As the world prepares for the upcoming Mayan apocalypse, doomsday frenzy has rippled across all cultures and media—including sitcoms. Last week, June Thomas discussed three TV shows that have used the apocalypse for comedic fodder, leaning on it to spur marriage proposals, elaborate practical jokes, and sly meta-humor. Her original piece is printed below.
The Mayan apocalypse is an unlikely topic for a TV show to tackle. As the date on which the Mayan calendar supposedly (but not really) comes to an end approaches—it’s Dec. 21, 2012—the subject is receiving media coverage, of course. But once that date passes and the world keeps revolving, how will it retain enough cultural resonance so that such references will make sense to viewers watching reruns? Or years down the line in syndication? (And if the world does come to an end, of course, there’ll be no one to watch those reruns anyway.)
Nevertheless, three network sitcoms recently mined the Mayan apocalypse for laughs. On “The World Ain’t Over Till It’s Over,” the Dec. 4 episode of NBC’s Go On, Mr. K, a man described by another character as “totally whacked out,” arranged for the grief group’s Christmas celebration, scheduled for 12/21/12, to instead become a “holiday-slash-end-of-the-world party.” As well as being an opportunity to eat cheesecake without having to work it off the next day, the party was also the venue for group leader Lauren’s boyfriend Wyatt to propose marriage. (She said yes!) As the group held hands and counted down to midnight, fake snow started to fall from the sky (trust me, the setup isn’t worth explaining), leading Mr. K to believe he’d made it into heaven. Once he realized his mistake, he regretted having given away all his worldly possessions.
Glee’s take on the Mayan end of days, which came in last night’s anthology episode of four mini-stories, included many of the same elements: a character liquidating her assets to give insanely generous gifts to friends; a marriage proposal (she said yes!); and (tempered) disappointment when the world didn’t end. Later it was revealed that Coach Beiste only pretended to marry Brittany and Sam, so the plot amounted to little more than fantasy. Indeed, since another of the story lines involved Sue Sylvester making a killing by selling the 7,000-year-old bristlecone pine she’d felled for her Christmas tree to a luxury toothpick producer, it’s safe to say that’s true of the whole episode.
Best by far was Raising Hope’s treatment, which was more than an oddball holiday episode—though it was that. It was also a chance for some fine meta-comedy. At the beginning of Dec. 11’s “The Last Christmas,” Virginia, Martha Plimpton’s character, revealed that she had been prepping for this particular doomsday for two years, ever since she and her co-worker Rosa heard about it on the radio. A “flashback” to 2010 was dense with gags and references only long-time viewers would notice: Virginia was smoking (she quit in Season 1) and Jimmy didn’t know his now-fiancee Sabrina. Most delicious of all, Cousin Mike, who was a member of the household when the show first launched but quickly disappeared, declared, of the end of the world, “That’s my worst fear. To be here one day and gone the next. Like I never existed.”
Virginia’s extreme-couponing-fueled apocalyptic hoarding may have been in vain, but at least the Chances’ stores weren’t wasted. They sold them to help put Rosa’s family back on their feet. They’d sold everything they owned and spent the money on tickets to Disney World, so they could watch the end of civilization in Tomorrowland. Between that good deed, and this great episode, a surprising amount of good came out of one cheesy setup.