Spoilers ahead for season three.
Comedy loves tragedy and few shows understand this to such a fine degree as Amazon’s British export, Catastrophe. Starring Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan (who both co-write the series as well) the third season of this wickedly funny and poignantly real show is another shining example of some of the best writing television has to offer. While just having six episodes to consume is frustrating as a fan who could gobble up hours upon hours of their exploits and sardonic humor, it’s more than worth the way each year if we continue to recieve such quality television.
In season three the couple faces off against no shortage of problems, the most immediate being Sharon’s feared infidelity with a younger rock star. Even when after they realize she didn’t go much further than handling and gawking at the mans penis, Rob must reconcile that this woman who betrayed his trust is also the amazing mother of his two children. Beyond that, she is still the woman he loves and if staying together for their shared happiness and that of their kids means separating himself from her intimately for a while and bottling his pain, than it’s well worth it. Typically adultery in film and television is shot with such stark black and white mentalities that it was refreshing to see a couple own up to their problems and vow to move forward out of love and trust in their relationship. And of course, as is the case with Sharon and Rob, a lot of humor.
Other problems that wreak havoc in their lives include the deteriorating health of Sharon’s father and of course, Robs alcoholism, which we’ll touch on in a few. What makes Catastrophe such enthralling television despite its admittedly small scale, is that there is never a moment that rings false on the series. The characters are so beautifully defined and the world so naturally built that even when Sharon is frustratingly immature or Rob is purposefully dense we can overcome that because they’re such richly drawn individuals. If we don’t already feel as if we know them (or versions of them) then we want to. It’s what makes their joy and their grief feel bigger than it is, especially with how it’s painted in the series.
When Sharon looses her father the big moment doesn’t come with us standing over shoulder as he takes his last breath. Instead, we find out just as Rob arrives (to tell her his own ugly truth). The big emotional climax doesn’t arrive where cinema and basic narrative structure has taught us it should be (say Sharon at her fathers death bed) but instead at the tightly framed shot of Frankie’s hand rubbing his moms back, comforting her in all his childlike innocence and wonder.
Similarly, there’s a subplot of Sharon being distressed that her father left Fergal a note and not her, summing up decades worth of bitterness over her parents favortism over her younger brother. Again, we expect that the note Fergal has left for her will be the one from her father that she’d so desperately wanted to find but instead they pull a 180 and it’s actually a note from Fergal, telling her how much their dad spoke about her. It’s just as gutting and pointed because this is a relationship we’ve come to love over the three years and, like the shot of Frankie’s hand, it reminds us that in life it’s the little moments, often the ones that accompany the big, that stick with us and that remind us of who is in our corner.
But of course the big upset of the season is Rob falling off the wagon- it’s painful to witness, as it should be, and we can’t help but watch in anticipation until the world drops away from underneath his feet. And when it finally does it’s just as heartbreaking as we’d imagined it would. When he drank last season there was hope that it could be a one time thing but, as is the case with addicts, it’s hardly ever a one time thing, especially after having been sober for a long period of time.
What is so masterful in how they tell Rob’s spiraling is how easy it is for his loved ones to overlook despite how much work Rob is putting in to conceal it. Clearly he knows he has a problem if he won’t tell anyone about it, and yet he still wanders into bars on the way home or sips from a bottle of vodka while doing laundry. He’s not the raging drunk or the messy addict – he’s a functioning alcoholic who is tirelessly empathetic in his plight because he can’t bring himself to stop. He wants to and that’s depressing enough. Him getting into a car accident and falling against Sharon, crying and bleeding, is a crushing image to watch. Rob, for his faults, has always been a beacon of what a good natured character (person) is. He was petty sometimes but also reliable and sweet and here we’re reminded that there is no one face to addiction – it effects everyone.
The wait until next year to see what happens with this storyline is going to be excruciating but, as I said above, worth it.
While season three in its whole was a remarkably bleak six episodes, the humor persisted, none more so than in Sharon and Rob finding amusement in one another. So often comedies on television tell jokes to the audience – that’s who they’re trying to entertain so comedies (for good or bad) can often turn into little more than a joke machine. What’s different about Catastrophe is that often the jokes they’re making make the others laugh or snort and smile when the other person has turned their head so they don’t know they thought it was funny. It’s a small detail, but it makes it all that more human and easy to resonate with.
Being married, having children and growing up is messy. Sometimes it means stumbling with intimacy or staying at a job you hate in order to support your family. However, the mess comes with its small bundles of joy and no matter the tragic events Sharon and Rob find themselves in, we’ll always be rest assured that with each other as co-pilots in life, they’ll find a landing in the oncoming storms, no matter how rocky.