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Gregg Araki and Steven Soderbergh Are Collaborating on a “Crazy” New Series

Two very unique filmmakers are joining forces for a mind-boggling experience about “identity, sexuality, and artistry.”
Mysterious Skin
By  · Published on March 27th, 2018

Two very unique filmmakers are joining forces for a mind-boggling experience about “identity, sexuality, and artistry.”

Gregg Araki, the directorial force behind the Teenage Apocalypse film trilogy and Mysterious Skin, has been away from the big screen for a long time. He has kept busy, directing a few episodes of television shows such as 13 Reasons Why and Riverdale, and those aren’t his first forays into TV — he also worked on a pilot called This is How the World Ends back in 2000. But now, thanks to Steven Soderbergh and Starz, Araki has decided on the next project that is sure to bring him back into the spotlight.

Starz just announced that Now Apocalypse, a 10-episode coming-of-age comedy with a bit of a mind-bending twist, has received a straight-to-series order. Soderbergh is set to executive produce the show and Araki — the creator and also an executive producer — will co-write and direct every episode. Now Apocalypse‘s logline details that the show’s protagonist, Ulysses, is on the prowl for love, sex and fame with his friends Carly, Ford and Severine. He also develops some “foreboding premonitory dreams” along the way that alters his perception of the real… but those might be the result of all the weed he’s smoking. Starz describes the series as an exploration of “identity, sexuality, and artistry while navigating the strange and oftentimes bewildering city of Los Angeles.”

If the show’s eye-catching title and pointedly named protagonist doesn’t already pique interest, Soderbergh’s statement is a pretty intriguing endorsement of Now Apocalypse:

“If this isn’t the craziest thing I’ve ever read, it’s tied for first. We will not be responsible for people’s heads splitting in half when they see it.”

Coming from Soderbergh — a man who is constantly touted as an innovator in the realm of filmmaking — Now Apocalypse could really be the freshest project out there. Araki himself has been known as a game-changing director in his own right, with The Living End being a hugely important film in the New Queer Cinema movement of the 1990s. Araki’s films are usually more than simply confronting in narrative, as they challenge what audiences know about the reality within the confines of a screen.

Araki is known for pushing the boundaries of excess in a way that results in a tenuous line between self-destruction and affirmation. For example, the second act of Araki’s Teenage Apocalypse series, The Doom Generation, uses offensive portrayals of sex and violence to create juxtapositions that are impossible to reconcile. Araki himself sees the intensity and surrealism of his violent images as being the opposite of nihilistic because they serve a self-referential purpose. He creates very distinctive unreal worlds by playing with form, such as using the self-designed slang employed in the rest of the Teenage Apocalypse trio, too. This particular series of films showcase that his protagonists — dealing with issues of self-discovery and more often than not questioning their sexuality — create microcosms for themselves that are constantly broken into by normative society, albeit in extreme ways.

Therefore, it obviously isn’t surprising that Araki’s work is polarizing, to be put it lightly. For instance, Roger Ebert most famously objected to “the attitude” of perceived irreverence when it came to The Doom Generation; to Ebert, the film came across as too referential and disaffected for its own good. It became the nihilism that Araki sought to combat against.

But Araki continued to work with higher-profile actors over the years and the utterly painful Mysterious Skin, Araki’s first adaptation, marries the director’s penchant for surreal themes and the ultimate dissection of trauma in an affecting drama. Boosted by fantastic performances by Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Brady Corbet, the film follows two young men who deal with childhood sexual abuse in drastically different ways. The more conventional narrative made Mysterious Skin more of a hit with critics despite the deeply upsetting subject matter. What Scott Tobias for the A.V. Club calls Araki’s “battered hopefulness” reveals itself in yet another story of young people harmed by a system that never protected them, but anchors his story in a much less experimental way.

That said, considering how even the most conventional of dramas can also include the theme of alien abductions for Araki, his flair for the bizarrely comedic is an expected flip-side. Both Smiley Face and Kaboom followed up the seriousness of Mysterious Skin as they tapped into the more unabashedly playful style that seems to come easily to the filmmaker. Between a typical stoner comedy (that received a better than average critical response) and what Wikipedia calls a “science fiction mystery fantasy comedy” movie, Araki’s psychedelic nature returns in full force, but is always affected by a twinge of danger and/or impending doom.

This is what makes Now Apocalypse an especially interesting concept. Araki’s attempt at going back to seriousness didn’t really work with White Bird in a Blizzard, which was his last cinematic effort before making the jump to the small screen. But as divisive as he may be, Araki has made his mark in many different genres over the years. From what we know about Now Apocalypse so far, it’s very much within Araki’s oeuvre and could mark a tangible comeback, this time in long-form storytelling.

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Sheryl Oh often finds herself fascinated (and let's be real, a little obsessed) with actors and their onscreen accomplishments, developing Film School Rejects' Filmographies column as a passion project. She's not very good at Twitter but find her at @sherhorowitz anyway. (She/Her)