For the past eighteen or so months, television has entered a new age, where the sheer amount of shows has diluted the hypothetical talent pool for every potential new series. What it has led to, are a lot of shows of vaguely the same quality: not great, not terrible, just competent: while this leads to a slightly higher ceiling for the quality of any given “prestigious” new debut, the percentage of these shows that stand apart by taking brash creative risks (for better or worse) haven noticeably decreased. Gregg Araki’s new Starz series (co-written with Karley Sciortino), Now Apocalypse, is one of the more unique entries in this era of Too Much TV, an intoxic color-graded extravaganza of sex, existential crises, and 90’s queer indie comedy vibes that will most likely alienate a large majority of its potential audience with its dreamlike premiere episode. For Araki fans, and those willing to let the show’s trippy aesthetics and rhythms take it on a ride, however, “The Beginning of the End” offers a coming-of-age show with abundant potential, a perfect entry for Starz’s growing “We Are Hornier than Showtime and HBO Combined” brand.
“[Now Apocalypse] is one of the more unique entries in this era of Too Much TV, a color-graded extravaganza of sex, existential crises, and 90’s queer indie comedy vibes.”
Personally, much of the pleasure comes from watching the distillation of Araki’s films into a single premise: Now Apocalypse centers on Ulysses, a young man living the classic LA early 20’s struggle lifestyle. Now is ostensibly about Ulysses’ journey of self-discovery, but uses him as a conduit for the other many stories swirling through the show’s first episode: from a struggling actress who works as a cam girl, to a trust fund bro whose naivety most assuredly spells tragedy in his future, Now Apocalypse immediately presents the audience with a sharp group of secondary characters – most of whom are defined by their defined color schemes, like an NC-17 rated Power Rangers meets Araki’s Nowhere.
There’s an unexpected harmony between the marriage of Araki’s signature visual design and narrative construction, and the constraints of a half-hour television show: while some of the art house aesthetics of his film are gone, every fiber of his ruminations on sexuality and fame are present in Now Apocalypse, and benefit from the structure imposed on them by the nature of being a television series. It doesn’t mean Araki doesn’t get to have his fun, though: a scene with two characters exchanging hand jobs in a back alley is packed to the brim with Araki-isms, a wonderfully crafted scene full of the visual panache and passionate editing style you’d expect.
The plot of Now Apocalypse is mostly perfunctory; yes, there is some extraterrestrial rape occurring on planet Earth, but Araki and company are much more focused on character and atmosphere than trying to deliver compelling plot lines, or employ its sardonic humor in service of being a quirky science fiction show. Rather, Now Apocalypse is far more interested in the precocious balance between pain and pleasure; how crushes and heartbreak equally affect us, how sex reveals character (in great and terrible ways), and how people compensate for professional or personal failure by pushing themselves to extremes.
Purely based on its script, much of what happens in “This is the Beginning of the End” is boiler plate material for the genre, but its written and shot with such flair, with such careful care for the performances and how they parallel the more “typical” human experience, that it’s nigh impossible but to be intrigued where Now Apocalypse is going to take its characters through its ten episode first season. If anything, the show’s bold visuals and off-kilter sense of humor make it a world I really want to hang out in for five hours, a collection of thirty-minute respites from the relative dullness of most other television shows and ensembles.
Now Apocalypse is most certainly going to be too lurid and relentlessly erotic to garnish a large mainstream audience; but with a strong creative core (Steven Soderbergh is an executive producer, alongside Araki and Gregory Jacobs), some wonderfully against-type performances (there are no less than five alumni from Disney, Nickelodeon and MTV productions), and a distinct sense of identity, it is one of the first truly strong, confident debuts of 2019. In an era when so much of television, from its narrative beats to its visual design, feels exactly the same, Now Apocalypse is the kind of brash, unforgiving, divisive television The Age of Too Much TV desperately needs more of.