With a fresh commitment to upping its output of high-quality drama, You, Me and the Apocalypse, an epic new sitcom which focuses on the final 34 days on Earth before a humanity-wiping comet strikes, is a resounding statement of intent from Sky1.
A clever and ambitious show from Iain Hollands, creator of E4’s absurdist summer camp comedy Beaver Falls, Sky has pulled out all the stops to mimic the American sense of scale resulting in a globe-trotting series that takes in such glamorous locations as the Vatican, Arizona and, erm, Slough, not to mention a TV supergroup-style cast including former West Wing heartthrob Rob Lowe, Will & Grace’s Megan Mullally and our very own Pauline Quirke.
Yet, for all its star-spangled glamour, this is still an unashamedly British show: a witty, heartfelt comedy-drama that never takes itself too seriously – even if it does eventually run out of steam.
While most shows may choose to focus on the high-stakes drama of the world facing destruction, Apocalypse takes a refreshingly low-key approach, starting with its eclectic group of survivors watching the end unfold from a bunker before rewinding back to a time before the apocalypse was even news when their lives first start to intersect in unexpected ways.
Yonderland’s Mathew Baynton stars as Jamie, a meek bank manager whose rigidly regimented existence suddenly descends into chaos when he finds himself arrested for cyber-terrorism based on what appears to be indisputable DNA evidence.
But that’s just one strand. As well as Jamie, we also follow how the end of the world affects the lives of Lowe’s potty-mouthed, chain-smoking priest Father Jude and his sainthood-busting crusade, and Jenna Fischer’s (The American Office) fish-out-of-water inmate Rhonda whose arrival in an Arizonan prison attracts the unwanted attention of fierce white supremacist Leanne, played by a superbly twisted Mullally who regularly competes with Lowe for the best lines (the latter just about comes out on top here with “The ecclesiastical turd in the swimming pool.”).
At first Hollands expertly interweaves these continent-hopping stories, swiftly introducing each character whilst also keeping the action racing along during a well-paced opening.
This frenetic rhythm quickly fades, however, with the plot becoming bogged down in relentless set-ups as Hollands tries to drag out the start of everyone’s adventures for the episode’s entire hour-long duration. What’s more, surely the story strands involving Jamie’s search for his missing wife, Rhonda’s prison sentence and Jude’s new Vatican posting become mute as soon as news of the asteroid breaks?
Still, even if the story isn’t really going anywhere at this stage, it’s uproariously funny all the same. Apocalypse is closest in tone to The Wrong Mans, which also starred Baynton alongside James Corden, in the way it juxtaposes suburban drudgery with action adventure, such as the moment Jamie tries to usher his embarrassing mother out the door as the cops storm in to haul him into custody.
The jokes are so very British, Holland’s script loaded with absurd sight gags, awkward encounters and deflatory comments (Jamie being mercilessly mocked by a slack-jawed work experience kid, for example); but it also has a disarming sense of pathos, from the revelation that Rhonda is taking the fall for her hacker son to Jamie’s mournful video messages to his missing wife. These recall Slough’s most famous sitcom The Office in encouraging us to laugh at these characters’ antics whilst also making us care deeply about their lives.
Despite running out of steam as the episode wears on – though there are signs of the plot picking up as Rhonda breaks out of prison and Jamie sets off in search of his evil twin brother – You, Me and the Apocalypse is a quick-witted, tender sitcom filled with charmingly endearing characters. Even if it’s not immediately clear where it’s all headed, with such a winning combination, it’s worth tagging along for the journey.
Click here to watch a trailer for You, Me and the Apocalypse