NBC is a confusing network. After hosting an awards show (the Golden Globes) for which the network was up for zero awards, after dismantling its signature Must See TV Lineup, and after failing in its “broader is better” strategy, NBC seemed like a network in search of an identity. Once the proud home of classic sitcoms like Cheers, Friends, The Office and Seinfeld, ratings on the network have been buoyed in recent years by Sunday Night Football, a singing competition (The Voice) and murder (six of its seven highest-rated scripted series are procedurals). The one great scripted series the network did own, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, was essentially handed over to Netflix because it didn’t fit NBC’s brand.
What’s bizarre about its newest series, You, Me, and the Apocalypse, is that it doesn’t seem to fit within whatever NBC’s evolving brand is. What’s even more bizarre is that it’s good. It’s very good. It’s so good, in fact, that it’s surprising that NBC hasn’t sold it to Netflix already.
You, Me, and the Apocalypse reaches into its Must-See comedy past and pulls out a few familiar faces: Jenna Fischer (The Office), Rob Lowe (Parks and Recreation), Megan Mullally (Will & Grace) and even her husband, Nick Offerman (Parks and Recreation), and it smartly puts them in roles that are completely unrecognizable to fans of their previous work. You, Me and the Apocalypse was co-produced by NBC and the British network Sky 1 (where it has already aired), and its sensibilities are far more British than American. It’s also unlike anything that’s ever aired on NBC.
Each episode of the hour-long dramedy begins with Jamie Winton (Mathew Baynton, The Wrong Mans) — an everyman bank manager who works in the English town of Slough — sitting on a couch in an underground bunker watching the world end on television. A comet 8 miles wide is headed toward Earth and is expected to render all life extinct, save for the 15 people housed in the bunker who are expected to continue the species. One minute before the comet hits (and as a news anchor solemnly gives her final farewells), the show flashes back 34 days to the point where everyone on the planet learns that the world is about to end.
It’s in that 34-day period where all the action takes places. We learn that Jamie is in search of his wife, who mysteriously disappeared seven years before. He’s also mixed up in a criminal investigation of a hacker who, it turns out, is the twin brother that Jamie never knew he had.
Meanwhile, in America, Rhonda MacNeil (Jenna Fischer) is in prison for her own hacking crime against the NSA, though it’s one that she didn’t commit. She is taking the fall for her son, Spike. In prison, she meets a white supremacist named Leanne, played brilliantly by Megan Mullally. (Offerman appears several episodes later as a cross-dressing redneck, and he’s as good as you might expect.) Leanne and Rhonda escape from prison, and go Thelma and Louise across America in the hopes of finding Spike before the world ends.
Elsewhere, Rhonda’s brother, Scotty (Kyle Soller), and his boyfriend, U.S. General Arnold Gaines (the amazing Paterson Joseph from The Leftovers and Jekyll) are diligently working together to figure out a way to prevent the comet from destroying Earth.
Finally, Rob Lowe plays a foul-mouthed, chain-smoking Catholic priest charged with vetting the world’s savior, the next Jesus Christ. He’s assisted by Sister Celine (Gaia Scodellaro), and as the end of the world approaches, the priest and the nun also develop feelings for one another.
Somehow, all of these people — who live in different parts of the world — end up together in the bunker before the comet hits, and the series deftly juggles these disparate subplots as they head toward an intersection point.
Created by Iain Hollands, who also serves as its showrunner, You, Me and the Apocalypse is a road-trip comedy, a conspiracy-thriller, and even a rumination on faith and loneliness. It’s darkly comic, brimming with heartfelt wit, strangely fascinating, and oddly addictive the further viewers get in the series and as more secrets get revealed. It’s not a show that lends itself easily to comparisons, because there’s nothing out there like it. In premise, it’s similar to Steve Carell’s Seeking a Friend at the End of the World, but it’s more similar in tone to the British series that HBO tried to adapt with David Fincher, Utopia, only lighter (and less violent).
Again, however, it’s an unnatural fit for NBC, which will have to cross-promote it on The Blacklist or Chicago Fire, where the demographics don’t align. It’s a show that viewers will have to seek out (and that will probably play better on Netflix a year from now), but hopefully enough critics can get behind it to give NBC a big enough hit that they’ll continue to take chances on quirky, unusual and surprisingly humane serial dramas that might one day put the network back on the cultural map.
You, Me, And The Apocalypse premieres tomorrow night on NBC at 8pm E.T.