Just when it seemed the television renaissance had become more about quantity than quality, NBC’s “You, Me and the Apocalypse,” co-produced with Britain’s Sky 1, sends a meteor across the heavens to destroy Earth and blow the narrative bar another notch or two higher.
Yes, this is a show you really need to see. Those already feeling overburdened may take some comfort in the fact that it’s a 10-part miniseries. Though it’s not difficult to imagine calls for a sequel, starting with mine.
Brawling, sprawling, absurdly ambitious and ambitiously absurd, Iain Hollands’ black comedy pushes its many characters and fabulous cast across a high wire held in place by opposing forces: It’s the end of the world, yet life goes on.
Hilariously, spectacularly and with growing tenderness toward the story’s subjects.
They are many and, as befits an international production, wildly if perhaps deceptively disconnected.
The story begins and remains anchored by Jamie (Mathew Baynton), a strait-laced bank manager in Slough, England, whose overly regulated life is ruffled only by his continued devotion to Layla, the wife he lost (literally) seven years ago; the good intentioned proddings of his mum (Pauline Quirke), and the fondly disruptive influence of his flat mate Dave (Joel Fry).
Until, that is, Jamie is arrested for cyber terrorism, the end of the world is announced and he discovers a few other alarming facts about his life.
Jamie’s not the only one charged with a crime he did not commit and learning things he’d rather not.
In a scene that seems to parody “Orange Is the New Black,” we also quickly meet Rhonda (Jenna Fischer), an American librarian taking the rap for her super-hacker son, Spike. In the slammer, Rhonda meets her unexpected World’s End buddy, a white supremacist named Leanne. Played by Megan Mullally with her inevitably fearless commitment to truth and comedy, Leanne alone makes “Apocalypse” worth watching.
Meanwhile, at an Italian convent (seriously, when was the last time you read those words in a television review?), it is suggested to the unhappily cloistered Sister Celine (Gaia Scodellaro) that she might be better suited as the new assistant to the Devil’s Advocate, Father Jude (Rob Lowe, playing sincere faith with profanity and many cigarettes), who is tasked with arguing against candidates for canonization.
These three main journeys — Jamie and Dave, Rhonda and Leanne, Father Jude and Sister Celine — quickly lead to other main characters, some of whom are visible in the opening scene of Jamie sequestered in a bunker watching “telly” as the world prepares to end.
Flashing back to 34, then 33 then 32 days before, “You, Me and the Apocalypse” is, at its most simple level, the story of how these misfit “chosen ones” ended up in possible safety.
Certainly the way disparate and desperate people face their collective final days is rife with tragic comedy — Dave’s main job in early episodes is to remind Jamie how stupid it is to waste this once-in-a-planet’s-lifetime opportunity.
But Hollands is just as interested in quiet pathos as he is in stinging absurdity, and as the story moves forward (NBC made five episodes available for review), “You, Me and the Apocalypse” becomes as much about the revelation of humanity as its possible end.
Each of the main pairings could hold a lesser show aloft; that Holland attempts to juggle and then connect them, while also exploring the divine and mundane events that draw people together, is impressive.
That he pulls it off with wit and wonder is simply amazing.
‘You, Me and the Apocalypse’
When: 8 p.m. Thursday
Rating: TV-PG-L (may be unsuitable for young children with an advisory for coarse language)