Enough with the ‘End Times’ Content Already

If the world's gonna end, can I at least go out watching something fun?

These days, I can't seem to escape the doomsday content, and I realized it a couple days back, while attending a screening of M. Night Shyamalan's latest thriller, Knock at the Cabin. The new blockbuster from the mind behind The Sixth Sense follows a gay couple, Eric (Jonathan Groff) and Andrew (Ben Aldridge), and their daughter, Wen (Kristen Cui), a loving family who think they're spending a pleasant weekend at a cabin, until they're held hostage by four strangers. These intruders inform the trio that they've been haunted by visions of the apocalypse, and the only way to save humanity is for the family to sacrifice one of their own. Until they make a decision, more and more people will continue to die.

It's a somewhat preposterous concept, but the film juggles big themes about what it means to love, and the friction of balancing your own needs versus those of the greater good. Because of this, Knock at the Cabin was easily Shyamalan's best movie in years, and it had me in tears by the end, especially thanks to its moving performances. But, when I left the theater, and the effects of Shyamalan's tearjerker wore off, I thought: Jeez, what's with all the apocalyptic media?

Still from 'Knock at the Cabin.'
Universal Pictures

That wasn't the first time this week that I had watched planes crash and cities burn. Like millions of others, I have also been tuning into HBO's The Last of Us, which—only 3 episodes in—has broken viewership records and been renewed for a second season. The series, based on a 2013 video game of the same name, follows a smuggler named Joel (Pedro Pascal), who is put in charge of escorting a young girl named Ellie (Bella Ramsey) across a dismal United States, after a mutated fungus turns people into killer zombies.

The Last of Us is enthralling TV, with Walking Dead-level thrills and This Is Us-style emotion. But more impressively, its premise was well-researched: The source material's creators, Bruce Straley and Neil Druckmann, built a story around the idea that a mutant Cordyceps fungus evolves due to the Earth's rising temperatures and is now suddenly able to thrive in human hosts.

Clever idea, right? I sure thought so, until I got a horrifying news alert from The Wall Street Journal only a couple days later. Turns out, this plot is terrifyingly real, and dangerous fungi are spreading around the U.S. as we speak. Are you freaking kidding me?!

As if the show wasn't relatable enough (because, you know, we just had our own pandemic hit merely three years ago), now it feels like a real-life horror story. Sure, those sly WSJ reporters were probably trying to capitalize on the success of The Last of Us (the report does note that people have been dying of fungal infections for decades, and we likely won't be turning into hungry zombies any time soon), but that doesn't make it any less daunting.

Even beyond The Last of Us and Knock at the Cabin, there's been an influx of apocalyptic media recently: Station Eleven, All of Us Are Dead, The Stand, A Quiet Place, Jung_E, Fear of the Walking Dead, Tales of the Walking Dead (the list goes on)...and there's only more to come. Later this year, Netflix will release their adaptation of Rumaan Alam's incredible 2020 novel, Leave the World Behind. Meanwhile, a number of new and returning shows will be exploring different versions of dystopian futures, like Sweet Tooth.

The main problem is, all of these titles are excellent. I can't stop watching! When I scroll on Twitter, I want to understand why everyone's calling Nick Offerman an icon for the gays (watch The Last of Us and you'll get what I mean). How can I not be excited about Leave the World Behind, which was one of my favorite books of 2020? They got Julia Roberts and Mahershala Ali in the lead roles, for goodness sake. The fact of the matter is, the more people watch, the more the "end times” entertainment will keep flooding in.

Perhaps part of the reason that I and so many others keep watching is because we think: “Well, at least our situation isn't that bad.” I mean, it's bad. We're only just starting to emerge from a COVID-19 world, we're dealing with the effects of climate change and we're getting daily news alerts about newfound dangers such as fungus, least the fungus hasn't turned us into zombies? Right?

Still, while seeing worse circumstances than our own can be relieving in a way, it's also exhausting. I remember when the disaster drama 2012 came out and people treated it like a big joke. For the most part, we didn't really think the world would end in 2012 (even though the Mayans were right about a lot of things). But now, it isn't really much of a joke (and certainly not escapism) to watch The Last of Us when I read about actual pandemics in the news.

If you think about it, there's a reason that Schitt's Creek blew up when COVID-19 hit. It makes sense that people still can't stop talking about Abbott Elementary and Ted Lasso. The Armageddon titles do numbers, but so do the feel-good ones. And we need something comforting that distracts us from the outside world, damnit.

Yes, I will continue watching The Last of Us (I mean, it really is good). But can we take a little break soon from putting the end of the world on screen? It's clear that audiences respond well to lighthearted fare (and critics circles and award panels respond well to it too). And no, this doesn't mean that I can't still enjoy a good serious drama (I haven't been able to shut up about Severance). It's just that watching the world get annihilated over and over may soon lead to the annihilation of my viewing pleasure. Now I'm off to watch a rerun of Schitt's Creek.

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Associate Editor, News and Entertainment

Joel is the Associate Editor for News & Entertainment and has been reporting on all things pop culture for over 5 years. Before working at PureWow, he served as a Features...