Welcome to the Agoraverse

November 27th 2023

Agoraphilia, an animated series created by Maggie Brennan, co-written with Annelise Ogaard and produced by Mila Matveeva (the latter two longtime contributors to the Screen Slateverse) and released by Adult Swim Smalls, is a portrait in miniature of New York City at its most frenetically overstimulating. I’ve often called Shu Lea Cheung’s Fresh Kill (1994) the most accurate depiction of living in New York because it renders absurdity and disorder as monotony. Agoraphilia has a similar impulse as it follows Brenda (voiced by Clare Ruddy), an anxiety-wracked donation solicitor for a mysterious non-profit called “Youth Troupe,” through a neon-hued hellscape in search of any kind of social interaction that isn’t amplified and mortifying.

Brenda, like all of us, ultimately just wants to hang out, but chill in the city is in markedly short supply. Brennan’s maximalist world, rife with details and split-second punchlines, dovetails the IRL horrors of the urban gig economy with its late-capitalist extension in the online realm. Social-media graphics, wannabe influencers, cringe-inducing hashtags, and the other detritus of the monetized surveillance culture slip through the fabric of the internet and onto New York’s streets. There is no escape for poor Brenda.

Agoraphilia had its brick-and-mortar premiere at a sold-out screening party in UnionDocs’ new Ridgewood space. Entitled “Welcome to the Agoraverse,” the screening collected the first three episodes of the series as well as other work from the creative forces behind the show: other short films by Brennan and Ogaard, flitting and tender hallucinogenic animations by assistant animator Stella Rosen, lead actress Clare Ruddy’s pitch-perfect and highly recommended faux-science web series Brain Job, and several storybook fables from internet legends dril and Derek, the latter of whom voices Brenda’s aggro-grindset work supervisor with villainously grating glee.

Agoraphilia producer Mila Matveeva, writer Annelise Ogaard, and creator Maggie Brennan introducing their show at UnionDocs

What is the Agoraverse? We couldn’t ask. Before the screening Ogaard announced that there would not be a Q&A at the end because “I just don’t like them.” Instead the program would segue directly into a dance party headlined by DJ Blurry. This felt fitting. Much of Agoraphilia and Brennan’s and Ogaard’s other work horrifically depicts the feeling of dread from being interrogated by strangers when you’re simply trying to survive the workday. Brennan’s animated Mall Series, a sort of companion piece to Agoraphilia, portrays bellowing influencers feuding and hawking their bizarre wares inside a mall with no exit. Ogaard’s Just Wondering is a supercut of particularly invasive man-on-the-street TikTok videos that is more than enough to make anyone wish to stay indoors. Within the comfy confines of UnionDocs 2.0 it was much easier to laugh at the brazen, chronically plugged-in hustle of the streets outside.

As the screening wrapped up, the digital specter of dril haunted the space—was he there or was he “at home somewhere in New Jersey”? Would we even know, or was this just one more collapsing of the online/offline absurdity? The much appreciated DJ set soon began—Brennan’s theme music for her series is an absolute banger; a bass and synth earworm of a send-off that deserved to be danced to til the sun rose over Ridgewood. The dozens of semi-social partygoers took to the dancefloor as DJ Blurry immediately spun “Seether,” Veruca Salt’s timeless anthem of weird girls being pushed to the psychological brink. Thirty years later, and for all the 4K lenses on our phones, we still can’t see her til she’s foaming at the mouth.

Agoraphilia is now streaming via Adult Swim.