Season one of Amazon Prime’s Catastrophe was one of 2015’s best kept secrets and most delightful surprises once people actually got around to watching. Charming, dirty and with two of the most true to life characters in the lead, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, the series defied expectations of the revitalized television anti-romantic comedy statuesque.
As the romantic comedy has died a slow and defeated death on our movie screens over the past decade (much to my dismay), there’s been a quiet rebuilding of the genre. However, instead of reappearing in film, it’s done all the leg work in television. Television has become the creative ground for stories about romance, particularly in the half-hour sitcom format.
This is how we got Catastrophe cut from the same cloth as shows such as the critically lauded You’re the Worst – misanthropic, earnest, painful to watch but bitingly funny, the Amazon series built on its premise for a season two that goes to a darker but even more authentic place.
Since we’ve last seen Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan), there’s been a time jump. Their son, Frankie, is now a toddler, and they’re expecting their second, who is born before the end of the first episode, a daughter.
(I’d thought about reviewing this season per episode but found myself at the end so quickly that the obvious choice of action seemed to be to review it as a whole. By the closing moments of the last episode, it became apparent how it was all leading down this direction. )
What worked about season one is still present with some rougher edges to our more exhausted characters and deeper cuts applied to every wounding insult. Sharon and Rob (along with their actor counterparts) are still a wonderfully incoherent mess of a couple who compliments one another’s sensibilities. Rob’s near inexplicable, genuine sweetness tones down Sharon’s machine gun cynicism while Sharon’s more world weary nature and sarcasm provides both drama and forward motion in the characters’s personal lives. Despite the fact that I found myself leaning to Rob side for much of the arguments between the two (as much as that behooves me to say because I so wanted to take Sharon’s), I’d be bold face lying if much of her sentiments didn’t ring true. There was one of particular note that had me languishing from shock over how much I related as she condemned Rob for buying into the notion that everyone needs to like him. She admonishes, calling him a child, saying that she’s earned the right for people to dislike her and vice versa, and oh boy, do I agree. Beyond polite pleasantries and not going out of your way to be a dick, there comes a point where you get to know who you are, know who and what you like and if anyone takes issue with that, then screw them.
That is a prime example of why this series is so exemplary. It understands “real people” and their daily, sometimes mundane stresses.
So many of the laughs are gleaned from relatable situations, ones that stirred a new sense of panic in me when I realized some of the pain women are forced to deal with. Case in point? Rob and Sharon take a short vacation to Paris and once there Sharon realizes she’s left her breast pump at home, causing her great discomfort. The series also deals with the notion that mothers don’t always automatically bond with their newborns as Sharon goes through a bout of postpartum depression and something that’s given a greater focus this year is the idea of sobriety, the toll it takes and what it means to stay on the straight and narrow.
Supporting characters are given bigger roles to play this year with Chris and Fran playing a darker, spark-less and loveless couple opposed to Rob and Sharon, the couple that the two could turn into if they let their frustrations fester. Chris continues to be a delight, and there’s a great sense of lonliness to his storyline this year as he get’s over his euphoria of being free of Fran only to realize that that freedom comes at the cost of everyday comforts that he’d grown too accustomed to notice. Fran on the other hand is given a more engaging storyline as we see her start to settle for a new man in her life, despite her feelings for Chris, even if this new man is the type to pick a rose from her own garden, which hasn’t bloomed yet and present it to her as if it were a gift.
There are periphery storylines such as Sharon’s dad dealing with the early signs of Alzheimer’s, and Carrie Fisher makes a welcome return as Rob’s insufferable mom, but the real heart of the series, obviously so, is the relationship between Sharon and Rob which isn’t always pretty or enviable, more often than not it’s tumultuous, but it always feels real.
They go through quite a lot of marital issues throughout the six episodes but a big defining factor in their actions is sex. Rob wants to be intimate with his wife and to bridge the gap that’s grown between them, while Sharon just wants her life to move forward and to stop being insecure and physically uncomfortable in her own body. Their relationship was initially defined by their mutual, physical attraction that to strip it away we learn far more about these two slightly damaged characters. These are the moments where I really felt for Sharon and so much of that is due to the excellent writing throughout. Pregnancy and giving birth takes a tremendous toll on a woman’s body, and it’s a rarity to see a series address this.
That Catastrophe does and with such fervent gusto is a refreshing change of pace. Sharon is feeling a bid used up, like an empty vessel, and she can’t see how that’s something that’s going to change. She has difficulty bonding with her child, she can’t seem to make new friends, she doesn’t get her job back and then she finds out that her husband and brother lied about a loan situation. Sharon is having a rough go of it and deserves a break. Horgan is consistently impressive, bringing a lot of natural warmth to a character defined by her edges. She more often than Delaney gets to stretch her acting muscles a bit as her character is shoved through an emotional gamut.
That being said, I’m finding her possible excursions with another man ridiculously frustrating, so I hope we find out that didn’t happen. The show came very close to nearly making both characters too unlikable with Sharon and her rooftop hookup and Rob with his office flirtation.
It almost seems necessary that the end of the season showcases the two at their lowest points: Rob drinking (a move that made me audibly gasp “no!”) and Sharon seeking validation in another man’s attraction to her. They both reached for the things that cuts them off from others and their stories, leading Rob to drunkenly crying over a vending machine with dried vomit on his shirt and Sharon face down on the floor of another man’s apartment after passing out is the breaking point for the two to come back together. The fact that it leads then to having sex behind a tool shed where a landscaper may or may not be watching makes it all the more satisfying, especially as the two say “I love you”- the first time those words have been spoken on the show.
It’s both the characters at their very worst as well as their best – caught up in their own spark of passion where no one can distract them from each other. To then end on a cliffhanger of Rob finding the receipt for Sharon’s morning after pill just seems cruel, especially as the camera pans to Rob’s incredulous, hurt face.
What will season three bring? Sharon and Rob are two of the most multifaceted characters on television, and they’ve managed to define them in an incredibly short period of time. We feel their embarrassment, we laugh when they laugh and their mistakes and human follies ring truer because we can recognize them in ourselves whether it be jealousy, envy or wanting the attention of an individual just to feel better about ourselves for a moment. Pettiness is a human affliction we all deal with, and it’s unattractive but we aren’t above it, neither are Sharon or Rob. Two of the biggest aspects of authenticity in the series comes from the two either laughing at each other’s jokes and how nasty and flustered they can become in their fights.
Just as good if not better than the first season, the show continues to dig deep and present relationship comedy and drama about real people that’s just as emotional and hilarious as shows that tackle larger than life scenarios. The series succeeds by keeping it small, internal and personal.
Season Grade: 9/10