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Carol and the End of the World

Entry updated 29 January 2024. Tagged: TV.

US animated tv series (2024). Netflix Animation. Created by Dan Guterman. Directed by Erica Hayes, Mollie Helms and Bert Youn. Written by Kevin Arrieta, Dan Guterman and Noah Prestwich. Voice cast includes Kimberly Hébert Gregory, Martha Kelly and Mel Rodriguez. Ten 25-35 minute episodes. Colour.

In 2002 (see Alternate History) the planet Keppler 9C (there is an exoplanet of this name) is heading towards the Earth and will collide in a matter of months, wiping out all life (see Disaster). People respond by indulging themselves in hedonism, mysticism or simply taking an extended holiday, as their dispositions dictate (see Decadence). Though built-up areas are nearly deserted and increasingly run down, some basic infrastructure survives; there is still television, limited public transport and food, whilst the military makes sure nothing gets out of hand

With the planet looming in the sky a television announcer asks: "With 7 months and 13 days remaining, what will you be doing?" Though her parents are travelling the world on a liner called The Grand Coda and her sister is off having adventures, 42-year-old Carol Kohl (Kelly) just wants to live her life as it was before: when pressurized by her family she lies about taking up surfing, sculpting and learning to play bass. Then, in an otherwise deserted City centre, she notices one floor of an office block is still occupied: on entering, this is revealed to be an accountancy firm and she is promptly given a job as an Admin Assistant. The staff are uncommunicative, intently focused on their work; Carol attempts to socialize, is initially rebuffed, but eventually befriends two fellow employees. The first is no-nonsense Donna (Gregory) ("Welcome to The Distraction"), who when asked what the firm does thinks it might be "some kind of audit"; the other friend, the genial Luis (Rodriguez), has several theories, such as that they are all dead (see Eschatology) and the office is purgatory (see Religion); or it is performance Art. The trio bond over trying to find the family of a fellow worker who died and investigating the firm's lost property office, where the items examined give the opportunity for some flashbacks to when the collision was first announced.

Following the planet's appearance – we learn NASA's computers predict the likelihood of impact is 104.3% – all of the firm's staff left, except one who, fixated on an accountancy anomaly, carried on working. As with Carol, people uncomfortable with society's insistence on carpe diem were drawn to the office, to be given jobs. However, her gradual creation of a sense of community among co-workers leads to emotional fragility as the day of collision approaches – there has been a brief outburst of hysterical crying – which alarms management, who call for a report on Carol. When it is presented to them, with little more than three months remaining, the season ends.

Carol and the End of the World is a Cosy Catastrophe, showing a minimum of the destruction and death typical of imminent End of the World scenarios (see Clichés) – which are Parodied at times, such as when Carol searches for toner on a motorcycle. For most of humanity the weight of responsibility seems to have been lifted from their shoulders: whilst much is clearly being suppressed, there is also a sense of freedom. Carol represents the more introverted minority for whom the main drawback to the end of the world – to this point at least – has been the disruption of their familiar routine. Plain, unambitious and middle-aged, Carol is not the typical lead for this sf genre (asked what she misses, her response is "Recycling mostly, and the feeling you get from saving money ...") but, as the season goes on, her decency – and that of Donna and Luis – becomes moving and quietly heroic: the scenes not centred on these three tend to be the least interesting (though still good). Like Carol herself, this is a quietly impressive series: an office drama with gentle Humour and an ever-growing elephant in the room ... with the media trying to be upbeat about the latter – as a television announcer remarks, with Kepler's "gravitational pull slowing Earth's rotation, get ready for 19 hour days and 19 hour nights" (see Gravity). Creator Guterman describes the show as a "love letter to routine". It is not clear whether a few oddities – the planet itself turning up, the 104.3% and the accounting anomaly that cannot be resolved – are whimsy or significant, but no second season is planned. [SP]


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