Profoundly, proudly weird, Now Apocalypse is another pervy show to grace the Starz network, but one that finally understands that about itself.
This recap of Now Apocalypse Episode 1, “This is the Beginning of the End”, and Episode 2, “Where is My Mind?” contains spoilers.
If there’s one thing to respect about the Starz network, it’s how dedicatedly its shows make softcore pornography a kind of persistent aesthetic choice. And Now Apocalypse, a very peculiar and meandering dramedy about a pothead homosexual, his various oversexed associates and, on some level, an impending invasion of rapist alien lizards, very much falls into that sexily satirical category. It’s… weird, to say the least.
It’s also quite good. Its ostensible hero Ulysses (Avan Jogia) has sex with married men and Tinder dates and smokes and cycles around without ever really knowing where he’s going, except between his latest liaison and the apartment he shares with his gormless alpha-male screenwriter friend Ford (Beau Mirchoff). Ford’s hairy and chiseled and Now Apocalypse loves him, as do most of its female characters – including his heavily accented scientist girlfriend Severine (Roxane Mesquida) – and some of its male ones. (He and Ulysses had a drunken hook-up in college, but nothing came of it.) I suspect the show is so enamored by Ford because he plays a cartoon sex object in a story which foregrounds sex – especially casual and/or weird sex – as a playful thematic motif, rather than a titillating extra as in something like the network’s otherwise very good Vida.
What Now Apocalypse is actually about proves a more difficult question, and after two episodes it’s still difficult to parse. On some level, the show wants to examine sexual politics, particularly Millennial sexual politics, and it does so by having Ulysses vlog about his life and his hookups and his weird alien-lizard sex prognostications while comically insisting he isn’t vlogging. It also frequently pairs him up with Carly (Kelli Berglund), an aspiring actress and part-time cam girl who feels like the most well-rounded character in the show, most notably in how she casually interacts with her horny fanbase secure in the knowledge that they don’t require her effort and enthusiasm to get themselves off.
That commodification of sex and that blase attitude to getting and giving it forms most of the show’s bizarre and muddled thesis. It’s saying, I think, that our rigid and old-fashioned interpretation of the no-pants-dance is archaic; that it doesn’t have to fall within prescribed, acceptable lines, and also that it doesn’t, strictly, need to mean anything. But on the other hand, it’s also saying that sex is a conduit to some of the most powerful human relationships and experiences. During a mutual wank-off between Ulysses and a fling, the night sky explodes with fireworks. Ford can only have sex while saying “I love you”, suggesting a need for more meaningful connection that he can’t find organically. And in a funny scene in which Carly’s dimwit spiritualist boyfriend discovers her on-camera paraphernalia, he’s able to discover his more sensitive and authentic side by submitting to something demeaning. Sex, in Now Apocalypse, has power; it’s the more interesting component than even the alien-lizard bumming.
This is, as mentioned, a very weird show. But it’s also quite unlike anything else on television right now, and in a way that feels provocative and interesting. Some won’t get it or care to get it, and that’s fine. There’s a part of me that still doesn’t, even after watching and enjoying the first two episodes. But for some people Now Apocalypse is going to feel profound; like a show, finally, is daring enough to not just understand but to celebrate modern sexual sensibilities. And why not?