NBC’s ‘You, Me & the Apocalypse’ Is an All-Star Genre Mélange at the End of the World

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Besides its obvious power to destroy Earth, NBC/Sky 1’s You, Me & the Apocalypse shows how an eight-mile-wide comet plunging toward our fragile planet can knock a single show into an amusingly, purposefully confused mix of Orange Is the New Black, The Da Vinci Code, Mr. Robot, The Leftovers, and The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, as well as more expected stories like Deep Impact and Armageddon.

This strange, hourlong ensemble comedy-drama airing on NBC seeks to prove that something as universal as apocalypse can unite not only all of humanity, but also plot lines we’d associate with wholly different genres in one intentionally self-destructive ball of alien energy, crashing down on NBC’s more rigid programming. As a limited, ten-episode series which seems destined to terminate at either the end of days or some revelational avoidance of it (at which point, presumably, the world would return to its pre-chaos chaos), the show imagines the potential societal deterioration Earth itself might experience if its sharper edges were to furiously blend together. This is often exciting, especially as an antidote to NBC’s typically lower-concept programming. At other times, the endless potential paradoxically presented by the notion of a finite end can be so vast as to lead to disappointment — as seen in a cameo by Nick Offerman as a cross-dresser that leads us to wonder why the show didn’t linger longer on a gem like this. (The plots can be so wild that they seem indulgent, or silly without being funny.)

The series splits into several labyrinthine plots — with varied genre shoutouts — all leading to the same end: a bunker under Slough, England. This show is the characters’ journey to that weird, sad place where they’ll potentially eat canned peas and repopulate the planet.

One plot line sees Rhonda (Jenna Fischer) escaping from the New Mexico prison in which she’s just been placed, purportedly for having hacked the NSA (though she just pleaded guilty to save her hacker son). She’s “rescued” by a real, crazed hacker (Mathew Baynton) — just as the prison, like the rest of the world, is breaking into a rabid fervor over the doomsday news. (The hacker, however, thinks it’s all an American government hoax to reinforce the global hegemony of US capitalism). A rogue, snaggletoothed white supremacist convictwith a swastika tattoo on her forehead (an entirely unrecognizable Megan Mullally) manages to escape with them. It also just so happens that Rhonda’s brother is at the heart of the White House’s plans to save the human race, along with his boyfriend, played by The Leftovers’ Paterson Joseph. Oh, and Rhonda’s husband is dying, by the way, and her son risks incarceration, and — understandably! — she wants to get back to them so she can spend the apocalypse with them.

Meanwhile, the hacker — whose motives are far less liberating than they initially seem to Rhonda — has an unknown twin brother, Jamie (also Baynton), in England, who’s searching for his wife, who we learn disappeared seven years ago.

And over in the Vatican, a Cool Priest (Rob Lowe) is interviewing an Italian nun, Sister Celine Leonti (Gaia Scodellaro), to help him with his priestly research — which takes a turn when the comet news breaks and suddenly people start diagnosing other people as the Second Coming of Christ. He and Celine take it upon themselves to investigate these individuals to make sure they’re not, in fact, the Antichrist. And yes, that is the summary of a real show that is currently airing tonight on network television.

Despite the storylines being so varied, the show’s Kimmy Schmidt-esque aesthetic — bearing a somewhat unrealistic sheen and a chirpy score — manage to make the disparate genre tropes feel like they fit into the same world. After all, this one world of ours has inspired and does contain every one of these genres.

There’s a moment in the first episode when the people watching the initial announcement of the coming apocalypse on TVs in a store window tacitly and collectively decide to steal said TVs the second the word “comet” is uttered. The show takes literally one second to shatter a basic tenet of the social contract. This symptom of disaster scenarios also underlies our seemingly major interest in worldwide calamity on film and TV: they’re tragedies whose prelude is a beautiful dark twisted fantasy of societal liberation, that show where the seams of the fabric we’re woven into split, social more by social more, until we’re left with one un-splittable factor of humanity: that we’re all united by our similar experiences of transience.

And just as the show begins by fragmenting itself — and the world it depicts — into disparate, wild pieces, it also suggests these pieces will find their way back to each other. At first, everyone may grapple with the question, “Why keep living when we only have 34 days left before it ends anyway?” But the subsequent question, “Oh, right, how is that any different than an accelerated version of what life is anyway?” is more compelling. And the latter, as the bunker scenes suggest, is unifying.

A mass extermination scenario doesn’t have to work particularly hard to get this inherent-to-the-form existential quandary across. But You, Me & the Apocalypse, despite being marketed as a quirky comedy, goes the extra mile to gild it in poignancy. In one scene, Jamie meets (or, rather, is shot with a tranquilizer gun by) a pregnant women who begins to go into labor, an event that’s obviously complicated by the fact that this baby will ostensibly only get to live for 30-something days. When the child is born, it seems like it’s a stillbirth — and the viewer doesn’t know whether to receive that development as a tragedy or a relief; then the baby breathes its first breath, and one’s emotional reaction to that reveals equal ambiguity.

The world is always in a state of pre-apocalypse — at least until it’s post apocalypse. But it tends to take something major and urgent, like a huge comet, to accelerate humans’ reactions to their own ephemerality. You, Me & the Apocalypse centers around this fundamental of the disaster genre — but also uses it to tell a crazy, mercurial story evoking various genres, making for a great confounding of NBC’s legacy of doctor dramas, procedurals, and kooky ensemble comedies.

You, Me & the Apocalypse premieres Thursday at 8pm on NBC.