Have you ever had sex so spectacular that the sky has opened up instantly and erupted into neon fireworks? For Gregg Araki, that’s the only kind of sex that exists, and Now Apocalypse, his first TV series, is full of it, from frame to frame of every episode. But, as you’d expect from Araki, the director of everything from Kaboom to Mysterious Skin, that’s not all on offer: there’s also room for apocalyptic dread, sinister conspiracies and some kind of alien lizard monster. And yes, before you ask, that’s also having sex.
The series follows Ulysses (Avan Jogia – absurdly good-looking), a young boy in Los Angeles trying to work out what life is all about and what he wants from it. He shares a room with Ford (Beau Mirchoff – absurdly good-looking), a would-be screenwriter, who is hoping to make his creative mark upon the city. Ford is going out with Severine (Roxane Mesquida – also absurdly good-looking), a scientist who doesn’t believe in monogamy. And completing the ensemble is Carly (Kelli Berglund – you guessed it), a would-be actress who makes ends meet as a cam girl.
If you’re struggling to see a plot beyond scenes in each of their respective bedrooms (and elsewhere), then you’ve got to the heart of Now Apocalypse, which is more concerned with what’s in between each character’s legs than their heads or their hearts; while Ford declares his love for Severine, it’s played for comedy rather than sincere emotion, as she dismisses with logic the idea of any meaningful attachment; and while Ulysses fixates on Ford, it’s mostly so he can quip about him being a “rare true Kinsey 0” (exclusively heterosexual).
There’s something profoundly true about Araki’s penchant for apocalyptic stakes, as he taps into the sense of impending doom that runs through the veins of teenage hedonism. But while here, that’s explored through Ulysses’ premonitions of some kind of reptilian invasion, it’s treated as far less important or intriguing than, say, Kaboom’s ominous cult flourishes. Severine may work in a suspicious institution that’s clearly up to something dodgy, but there’s no sign of us getting to know much more than that in the opening episodes – Mesquida’s brilliant at playing her part borderline robotic, like the projections of an adult fantasy, but while that might be a neat gag in a 90-minute film, it doesn’t make for a particularly involving storyline in an episodic environment, where we’re meant to come back every week (10 times) for another 30-minute fix.
Co-writer Karley Sciortino (a sex columnist for Vogue) is perfectly attuned to Araki’s tastes and tone, but even between them, there’s a disappointing lack of momentum to their hyperactive loopiness. There are nuggets of nicely observed comedy, whether it’s Ulysses delving into the warped web of YouTube conspiracy theories or Carly (a show-stealing Berglund) being bored during her cam girl sessions and then exerting authority over her purportedly alpha-male boyfriend. It’s fun to see him excited about playing a corpse in a TV crime drama, but the broader satirical digs at Hollywood are less novel (this is a city where everyone has names like “Jethro”) and leaves you yearning for a hint of Araki’s weightier work, such as White Bird in a Blizzard.
Now Apocalypse arrives after a string of for-hire gigs on teen shows such as 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale (a savvy match for the auteur of stylised youth), and it’s a treat for the eyes to see his unique sensibilities get an unfettered chance to run wild in a project that’s purely his – you won’t see another TV show like this on your screen this year, both in terms of sex-positive, sex-inclusive, sex-anything sequences and sheer retina-popping colour. Nonetheless, while Now Apocalypse screws your eyeballs with Dionysian pleasure, the end result is a hollow experience that doesn’t linger in the memory the morning after. Then again, maybe that’s exactly the point.
Now Apocalypse is available to watch online in the UK on STARZPLAY, a streaming service that costs £4.99 a month. The platform is available on Virgin Media On Demand or through Amazon Prime Video Channels, both as an add-on subscription to your existing account. Episodes premiere every Monday, within 24 hours of their US broadcast.