You might feel tempted to watch You, Me and the Apocalypse, NBC's latest comedy, which debuts Thursday, January 28, at 8 pm Eastern. You should probably curb that impulse.
The 10-episode series, which originally aired in Britain in 2015 and has been imported, isn't bad, exactly, but it also misses being a truly compelling series.
You, Me and the Apocalypse (which should probably be dubbed a miniseries given its subject matter but could apparently see a second season if it does really well) centers on a group of people scattered across the globe who are facing down the imminent end of the world. When the series begins, doomsday is in a little over the month; then, with each passing episode, the comet that will bring about the titular apocalypse draws nearer, and the characters engage in more pointless busywork.
Thanks to a cast full of great actors both well-known — Rob Lowe! Jenna Fischer! Megan Mullally! — and slightly less well-known (the engaging British comic actor Mathew Baynton), You, Me and the Apocalypse had every chance in the world to succeed. Instead, it's a listless, surprisingly dull slog. I've seen five episodes, and the show just never finds a way to come together.
It's all because of one simple mistake.
Making this show an hour-long series was a mistake
Somewhere inside every episode of You, Me and the Apocalypse is a lean 30-minute comedy struggling to emerge from a bloated hour-long dramedy. At half an hour, the show's collection of random gags and occasional hints at a larger storyline drawing all of its characters together might have packed more punch. At 60 minutes, it just feels lackadaisical.
The reason for this is simple: The show's basic premise is too thin to fill a full hour. It's primarily based on the idea of tracking a disparate set of characters as they prepare for the end of the world by trying to close large loopholes in their lives. (One character wants to find his missing wife; another wants to reconnect with her son. And so on.)
That's not a bad catalyst for an ensemble comedy, but then Apocalypse tosses a needless extra layer of mystery atop everything else. There are intimations of the biblical Book of Revelation, complete with a young girl who might have returned from the dead and a priest and nun searching for the Antichrist.
The show also examines the way politicians attempt to ease people's minds while preparing for the inevitable, and every episode starts with a very short flash-forward to the bunker where a few of the characters huddle up after the comet hits, hoping to survive the devastation. These scenes are almost always the same, only differing at the end when they reveal a new character who survived and made it to the safety of the bunker, before returning to the action proper. (Presumably, a second season would take place entirely inside the bunker.)
This is simultaneously a little clumsy and strangely anticlimactic. If we know, more or less, which characters made it to the bunker, the show's central conceit will be harder to invest in. Similarly, You, Me and the Apocalypse keeps introducing mysteries (like the identity of someone locked away in a big wooden box) that aren't all that interesting in and of themselves, and it hopes we'll be excited simply because they're mysteries.
Thus, the show's tone is all out of whack. It's about something fundamentally serious (or at least something that should inspire very dark humor), but every time bad things start to happen, happy music burbles away on the soundtrack to let us know it's okay to laugh. You, Me and the Apocalypse is a character-driven piece that's awkwardly shoehorned into a plot-driven piece, and that means neither side entirely works.
There are much worse shows on TV, but You, Me and the Apocalypse had enough going for it to make its ultimately disappointing nature that much harder to stomach. The sad thing is that a prospective second season (presumably following the characters in the bunker) would probably end up being exactly what it should have been in the first place — a tightly focused character tale of the end of the world. We'll see if the show ever gets there.
You, Me and the Apocalypse debuts Thursday, January 28, at 8 pm Eastern on NBC.