The cult queer filmmaker delivers ten episodes of off-the-wall Los Angeles mayhem, making for an exhilarating mess.
Los Angeles is enjoying a moment right now, representation-wise. From Judd Apatow’s Love and BoJack Horseman to Max Landis’ (underrated) Me Him Her and even Shakespeare adaptations, every LA filmmaker seems intent on letting us, the audience, know that La La Land is strange, otherworldly, a place where reality blends into fiction and people from every walk of life just seem to end up eventually. Whereas Portland to the north is on a mission to keep itself weird, LA just…is, without trying.
So it was only a matter of time before New Queer Cinema luminary Gregg Araki brought us a show that uses LA’s inherent queerness as a way of talking about human queerness. Now Apocalypse is a stoner sex comedy that comes at the sex part sideways. Combining an eclectic set of plots with almost-too-normal characters, the show manages to spin even its weaknesses as all part of the act.
The main cast of three is led by Ulysses (Avan Jogia), a professionally aimless night guard whose entanglements with flighty lover Gabriel (Tyler Posey) lead him ever deeper into an underbelly of conspiracy and dreams-turned-reality. Meanwhile, Ulysses’ best friend Carly (Kelli Berglund) is stagnating as an actress and bored by her boyfriend, but finding new outlets in the world of kink. Last and probably least, Ford (Beau Mirchoff) is a writer looking for his big break, but mostly looking to fall ever-deeper in love with the ambivalent Severine (Roxane Mesquida).
It’s a series of setups that shouldn’t go together, and truth be told, they don’t. One minute Uly is decoding symbols etched into a wall, and the next, Severine is giving Ford a halfhearted handy. But the fact that these stories are all disparate is part of what makes the show fun. It’s exhilarating to watch three characters enter a space and know that each of them is going to take something different away from it. After all, isn’t that what LA is all about?
Araki seems to be leaning into the view that modern queerness is frivolously millennial.
Araki’s directorial style and the cast’s performances could also be called hit-or-miss, but, perhaps more accurately, it’s the trademark of a showrunner known for churning out cult classics. The flat line deliveries, poppy colors, and clean set design all scream small time production on a big-time budget. It’s a web series come to the television screen, a prime specimen of emerging
Of course, a byproduct of Now Apocalypse‘s specificity of tone is that explanation kind of falls by the wayside. We’re not exactly concerned with why things are happening, or even necessarily with why our characters react in the ways that they do. They’re given a scenario, they deal with it, and later they smoke a bowl and talk about wasn’t that crazy? It’s all very LA, sure, but it comes at the price of accessibility, especially when it seems obvious to the audience that holy shit, Ford, Severine is just not that into you. Whether or not this is a true drawback depends on the viewer, but it is something to keep in mind: despite Uly’s paranoiac dealings with Gabriel, a procedural this ain’t.
A much less ambiguous downside, however, is the way Araki draws clear lines between the acceptably queer and the downright alien. Even in LA, a city where supposedly anything and everything exists, Araki’s wildest imaginations remain startlingly binary. People are either gay or straight: when one character sleeps with Uly despite being married to a woman, Uly waves it off as deep repression of an otherwise gay man; in another episode, Uly jokingly posits that perhaps a certain character is “panflexible.” The show’s treatment of gender is no different: at one point, a visibly nonbinary character describes themself as “pangender” in a way that is clearly meant for laughs. These jokes on bisexuality and trans identity are relegated to the parts of LA that are irredeemably weird, the parts that cannot be consolidated into the whole. Araki seems to be leaning into the view that modern queerness is frivolously millennial. In 2019, it’s not a good look, especially when your show ostensibly revolves around pushing the boundaries of what it means to live a queer life.
Now Apocalypse is,