And, thankfully, the apocalyptic backdrop doesn’t result in an exclusively dour jaunt towards that inevitable end goal. The world’s reaction to the news is initially chaotic, but later episodes take a route that echoes the soft apocalypse of The Leftovers in its gentle nudging of a society towards the edge of hedonism and carnage, but not ready to jump off the cliff just yet. Kooky jokes at the expense of “well, it’s the apocalypse!” are blessedly light, and even those touched upon (Jamie and Dave discover a naked elderly couple on a “sexual odyssey”) work because of their sparsity. It feels funny by choice and not by necessity, not uproarious or gut-busting, but brilliantly droll in its use of gallows humor. Think Seeking a Friend for the End of the World or, better yet, the 1998 black comedy Last Night.
The cast is what sells You, Me and the Apocalypse, though. Baynton gets to do a lot with a role that is initially a bit rom-com predictable; by episode five he’s an endearing wreck. Fans of The Office should have fun watching Fischer here, too. Even though she plays a bit to type, her growing friendship with Mullally’s character is insane and entirely earned. Mullally’s transformation is remarkable, but it’s not a gimmick – she is brilliant as Leanne, wringing endearment from a detestable character, and her and Rhonda’s cross-country trek back home is the show repeatedly refusing to box itself into one category (Nick Offerman fans, I beg you to watch this show). Of course, Lowe is reliable as ever, with his chain-smoking priest a believer in a higher power, but not one that’s earth-locked, so he helps balance the show’s religious subplot with the right amount of devotion and cynicism.
That’s really the best thing about You, Me and the Apocalypse, it’s so many things at once that it’s a revelation not a single aspect of the story is bungled. As the season progresses, Lowe and Scodellaro’s charming duo become globe-trotting supernatural debunkers working for the church (by the way Fox, this is the buddy procedural I would watch), Baynton and Fry get into some One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest-level shenanigans when trying to find Jamie’s mother, and pretty much anything in Washington, D.C. is like a Situation Room scene from every disaster movie ever made. All of these interludes work, every tangent flourishes and nothing feels superfluous or pointless, each managing to contribute to the whole of discovering who these people are, where they’re going, and how any of them make it all the way to England and into that bunker.
If the show is a bit twee in its opening hour (“I Can See Clearly Now” is its theme song), attempting to convince you that all of this will somehow approach plausible connectivity, it’s only momentary. As it progresses, subplots speed at you with aggressive enthusiasm, each episode’s opening scene pieces together more of the truth behind the occupants of the bunker, and one or two character twists are remarkably clever in the unassuming way they get revealed. A lot of You, Me and the Apocalypse rides on coincidence (a sin two characters discuss in amusing meta-ness), but it never feels slapdash or poorly constructed; you trust that Hollands knows where he’s going with his apocalypse even when his characters don’t. Honestly, the end of the world never felt like it was in better hands.
You, Me and the Apocalypse surprised me at nearly every turn -- the characters shine, the plot is a bottle rocket, the scope is epic, and the tricky balance between quirky visual gags and tragic poignancy is downright masterful.