Imagine the end of days is approaching. In a few moments time, all you know and love will come to an end. Accomplishments, triumphs, failures and memories will all vanish and time will march onward as if you had never existed. Now, as lovers take one another’s hand and parents hold their children close one last time, picture a group of zany characters whose seemingly unconnected shenanigans bring them all together for some apocalyptic hijinks! The world may be ending, but the adventures and the laughs ain’t!
Adopting this unlikely premise, “You, Me, and the Apocalypse” attempts to combine the grand drama and adventure of the apocalypse with the the irreverent goofball atmosphere of a network sitcom. While not an unworkable premise and one that has proven promising in shows past, “You, Me, and the Apocalypse” is a perfect example of why the networks struggle to innovate in a highly competitive TV market. Facing low viewer dedication, older audiences and a need to bring in consistently high viewership, showrunners are forced to throw intrigue and character development by the wayside and cobble together something easily consumed, forgotten and resumed.
Inspired by what killed its fellow dinosaurs, NBC places the world of “You, Me, and the Apocalypse” on the precipice of destruction at the hands of a meteor. With only 34 days left before impact, a dreary, stuck-in-a-rut bank manager (Matthew Baynton) embarks to follow a new lead on the location of his missing girlfriend along with his slacker roommate (Joel Fry). Meanwhile, a mother imprisoned for the crimes of her son (Jenna Fischer) and a white supremacist (Megan Mullally) are sprung from jail under mysterious circumstances, a rebellious priest (Rob Lowe) is tasked with investigating false messiahs, and a nun (Gaia Scodellaro) tired of stifling convent life seeks opportunities on the outside.
For a show about the world’s end, nothing seems very pressing in “You, Me, and the Apocalypse.” No one really seems to care: Characters move without gusto, conversations are listless and expository, and emotional displays, if any, are assuaged with a few wholesome “Full House”-esque tropes. Without a compelling atmosphere, the show lacks the tension needed to encourage investment in the plot and succeed at its core objective of juxtaposing comedy and calamity. The plot almost feels like an impediment as the show goes on, contributing no apparent benefit and standing in the way of the kooky situations the creators are apparently angling to set up. In one tragically overlong scene, an old couple is shown engaging in public fornication, claiming to be on an “erotic odyssey.” Did the world really need to end just for this?
Despite valiantly fighting against its narrative shackles to deliver innovative jokes like the aforementioned nude retirees, “You, Me, and the Apocalypse” never finds its comedic footing. At the heart of the comedic formula is character interaction. No one watched “Friends” to for the capers of Ross’s pet monkey; they watched to see how the group would respond to Joey’s latest absurdity or who would be the next victim of Chandler’s snipes. Dumb statements and cruel insults are not funny in a vacuum, but within the confines of a plausible, well-developed environment, they land with ease. Shows like “Last Man on Earth” have succeeded in recreating this relatability in extreme circumstances, but “You, Me, and the Apocalypse” falls short. The characters are too exaggerated to be believed, apparently devised by drawing two personality traits from a hat rather than through meaningful motivations. What if he was a priest, but with an attitude? What if she’s a Nazi, but also a loyal friend? It produces some cute combinations, but denies the core relatability the show desperately needs. Without a human center on which to build, the comedy cannot stick and the show cannot hold together.
I don’t discredit NBC for trying to innovate with “You, Me, and the Apocalypse,” but it shows that the major networks have a long road ahead before they can compete outside of their safer genres. Suffering from weak characters and an overall lack of purpose, “You, Me, and the Apocalypse” will hopefully be forgotten long before the end of the world.
“You, Me, and the Apocalypse” premieres tonight at 8 p.m. on NBC.
Contact Ryan Holmdahl at ryanlh ‘at’ stanford.edu.