In one episode of the endearingly peculiar and energetic new Starz comedy Now Apocalypse (Sunday nights at 9 p.m.), the show’s directionless hero Ulysses (Avan Jogia), has sex with a hot delivery guy, then asks if his life is some “never-ending porno.” The delivery guy suggests this was an anomaly for him, but it’s not for Ulysses and the show’s other characters, whose lives can at times seem barely distinguishable from adult films.
Ulysses’ friend Carly (Kelli Berglund) is an aspiring actress whose gifts assert themselves more strongly through her work as a cam girl than when she’s in auditions. His roommate Ford (Beau Mirchoff) is a sweet but dim screenwriter oblivious to the effect his fit body and tight clothes has on people of all persuasions. Ford’s girlfriend, Severine (Roxane Mesquida), works in a cheesy science lab full of way-too-sexy people straight out of a skin flick. And the greatest tension in her relationship with her boyfriend is his need to say “I love you” during sex, where she’d rather introduce him to the joys of polyamory.
More than any other pay cable or streaming outlet, Starz has a long history of trying to move the Overton Window for gratuitous nudity; shows like The Girlfriend Experience and Outlander have smartly taken advantage of the seeming mandate for sex scenes. Now Apocalypse creators Gregg Araki (Mysterious Skin) and Karley Sciortino (Slutever) use it almost like a parody of oversexed Prestige TV, particularly in the universe’s simultaneous fascination and exasperation with Ford. Even he and Ulysses had a drunk hookup in college, though the latter explains now that his buddy is “that truly rare Kinsey zero, where I am an ever-oscillating four.” A friend of Severine, meanwhile, suggests that Ford is “the reason the female gaze was invented.” This is how almost everyone on the show talks.
Even what plot there is to speak of has penetration on the brain. Ulysses is haunted by visions of lizard aliens coming to conquer Earth’s population in a very intimate way, but it’s unclear whether anything is actually happening. “On one hand, I can’t shake this gnawing dread, this feeling that there’s something going on just below the surface of everyday life,” Ulysses says in his vlog. “But on the other hand, I do smoke a lot of weed.”
With Ulysses perpetually baked, Ford a sex idiot (to quote 30 Rock) and Severine aloof and mysterious, Carly is the member of the quartet who comes most sharply into focus. She and Ulysses are often paired to argue the sexual politics that the series finds far more interesting than potential lizard aliens. At one point, as the two debate which of them a handsome stranger (RJ Mitte, Walter Jr. from Breaking Bad) is into, her friend suggests, “Maybe he’s a polyamorous flexisexual who wants to recruit us both.” Carly — who has previously told her acting teacher that “sexual fluidity is a requirement” for millennials — groans, “Honestly, I just preferred when everyone was straight. It just made sex so much less confusing.” Ulysses’ reply sums up the series’ ethos: “When was that?”
It’s a strange, messy trifle of a show. And there are frequently scenes that clearly have the structure of comedy but with few, if any jokes — like Carly and her roommate being forced to watch her actor boyfriend play a corpse in a true-crime series. But periodically, Berglund will toss out a line with the perfect level of don’t-give-a-fuck, or the writing will dial Ford’s wounded himboism up enough to generate really big laughs. I can’t so much recommend it as describe it, in the hopes that some of the 300 people for whom this will be their favorite series ever recognize that from these words. And I can salute it for turning the porny aesthetic of Starz as a whole into its reason for being, rather than a distracting side element.