It’s the end of the world as we know it, and characters on sitcoms seem fine. Several series over the past year have turned to the apocalypse for comedic fodder — including “You, Me and the Apocalypse,” which premieres Jan. 28 at 8 p.m. on NBC/4 — rather than gloom and doom. And perhaps that’s not such a bad thing.
“Laughing at the apocalypse is, perhaps, a sort of cultural coping,” says Sam Grogg, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences at Adelphi University and co-founder of The Journal of Popular Film and Television. “Imagining the end with a laugh is a cultural reboot, an antidote to contemplating world conflict, uncontrollable disease, global warming — all out of our control. One of the best ways to deal with the end is with a joke.”
So, how on Earth do these shows — not to mention their long-forgotten ancestor from the ’90s — succeed in making the end of the world seem funny?
“YOU, ME AND THE APOCALYPSE” (NBC)
THE STARS Rob Lowe, Jenna Fischer and Megan Mullally
PREMISE Fifteen people seek shelter in a bunker in the Blue Ridge Mountains while a comet is on a collision course with Earth.
YOU’LL DIE LAUGHING FACTOR Too early to tell, but the amusing preview featuring Lowe as a chain-smoking, less-than-sanctimonious priest makes its chances of survival pretty good.
“UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT” (NETFLIX)
THE STARS Ellie Kemper, Jane Krakowski, Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane
PREMISE After being rescued from the underground bunker where she lived for 15 years as part of a doomsday cult, the always-optimistic Kimmy (Kemper) begins life anew in New York.
YOU’LL DIE LAUGHING FACTOR From Kimmy’s attempt to throw a kids’ birthday party to Burgess’ disastrous auditions for everything from “Spider-Man” to “The Lion King,” “Unbreakable” is unbelievably funny. Season 2 starts April 15.
“LAST MAN ON EARTH” (FOX)
THE STARS Will Forte, January Jones, Kristen Schaal
PREMISE Set in 2020, Phil Miller (Forte), an ordinary Joe “who likes Star Wars, Twinkies and sex,” believes he is the sole survivor on Earth following a deadly virus, but soon he finds other survivors.
YOU’LL DIE LAUGHING FACTOR With bits like Forte talking to sports balls for comfort and Schaal’s cooking mishap of making a raisin meatball, you’ll, well, have a ball.
“WOOPS!” (FOX, 1992)
THE STARS Evan Handler, Fred Applegate, Meagen Fay
PREMISE Six Americans survive after some American kids accidentally set off a nuclear missile leading Russia to follow suit.
YOU’LL DIE LAUGHING FACTOR Minus a big-name cast and jokes, the show was doomed after 10 episodes. “It could have been the funniest show in the world,” wrote Newsday’s Marvin Kitman, “if there was a nuclear war, really, and this was the only show left.”