Just when I was wondering if NBC received my letters requesting a show with Rob Lowe as a bad-boy priest who doesn’t play by the rules, You, Me and the Apocalypse appears out of nowhere, blazing into my life like a comet. Whether it will change our world irrevocably, however, is yet to be seen.
If you can say absolutely nothing else about it — and I do think there is a lot to say about it — YMATA certainly feels different than anything else on NBC. To call it a sitcom seems like a disservice, given its almost cinematic scope and, frankly, its lack of jokes. The British import consists of ten hour-long episodes, but calling it a mini-series seems wrong, too, since we know it ends with 15 oddball survivors in a bunker. (That sure sounds like the makings of a second season to me.) And it’s not a drama, because … well, because Megan Mullally!
Okay, let’s try this: Imagine Orange Is the New Black, Mr. Robot, and the nun scenes from American Horror Story: Asylum had a baby with The Wrong Mans and it was raised by The Last Man on Earth. That’s You, Me, and the Apocalypse. It’s an adopted TV-orgy baby show.
If that sounds like it might get complicated, you’re right. Let’s go over what happens in the first episode, “Who Are These People?”
We first meet Jamie (The Wrong Mans’ Mathew Baynton) when he’s sitting in a bunker under scenic Slough, England. At this point, we know three things: Jamie is watching news footage of a comet that threatens to wipe out humanity, he is one of fifteen survivors in the bunker, and we’re totally about to get a flashback.
Jump to 34 days earlier — it’s Jamie’s birthday. He’s uptight and boring, so particular that he keeps his clothes on Zuckerbergian labeled hangers. His wife Layla went missing seven years ago, and he refuses to give up hope that he’ll find her, even though his mother Paula (Pauline Quirke) and his best friend Dave (Joel Fry) push him to move on. How about some fun and excitement? Jamie insists he wants neither fun nor excitement, which is the number one thing NOT to do on a TV show if you don’t want to get arrested in the next scene.
Jamie is baffled by his arrest, even though the police seem to have irrefutable evidence that he is the White Horse, the mastermind behind a rebel hacker group known as Deus Ex. Jamie has an alibi and the charges are dropped, but not before the police reveal that Layla is still alive — and has been seen with his doppelgänger.
In Italy, a young nun named Celine (Gaia Scodellaro) is unhappy with her cloistered life, and is offered the opportunity to interview for a job at the Vatican. That’s where she meets Father Jude (Rob Lowe), the “devil’s advocate”, whose job is to disprove the merits of any saint the Church wishes to canonize. He challenges Celine on her faith, her doubts, the life she left behind — and she dishes it right back to him. Father Jude offers her a position as his new assistant.
Meanwhile in the U.S., a young mom named Rhonda McNeil (Jenna Fischer) is facing her first day in prison for hacking into the Pentagon. She didn’t steal any secrets or change anything; she just hacked in and … sat there. The truth is that Rhonda’s son committed the crime, and she’s doing the time. (C to the T, as another apocalyptic show might say.) Rhonda makes a friend in prison, though, after a white supremacist named Leanne (Megan Mullally) offers protection that she refuses to take.
And that’s where we find our first batch of (supposed) heroes when they hear the news: A Manhattan-sized comet is hurtling toward Earth. We have 34 days left. It’s time to make your peace.
Across the pond, Jamie confronts his mom about this stranger who shares his likeness and DNA. Paula tells him he’s adopted and possibly has a twin. He also tracks down the detective who interrogated him to get information about Layla’s whereabouts, then heads for Moscow to find her before the end of the world.
Celine takes the comet as her “burning bush” moment, and accepts the job as Father Jude’s assistant (and, I bet, his future love interest).
After the revelation of, you know, Revelations, the prison is opened by aforementioned hacker group Deus Ex — the leader of whom has come to take Rhonda away. He does look suspiciously like Jamie (they’re both played by Baynton), which makes me wonder who ends up in the bunker. Sensing her chance, Leanne handcuffs herself to Rhonda and hitches a ride to freedom.
Also: Are you looking for crane shots of chaos in the streets of major cities? Oh buddy, do I have a show for you. The moments where we see the immediate frenzied reactions to the apocalypse bring to mind the okay Steve Carell/Keira Knightley dramedy Seeking a Friend for the End of the World, and it’s a safe bet we’ll see a lot more “Look at this very human way to handle oblivion!” sight gags before the show has run its course. So far we’ve got praying, looting, and hard drinking. Sex and motorcycle gangs can’t be far behind.
“Who Are These People?” is quite good, but I’m not yet sure how I feel about the show on a visceral level. That might be my existential bias against apocalypse-themed entertainment showing, or it could be the fact that I didn’t know what to expect when I watched … and still don’t entirely know what’s coming. I doubt that it’ll have much to say about Armageddon that hasn’t already been said in the hundreds of movies, TV shows, and works of speculative fiction before it. Even so, YMATA is ambitious, entertaining, and the cast is just crackerjack.
Seems like a pleasant enough way to spend the end of times, doesn’t it?