There's a scene in HBO's Station 11 where two colleagues realize they have hours left before The End. They're stuck in a hotel, in a foreign country, with only each other to witness their existence. Without much fanfare, they part ways, returning to their individual rooms.
I keep wondering what I would do in that moment, awaiting certain doom — something reality and current TV lineups give no end of opportunities to ponder. I keep reaching the same conclusion. At the end of the world, I'd probably seek out romantic, dreamy escapism. Something silly and light and non-threatening, a visual feast. Something to keep up the vibes.
At the end of the world, I'd probably be watching Emily in Paris.
Fear of the end of the world is a known hazard of my job, which requires me to be perpetually online. It's also a symptom of the chronic anxiety I've experienced since early childhood, when, at 5 years old, I watched a documentary about Pompeii and cried myself to sleep worrying about suffocation by scalding hot lava. (I did not live in Pompeii, nor near a volcano.)
Crippling fear of the end of humanity is also, it turns out, a side effect of living in the reality we all woke up in this morning. Whether the world ends with a bang (nuclear destruction) or a whimper (a water crisis spurred by global warming) or a squeaky little cough (a pandemic, sorry), it feels as though a sense of impending doom is the most relatable aspect of being alive in 2022.
All that said: My god, can we cool it with the apocalypse content for, like, a second? Because the vibes, man — they are not good.
Imagine: You're quarantined on Christmas — the holiday for joy and tidings or whatever — because you weren't able to get a COVID test to find out whether your stuffy nose and mild fever were allergies or the latest variant of the plague (Omicron's Version). You choose a movie to watch with your boyfriend, that new one with Leonardo DiCaprio and Jennifer Lawrence (and Cate Blanchett, AND Timothee Chalamet), Don't Look Up. What was supposed to be a relaxing evening filled with laughter and hot cocoa turns into a disturbing doomsday thought spiral (and, to be fair to Jonah Hill, a few laughs).
How was your Christmas? friends and coworkers asked. "Not great, Bob!"
A week later, as I was still pondering whom I might invite to my end of the world dinner party before being wiped off the face of the planet, I turned on Station 11, the show that brings us to the end of civilization, by way of a super-contagious flu. (The novel upon which the show is based was published in 2014, so I can't really blame author Emily St. John Mandel for bringing it a little too close to home.) As scenes of over-run hospital wards and healthcare workers in hazmat suits filled the screen, I began chanting a now-familiar "no, no, no, I don't like this, no."
Even my plan to escape the Chicken Little Narrative with a cozy book eventually backfired. I finally delved into Alexandra Kleeman's latest novel, Something New Under the Sun, based on InStyle's own promises of beautiful prose and anti-capitalist themes. But the book, as it turns out, also takes place in forewarned End Times, while the oblivious, status-obsessed population ignores the many, many signs of their own eventual demise. Ugh.
The creators of all this apocalypse content are far from the first artists to draw inspiration from the possibility of the end of civilization as we know it. Christians have literally been crying "rapture" since the first century A.D. But the difference between today's stories and earlier versions of dystopic mainstream media is a complete lack of hope. No hero swoops in at the last minute to save the day. Everybody just dies.
To an extent, I get it. This is our reality, and it really does feel hopeless sometimes. But I'm not the climate change denier, I'm not the one screaming "don't look up!" I'm still out here doing my best, pretending that my "ethical" habits will endow humanity with one more day on this green Earth; that my reusable grocery bags will save us. During the pandemic, I stayed home and wore a mask and did my best to decipher all the latest CDC guidance. I've always respected the teachings of Smokey the Bear. What else can I do?!
Reporter Lyz Lenz, in a newsletter about her decision to take a long-planned vacation with her family despite the Omicron wave, summed up this urge to say "fuck it" rather nicely: "There is no beginning and no end. It's all beginnings and it's all endings. And it always has been. It's all grief. It's some joy. And baby, I only know one way into the abyss and that's head first." Live while you can. Enjoy something.
Rather than getting beat over the head with doom and gloom, choose to immerse yourself in stories that feel hopeful, that inspire you to dream of a future of earthly beauty and unbridled joy and spacious, rent-controlled Manhattan apartments. They may not be realistic, but that's the point. Be the vibes you want to see in the world.
Here, some more suggestions for non-apocalyptic shows and movies to watch if you'd like to lighten the mood. The End Times Playlist:
The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO)
Remember your college days, when tragedy was your crush not liking you back? Or sleeping through your 8 a.m. class? The leads of this show endure slightly worse from time to time, but with Mindy Kaling at the helm it stays fun all the way through.
Sex and the City (the original series, HBO)
Shout-out to Pat Fields for giving us the costume inspiration we hated to love and loved to hate.
We used to live in a world where mediocre network shows wrapped an entire storyline into one episode, and god, I miss it.
You may be noticing a theme here … ahem, sexy content. I apologize for nothing, and you're welcome.
Another plus: Period dramas are particularly alluring because at least we know what the next 200 years holds for the characters. Sigh.
Derry Girls (Netflix)
Set during the Troubles in Northern Ireland in the '90s, the Derry girls (plus one dude) may have thought their own world was ending. But while political brouhaha and violence takes place outside their windows, they find a way to laugh.
And, as with the above period pieces, we all know it turns out OK in the end. And that all that '90s fashion will survive.
Pride and Prejudice (Amazon)
Dreamy costumes, a chaste Victorian romance, Mathew McFayden doing that thing with his hand. And it's a love story with a happy ending? Play it on repeat.
Forget Friends, The Office, and Seinfeld. Why aren't we all more obsessed with Suits? Or Scrubs, or Happy Endings, or all the other overlooked mid-to-late 2000's dramedies?
It's all the sweeter knowing that Rachel (Meghan Markle) is the heroine in real life, too.
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