this series, who’s more consistently subversive and flat-out weird. Yes, he’s directed episodes of Riverdale and 13 Reasons Why lately, but his indie film credits are more telling. He grooves with stoner comedies like Smiley Face, took atypical coming-of-age turns with Mysterious Skin and White Bird in a Blizzard, and helmed 1995’s ennui-filled Doom Generation. Anyone who caps off a robbery scene by lingering upon a decapitated head that’s still yammering and spewing mustard (not to mention that threesome that ends violently and tragically) can’t and won’t shake off a certain reputation. Well, Araki reaches peak form here.
So whether you’ll enjoy this series really depends on your feelings for Araki’s brand. He’s an acquired taste, and at its core, Now Apocalypse is his Starz-provided and Soderbergh-facilitated playground, given his existing relationship with the cable network. There’s so much strangeness in this series (that Araki co-wrote with Viceland’s Slutever host, Karley Sciortino) that’s oddly charming, despite the at-first unlikable characters at hand.
That is to say, the show is enjoyable once it gets rolling, but it takes some effort to embrace the affectations. Obviously, Now Apocalypse‘s title is an obnoxious play on Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now. Yet the show almost functions as a satire of prestige TV. It’s trashy and unfiltered and unapologetically graphic (mostly enjoyably so) while it also eviscerates nearly every mannerism that older generations find obnoxious about millennials (that part’s not as fun) in LA, who I guess are Araki’s newly doomed generation. There are some sterile overtones involved, but the show also wields sensuality aplenty. And then there’s some cosmic shenanigans and reptile aliens and a great Henry Rollins appearance. A lot of the outlandishness is left open to interpretation, but mostly, everyone’s trying to figure out how to navigate life before we’re all maybe gonna die.
Then there are the characters of the series, who don’t quite achieve a love-to-hate quality. Fortunately, their facades do start to crumble.
The two friends ^^ on the right, the not-subtly named Ulysses (Avan Jogia) and Carly (Kelli Berglund), are central. He’s a roving pothead, and she’s an actress doing camgirl work on the side. On the left, there’s Ford (Beau Mirchoff) and Severine (Roxane Mesquida). They’re a couple; he’s a quintessential meathead/screenwriter, and she’s a robotic astrobiological theorist. As a quartet, they range from disaffected to confused and yearning for true connection in a Tinder-driven dating scene and an era where Internet porn warps expectations regarding intimacy. Not only that, but Uly smokes far too much weed. Get your smoke on, I don’t care, but he favors an ungodly amount, so when he begins to have premonitory dreams and suspects that a dark conspiracy is afoot, no one believes him.
As the series’ central mystery unfolds, characters dive into often ridiculous sexual encounters that feel random but also suggest something deeper with an intertwined connection between couplings. Several taboos come into focus, including polyamory and kink and in-the-street handjobs and fireworks, and it’s clear that Araki is having a blast. He’s in the zone, man, and Starz is allowing him to do what he does best — pushing the proverbial envelope in a time when it feels like there’s nothing controversial left to say about two (or three) people getting down. The subject matter is crude but poses questions (and tentative answers) about human nature in a rapid-fire format.
Oh boy, there’s a lot happening here, and yes, there’s something extraterrestrial at hand. I obviously can’t (and don’t want to) give too much away, but the series shouldn’t be ignored despite its imperfections. The pacing is wonky at times, much like a meandering conversation one has while hanging with a stoner friend. Maybe you’ll dig that aspect since it’s relaxing to watch. There’s no sense of urgency or pressure, even with all the cosmic doom afoot, and the sex montages actually turn out to be endearing, once these players move past one-dimensional. That’s a long-winded way of saying that Now Apocalypse stands on — and embraces — shaky ground, but it’s actually kinda sweet. It’s a likable disaster and an experiment that might ultimately fail before it reaches a concrete destination. Yet if given a chance in this crowded TV landscape, Now Apocalypse works, despite itself.
‘Now Apocalypse’premieres on Starz Sunday, March 10 9:00 p.m. EST