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For a TV series promising immediate action in its title, Gregg Araki’s “Now Apocalypse” sure takes its sweet time getting to the apocalypse. In fact, through the first three episodes, an “inciting incident” is entirely absent. Plagued by the same problem facing many feature film writers who decide to try their hand at TV, the familiar 10-episode Starz series is so focused on delaying whatever weird apocalyptic payoff it’s hiding that the early episodes never introduce an enticing, enlightening, or all that enjoyable story at all.
That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of brash, strange moments. The premiere, “The Beginning of the End,” starts with Ulysses (Avan Jogia), commonly called Uly, having sex with a married guy and escaping just before the hubby comes home. Narrating via a video diary he’s making, Uly knows his “gigantic adventures” are going to get him in trouble one day, but he can’t help himself. Whether it’s just to “avoid boredom” or “feel alive,” Uly follows his whims wherever they take him — often toward semi-anonymous sex.
His intense flings are, in part, a reaction to his feelings for his roommate, Ford (Beau Mirchoff), a Kansas-bred beefcake who asked Uly to move to Los Angeles with him so he could become a screenwriter. (Uly thought about acting for a hot second, but ditched it before the first audition.) Ford is pretty but dumb, which doesn’t keep him from being noticed by a producer and invited around town to share his screenplay. His girlfriend is also part of some top-secret organization that will come into play later, but she doesn’t get up to anything too interesting in the first three episodes.
While Uly isn’t lusting after Gabriel (Tyler Posey), his latest cyber hookup that’s turned into a full-blown romantic pursuit, he’s chatting with Carly (Kelli Berglund), an aspiring actress who makes extra money by going on webcams for horny paying customers. Aside from acting class (led by a predictably duplicitous acting teacher played by Mary Lynn Rajskub), Carly tries to please her boring actor-boyfriend, Jethro (Desmond Chiam), who’s so focused on his career he prefers having sex in a position that lets him keep an eye on his phone. It’s this kind of tortured monotony that leads Uly to confide in Carly when something crazy happens to him — it’s just like a dream he’s been having, except the end can’t have really happened… could it?
Presented at the end of the first episode, this not-to-be-named event seems to set the show on a course toward sci-fi calamity. The only problem is that Araki — who directs every episode and co-wrote each script with Karley Sciortino — walks back the revelation so it’s entirely plausible it never happened at all. That lowers the stakes again and leaves the audience with nothing to worry about except half-assed hookups and half-hearted Hollywood dreams. It’s not enough to hang 90 minutes of narrative on, let alone an entire show, and even a game, affable cast can’t elevate “Now Apocalypse” past goofy stoner humor.
Araki treats his show like it’s a long-running homage to “Dude, Where’s My Car?” except he drags out the pivotal disappearance and doesn’t even bother to pause for stupid-funny scenes where the bros ask each other where it is. There are a ton of bright colors and awkward framings that double as sexual innuendos, but even the porn-y sex scenes aren’t very fun. They also run long and are as predictable as the rest of the plot points.
Either the series should’ve been titled “Now……….Apocalypse,” with one dot for however many episodes it takes for them to get to the apocalypse, or the audience is meant to believe the apocalypse is already upon us; that the millennial generation of uninspired pot-smoking slackers is going to bring on the end of the world, or that the perceptive younger generation has taken their elder’s cue and given up — global warming, Trump, whatever, we’re all screwed so we might as well get high and enjoy the end times. Either way, there’s not enough pointed commentary to clearly evoke one side or the other, and the ride toward the end is as familiar as it is dull. If the apocalypse is nigh, than the last thing people should do is spend their time watching another lazy recreation of millennial malaise. Oh, the horror. The horror.
“Now Apocalypse” premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and debuts Sunday, March 10 at 9 p.m. ET on Starz.