There’s more than a touch of apocalyptic portent in the new Starz comedy Now Apocalypse. It undercuts the series’ otherwise navel gazing narrative about a group of twenty-somethings in Los Angeles, trapped in a kind of perpetual state of pre-adulthood, as dreams of fame and success still dominate much of their lives, even though a painful, disheartening reality is more or less knocking on the door. But the series isn’t about squashing the dreams of young, attractive people for whom life is a seemingly endless parade of coffee shop writing sessions, midday froyo binges, and late-night dating app hookups; it’s really a coming-of-age story for a new generation — one where the coming age in question seems to be pushed back further and further.
The series comes from writer-director Gregg Araki, who made his name with similarly wild, surreal, gonzo comedies about a lost generation in the ‘90s with the “Teen Apocalypse Trilogy” of films, Totally F*cked Up, The Doom Generation, and Nowhere. He also adapted earned acclaim for his adaptation of Mysterious Skin, starring Joseph Gordon Levitt. Now Apocalypse is also co-written by sex columnist Karley Sciortino, who writes for Vogue and created and hosts Slutever on Viceland. The result is kind of a grab bag of a show, but one that is nevertheless refreshingly upbeat, surreal, and sex positive.
Technically an ensemble comedy that stars Avan Jogia (Tut) as Ulysses, Kelli Burglund (Lab Rats) as his friend and cam girl/aspiring actor Carly, and Beau Mirchoff as Ford (Awkward, Flatliners), the affable rich boy hunk and would-be screenwriter who is also Ulysses’s best friend and crush. Outside the trio of friends is Severine (Roxane Mesquida, Gossip Girl), a scientist and Ford’s sort-of girlfriend in their newly open relationship. It’s a charmingly motley crew of characters, all of whom get mostly equal time to develop their own arcs. But it’s Ulysses who ultimately drives the larger narrative of the show and who introduces its more ominous thematic elements via a recurring premonitory nightmare that involves a giant lizard man engaged in what appears to be non-consensual sex with a homeless man played by frequent Araki collaborator James Duval.
With that it’s clear the audience’s mileage on Now Apocalypse is going to vary, especially as, after the first episode, ‘This is the Beginning of the End,’ it’s not entirely clear what, exactly, this show aims to be about. That’s actually fine, for the most part. No small part of the appeal of Now Apocalypse is the idea of just languidly hanging out with these characters and watching them learn to navigate the ups and downs of life, just as its possibilities are beginning to take shape for them. With a name like Ulysses, it’s clear that the series isn’t exactly shy when it comes to making overt references to other works or making certain thematic connections as obvious as possible. While this might be a hacky no-no for a self-described “prestige drama,” Araki’s comedy has no such pretensions. It’s not so much that the show is unwilling to rise above such unsubtle allusions, as it just whole-heartedly enjoys making them. For example, scene near the end of the premiere has Ulysses on a long-postponed date with the elusive (re: flakey) Gabriel (Tyler Posey, Teen Wolf) results in a not-so secretive back alley tryst that ends in fireworks.
Yet, through it all, Araki, who directs all 10 episodes of the first season, maintains a fascinating balance between all the various ingredients he’s thrown into this strange stew. Regardless of the situation — Ulysses’s date with Gabriel, Ford having his screenplay solicited by a random stranger in a coffee shop, Carly’s boredom during her cam sessions, or Severine’s job at a super secret lab (which seems to purposely look like the sort of thing you’d see in a soft-core porn) — there’s equal parts comedy and portent. This feeling continues to grow until the entirety of the series itself becomes like a waking dream, where every interaction or circumstance feels dubious to a certain degree. That can be a tricky proposition for some shows to handle, but Now Apocalypse isn’t just dabbling in the stuff, it seems born of it.
Now Apocalypse continues next Sunday with ‘Where Is My Mind?’ @9pm on Starz.