TV review: ‘You, Me and the Apocalypse’

| Managing Editor

When: Thursday, 7 PM
Channel: NBC

“You, Me and the Apocalypse” seems like it would fit in perfectly on a streaming service like Netflix. It’s a one-hour dramedy that explores some intense themes (a la “Orange is the New Black”), it features an interconnected web of international characters (a la “Sense8”) and it has a generally offbeat, surreal quality to it (a la…take your pick). But “You, Me and the Apocalypse” isn’t on Netflix; it’s on NBC, a network that hasn’t produced a big, critically acclaimed hit in at least five years. “You, Me and the Apocalypse” definitely doesn’t fit in on NBC right now—but that’s a good thing.

First, a bit of background: the show’s pilot opens in an underground bunker just moments before a comet is expected to strike Earth and cause the extinction of mankind. This bunker houses an unlikely assortment of people, and we begin to learn more about these peculiar characters and what brought them together when the show flashes back to 34 days prior—the day the world learned of the impending apocalypse.

We’re first introduced to Jamie (Mathew Baynton), a sad-sack British banker who is wrongly arrested for cyberterrorism on his birthday. Then there’s Rhonda (Jenna Fischer), a well-intentioned librarian who winds up in prison after covering for her son’s hacking of the National Security Agency. There’s also Sister Celine (Gaia Scodellaro), a feisty nun who leaves her convent for a job at the Vatican with the cigarette-smoking, foul-mouthed Father Jude (Rob Lowe). From London to New Mexico to Italy and beyond, these disparate characters intersect in curious ways, some of which we learn during the pilot, some of which we’ll learn later on.

There’s no shortage of apocalyptic TV shows on the air right now (“The Walking Dead,” “The Last Man on Earth,” “The Leftovers,” to name a few), but so far, what makes “You, Me and the Apocalypse” stand out is its focus on its characters’ pre-apocalypse stories. The characters don’t even learn about the comet hurtling toward Earth until about three-quarters of the way into the episode, and, by that point, you’ve probably gotten so wrapped up in their unique stories that you’ve almost forgotten you’re watching a show about the end of the world. There are so many mysteries to be uncovered and relationships to be explored that the apocalypse seems secondary.

Given its absurd plot, it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the show’s tone borders on the surreal. On paper, “You, Me and the Apocalypse” sounds almost like a soap opera—there’s even a plotline involving an evil twin. The series commits to the craziness, though, spinning it into something amusing and intriguing rather than something overtly campy or insincere. A prime example is Father Jude, who works at the Vatican as—quite literally—the devil’s advocate, a job that involves vetting would-be saints. Rob Lowe plays Father Jude expertly, making him one of the funniest characters on the show (“Do you find the phrase ‘Christ on a bike’ offensive? Because I just used it in a meeting and you would have thought that I’d performed an abortion on the table.”) while still portraying him with quite a bit of nuance. So far, his storyline with Sister Celine might be the show’s most compelling, but Jamie, Rhonda and the rest of their oddball gang clearly have lots in store, too.

Many early reviews have hailed “You, Me and the Apocalypse” as the best thing to happen to NBC in years, heralding the return of the network’s once-renowned “must-see TV” lineup of Thursday-night comedies. But putting this new series in the same bucket as such beloved sitcoms as “Friends,” “Will & Grace” and “The Office” seems both presumptuous and misleading. After all, this isn’t a sitcom; it’s a dramedy and a fairly unconventional and ambitious one at that. It doesn’t have the same laugh-out-loud jokes, or the same lovable characters or the same quotable lines as NBC’s comedies of yore, but that’s ok.

“You, Me and the Apocalypse” does its own thing and does it well. You’ll want to keep tuning in to see what these wacky characters get up to in the 34 days leading up to the apocalypse—and hopefully even when the world ends, the show doesn’t end with it.