Unsatisfied with Leave the World Behind? Give Netflix’s other end-of-days oddity a go

If Leave the World Behind didn’t quite do it for you, Liam Maguren recommends giving Netflix’s other recent end-of-the-world oddity a go: Carol & the End of the World.

Netflix’s recent #1 hit original film, Leave the World Behind, left quite the impression on audiences—heaps of them unfavourable. Director Sam Esmail would’ve known this in advance, making the intentional creative decision to cap off his darkly comedic mystery-thriller with the kind of fill-in-the-gaps ending that always makes people want to riot.

Those unsatisfied viewers might be able to fill the void that was, erm, left behind with Carol & the End of the World. Released just a week after Esmail’s feature, this limited series from Emmy winner Dan Guterman (Rick and Morty, Community) also ponders humanity’s reaction to the end of days and our tendencies to seek out distractions when the world gets too much.

However, unlike Leave the World Behind, Carol & the End of the World lets you know exactly what you’re in for right from the start.

The first episode quickly explains the threat: an incoming, Melancholia-like planet named Kepler will obliterate Earth in less than a year. Bypassing the initial panic of the doomsday scenario, Guterman imagines a world where people welcome the end by going full YOLO. Travelling, skydiving, cartwheeling in the nude—everyone lets go of their judgements and does the things that fulfil their lives. Everyone except Carol.

Carrying the face of someone who’s lived with depression and anxiety long before Kepler, 42-year-old Carol’s long-term ailments were never going to vanish with a Live Your Best Life attitude. While her sister voyages the world and her elderly parents embrace their nudist life with their medical caregiver/third, Carol is too embarrassed to admit what she truly wants in her dying days—a stable office job and an Applebee’s.

While the premise seems ripe for the Rick and Morty brand of existential who-gives-a-fuck humour, Carol & the End of the World aims for a more off-beat tune similar to late-90s, early 2000s cubicle comedies like Office Space and I Heart Huckabees.

One episode sees Carol motorbiking down empty highways and scavenging around ransacked office supply depots for a very specific ink toner to fix a printer. It’s one of the many delightfully mundane storylines that makes the show stand out in the overcrowded end-of-the-world genre. Don’t mistake it for monotonous—that same episode ends on a wild whiplash of sudden tension that forced me to reevaluate how I felt about Carol.

A later episode delves into the backstories of items in a lost-n-found department. They involve characters we’ve never seen before and will never see again, their problems and desires never fully explored. The purpose of this episode? It’s a simple statement: everything has a story with some intrinsic value, no matter how big or small.

The show is all about the value of these small stories, even when they’re swamped by a colossal event. As the rest of the world seemingly looks to complete their ostentatious bucket lists, Carol actively avoids it. She knows she won’t find happiness in a bungee jump. Happiness isn’t even what she’s after. She wants contentment. If that means burying her head in an Excel sheet for eight hours a day, just like she used to, then that’s what she’ll chase.

Carol & the End of the World boldly asks what constitutes a life well lived. The judgement-free world Guterman’s created puts Carol’s simple values on the same pedestal as perilous paragliding and sexy threeways. Despite all her angst and melancholy, she’s a white woman in the Western world who knows what brings her inner peace—and it isn’t in a half-priced Buddha statue from Amazon.

The first episode does a great job laying out the show’s overall vibe, even if the look doesn’t quite capitalise on the tone. Canadian animation studio Bardel Entertainment have imported plenty of the same visual stylings seen in Rick and Morty and Solar Opposites, but there’s a wackiness to the character designs that misaligns with the downplayed, semi-serious story. It’s a classic case of wedging a gorilla into a suit, rather than tailoring a suit for the gorilla.

Adjust your expectations accordingly, however, and Carol & the End of the World has the potential to sneak into your mind space and squat there for days. Longer even, if you wisely choose not to binge it. Given the show’s unhurried ponderous nature, and the story taking place over several months, you’re better off savouring each episode on a one-per-week basis.