[Semi-Review] Now Apocalypse: The First Half

If you’re a gay person, you know the term queerbaiting. And you’ve experienced it a lot in your favorite shows. Queerbaiting is a trope of hinting at, but then not actually depicting, a same-sex romantic relationship between characters in a work of fiction. Showrunners will utilize some homoerotic subtext between two characters, aimed at the queer audience and slash fiction fans and when fans start to ship them, they lean into it.

But never, like, consummate it. Instead, they just hint at it. Give some knowing winks that maybe these two characters with a ton of chemistry will one day kiss. Teen Wolf did it. Riverdale does it. Awkward did it. Even that BBC/NBC production Merlin did it. A lot of shows do. Google Sterek or Sciles fan art, if you don’t know what I mean…but maybe not at work.

Well, the first episode of queer auteur Gregg Araki’s Now Apocalypse feels like an opening salvo against this. The opening scene has our protagonist Ulysses (Avan Jogia) walking through a dark alley until he sees something that makes him scream before we smash cut to him having sex with a beautiful man. Then we’re quickly introduced to Ford (Beau Mirchoff), his incredibly sexy beefcake of a roommate and best friend, having sex on the couch with an equally beautiful woman named Severine (Roxane Mesquida). And it all culminates with Ford and Ulysses, on a beach in bathing suits, sharing a passionate kiss.

And yes, that kiss is a fantasy in Ulysses’ daydreaming mind, but it immediately gives the queer viewers what they want with a wink and a nod. It boldly says its not going to string you along with hopes you’ll see these two attractive leads, who ooze chemistry, kiss at some point. It simultaneously offers up something other shows would bait the audience with and gets it out of the way so we can move on. And this is all in the first fifteen minutes of the first episode. But wait, there’s more. Not to spoil anything, but the first episode ends with a galaxy-shattering handjob between Ulysses and his mysterious hookup Gabriel (Tyler Posey).

Gauntlet thrown.

Let’s backup. Now Apocalypse is about Ulysses (adorably called Uly by his friends) and his small group of friends. His best friend Ford dragged Uly to Los Angeles from Kansas, in search of fame. Ford comes from a rich family and wants to make it as a screenwriter. He’s incredibly earnest and naive but heartfelt and caring. We follow his journey as he tries to get in with Hollywood producers who seem interested in a script he’s developing. And he’s deeply in love with his girlfriend Severine, an astrophysicist who works for a top secret agency and sees him as a fun diversion because of his magnificent body and, apparently, his talents in bed.

Uly wanted to be an actor, but his first audition was filled with actors who looked just like him, all trying to make it, so he gave up. Now he just smokes a lot of pot, takes temp jobs and feels completely listless. His latest crush Gabriel has been seemingly leading him on; setting up dates, ghosting and then apologizing. But Gabriel is so hot and Uly desperately wants to make a connection. Meanwhile, Uly has been having terrifying premonitions of an apocalyptic nature and thinks that there’s some vast, dark conspiracy going on…or he could just be incredibly and constantly high.

Their friend Carly (Kelli Berglund) is similarly in a rut. Her current actor boyfriend Jethro (Desmond Chiam) is so distracted by his phone during sex that he prefers positions where he can glance at it. Worse, he’s gotten into the habit of saying things like, “Teach me. Teach me how to drive you wild" to her while they’re going at it.  Unfulfilled, she starts to get into the cam girl game and slowly discovers her own online dominatrix side.

Oh and there’s a kind of rape-y lizard thing that might be an alien?

Starz sent me the first five episodes to review and I think it was enough for me to get a feel for the story. Those looking for hard sci-fi should probably look elsewhere. Like most of Aaraki’s work, Now Apocalypse blends science fiction with existential angst, sexual fluidity and youthful disaffection. His narratives always seem intent on reclaiming queer narratives from the mainstream. Or, at the very least, subverting them. And Now Apocalypse is no different.

Take the actors, for example. Tyler Posey was the relatively chaste lead in Teen Wolf; straight and narrow. Here, he gets to break from that MTV mold and be sexually liberated and queer. The fact he ends the episode by giving both Uly and himself a mutual HJ pretty much destroys the image MTV established for him. Then there’s Kelli Berglund, who is probably best known for her role on Disney’s Lab Rats. Kelli’s Carly has a box filled with sex toys and pleasures herself in a bathtub, forces sub men to read her audition lines and takes the paddle to her boyfriend’s ass.

But it’s Beau Mirchoff who is given the most to work with. He was a charismatic star in the show Awkward, but, like Tyler, was never allowed to be anything more than PG-13 sexy.  And yes, Now Apocalypse features the requisite sexy and frequently naked Beau, but it also allows him to be goofy and he embraces it with aplomb. He radiates sexual energy and charisma with everyone he’s onscreen with and, truthfully, he’s the star of the show in my opinion. Sure, the narrative ostensibly focuses on Uly and his apocalyptic premonitions, but it’s Ford that provides the gooey, earnest heart. His relationships are the ones I’ve found myself most invested in.

Hints of something strange are interspersed throughout the first half of the season, both in Uly’s premonitions/experiences and Severine’s mysterious scientific agency. But that kind of apocalypticism isn’t the focus, at least not yet. Instead, it’s about self-destructing romance and the abuse of those in power; themes I’ll probably talk about more in-depth during individual episode recaps. I absolutely loved what I’ve seen so far and episode five left some tantalizing clues about where the story is ultimately heading.

Now Apocalypse is fun, funny and sexy. It can be incredibly silly at times and heartfelt at others. It also just oozes queerness and sexual adventurousness in a way that I’m not used to seeing in mainstream, big budget comedies. I really hope it leans hard into that queerness as the story develops, because it’s set the stage for being a hilarious and poignant story about young adults trying to make it in a crazy world. A world that, like ours, could end at any minute.