NBC premiered one of its more heavily promoted new comedies, You, Me and the Apocalypse last night. Holy God, do we deserve an apology.
The central conceit of the show is that an asteroid is headed for Earth. A solid premise that could lead to very enjoyable hijinks. In the opening sequence, we meet an eclectic group of survivors in a bunker beneath Slough, England — which you may also know as the setting of the BBC’s Office. From there, we flash back 34 days prior to meet all of these characters in their normal lives. These lives vary from the tedious to the unnecessarily convoluted as some of these people were in the midst of criminal dealings when the comet hit. There’s also a hacker group — literally called “Deus Ex Machina” — who are in possession of important documents … but why am I still explaining. Honestly, none of this matters.
Our future survivalists include Rob Lowe as a jerk priest and Jenna Fischer as librarian to a high-security jail. None of these characters seems too likable or interesting. As if an asteroid colliding with the Earth weren’t a strong enough premise to hide this fact, the episode ends on the revelation that one of our characters has an evil twin. That’s what we’re working with here: twin twists.
If there is an insurmountable structural mistake to You, Me and the Apocalypse, it’s that it should never have been an hour-long endeavor. Despite an ever-expanding cast, there just aren’t enough interesting plot lines to fill this hour — certainly not enough laughs. There is a religious angle, as well as some hints to a larger military threat, but these are ultimately hollow plot lines that give us no reason to invest in them.
The dialogue is just a disaster. Rob Lowe looks set to coin “poop sandwich” in the next episode, and at the end of the pilot our lead ruins a potentially emotional moment by referring to himself as “a penis.” You know how British people are always calling themselves penises, right? Did I mention he was British? Honestly, none of this matters. For a show with such high stakes attached to its very name, the level of involvement it manages to summon in viewers is minimal.
The real disappointment is that this show — for all the talent it involves — could have been something of note. Fox’s similarly situated Last Man on Earth takes real chances that don’t always pay off but always make the show a worthy watch. Adapting an apocalyptically-minded indie like Seeking a Friend for the End of the World (2012) for TV could have been worth it, as that had more concrete ideas about the mundane nature of life, even in the face of oblivion. But YM&TA falls flat. There are no real jokes here, and more disappointingly, there is no commentary. The show pretends to ask questions about humanity without ruminating on the issues it listlessly raises. It only aims to fill dead air with a meaningless platitude here and there, should the audience forget its premise between yawns.
A great cast, including a white supremacist Megan Mullally, are given nothing to work with beyond shouting and clutter. YM&TA is the kind of NBC comedy you might have enjoyed six years ago, but much like the doomed Earth on which it is set, the prospects look pretty bleak.