Given that nobody really knows what to make of a co-production comedy, and certainly not what to do with an hourlong comedy about the end of the world, it’s probably fair to assume that You, Me and the Apocalypse, premiering tonight on NBC, has gone under the radar for most people.
And that’s unfortunate, since this pre-apocalypse comedy — as opposed to, say, Fox’s The Last Man On Earth, a post-apocalypse comedy — has a fresh, funny and certainly thoughtful take on the end. There are plenty of laughs to be found, but that doesn’t seem to be creator and writer Iain Hollands’ primary objective. He’s all over the map with this U.S.-U.K. co-production (which has already aired in Britain), and the ambition is what makes it engaging.
You, Me and the Apocalypse swerves from predetermined conclusion (a giant space rock, roughly the size of Manhattan, is headed toward Earth and there’s no escaping it) to a twist (a group of people, their identities revealed at the beginning of each episode, appear to be holed up in a bunker capable of surviving whatever happens on the surface); over to a buddy comedy/road trip/lost-love mystery (two best friends in England are going to find a previously unknown twin brother and a missing bride); while simultaneously telling a more slapstick American version of that road trip (this time with an innocent mother taking a prison rap for her hacker son and a fellow prisoner who happens to be a white supremacist along for the ride).
Oh, there’s also a lot of stuff about the Catholic Church, faith, some possible messiah candidates and some possible Antichrists — and some stuff about the military and how far governments will go to protect themselves.
That’s a lot for a comedy if you’re just looking for the ha-ha kind — and TV is already filled with those — but you might enjoy the look and feel of You, Me and the Apocalypse because at the very least it’s a whole lot different than most things.
The structure puts the end of days at, well, 34 days until the “extinction-level event” happens. The story is told by hopping from England to the United States and Vatican City, etc., with the fabric of society fraying as electric countdown clocks remind everyone to start their bucket lists and/or go looting and doing crazy stuff in the meantime.
What Hollands manages to pull off in this weird co-production is give audiences who like broader American comedy the duo of Jenna Fischer as Rhonda and Megan Mullally as Leanne, the mom covering for her son and the white supremacist on the lam, respectively. Mullally is excellent in her to-the-edge-of-over-the-top performance as Leanne, while Fischer’s Rhonda has more of that restrained and natural element she perfected in The Office.
Matthew Baynton, who was so great in the British series The Wrong Mans (with James Corden), plays Jamie, the by-the-book bank manager in Slough, whose wife has been missing for ages since their return flight from their honeymoon. His best friend Dave (the very funny and engaging Joel Fry) is a low-stress slacker type and a counterpoint to Jamie. When Jamie is arrested and thought to be the second-most successful hacker in the world (behind Rhonda’s son, who hacked the Pentagon and other U.S. military and intelligence operations), he finds out he’s got a twin brother named Ariel (also played by Baynton). And Jamie’s ex is (possibly mistakenly?) with that twin (both boys were adopted). Jamie finds all of this out on his birthday, which is the day the apocalypse is officially announced.
Jamie and Dave go on a road trip of epically misguided proportions, and the humor that ensues is decidedly British in nature (so, more subtle, but also, arguably, smarter and wittier).
Meanwhile, that previously mentioned Catholic connection to the end days gives us Rob Lowe as Father Jude, the officially titled “devil’s advocate,” who tries to debunk the church’s modern-day rush to make everyone a saint. So, while he smokes and snickers about how he’s the bad guy in the Vatican left to poke holes in the holy, the approaching apocalypse shifts his job to figuring out if the Second Coming is actually going to happen or if an Antichrist will rise instead. It’s actually funny, heady stuff, and just to add to the oddity, Hollands gives Father Jude a cohort in the devout nun Sister Celine, who is smoking hot but not played to that cliché by Italian actress Gaia Scodellaro.
Again, there’s a lot going on in You, Me and the Apocalypse.
The good news is that most of it is swiftly and creatively entertaining and imaginative — which it deserves more credit for but won’t get because of its obscure heritage and hourlong, sometimes dark approach to comedy. If you’re looking for something different, though, give the end of the world a chance.
Airdate: Thursdays, 8 p.m. ET/PT (NBC).