Spoilers for season one ahead.
If you managed to miss the series Catastrophe, which debuted on Amazon, I can’t really fault you. It’s a pint-sized series, six episodes in length and running at 30 minutes each, but what it lacks in sheer number of episodes it more than makes up for in every other aspect across the creative board. It’s a disarming little show, one that packs more emotional heft than the brief running time would suggest.
The series stars Rob Delaney (of twitter funnyman fame) and Sharon Horgan, the two also taking on writing responsibilities. Rob and Sharon meet in London while Rob is there on business, and the two end up spending the week hooking up and hanging out before Rob returns to Boston. Time passes, and suddenly he gets a call—Sharon is pregnant. Soon, Rob is on a return flight to London, and the two begin trying to sort out their new, semi-forced life together. This includes meeting the family (including Sharon’s mildly unhinged brother) and friends, with Mark Bonnar’s Chris being a particular highlight. The two navigate what it means to be pregnant in your late thirties/early forties and the risks that are involved with both humor and sobering realism.
Rob and Sharon aren’t just having a child together, they’re also in the beginning process of getting to know one another, a running joke throughout the six episodes. The two have a palpable chemistry and the jokes and barbs they share feel natural and good-natured, opposed to so many comedies these days where the jokes come off more mean-spirited. Despite the characters facing some very real hurdles and despite the scares involved with Sharon’s pregnancy (including something labeled “pre-cancer” that sticks in the back of her mind for two episodes), the show has no interest in cynicism. There’s a world of weariness to some of Rob’s jokes (or late night political rants) and Sharon is prone to sarcasm, but the show enjoys its characters as much as we do, and it shows. Sharon and Rob aren’t without fault, as their massive blowup in the season finale showcases–they can be petty and brash and both are quick tempered when their buttons are pushed, but despite this, they’re people we’d like to be around.
Creating likable, not just interesting, characters is a challenge for plenty of shows. The characters of the critically-beloved Happy Endings or Community are fun to watch, but I don’t know if I’d say I’d ever want to be friends with them in real life. Sharon and Rob seem like real, toned-down people, rather than the larger-than-life characters we typically meet in comedies. Shows such as New Girl (which I love) and Broad City (ditto) feature characters with exaggerated personality traits, so it’s nice, every once in a while, to watch a series that has characters that you don’t just enjoy but that you identify with.
I am not, if you didn’t already know, a pregnant 30 or 40 -something year old woman, and the only thing I really share in common with Rob is that we both live (or lived, in his case) in Boston. This speaks to the universal nature of the series, the way they speak to each other, how Sharon needs Rob to tell her plainly that she isn’t dying from pre-cancer, how Rob needs to sharpen up his appearance for a work interview, or how Sharon needs alone time and has a desperate want for a cigarette even though she really shouldn’t. They’re such small details, down to characters wearing the same outfit or jacket each episode or wanting an old flame to still like you just as a confidence boost, that makes this series so good and so lived-in.
Not to mention a storyline in episode five about Sharon obsessively searching Facebook for pictures of Rob’s ex. Is it wrong to be so consumed by the idea of what she looks like and using social media to figure it out? Sure, maybe. But it’s also something that in this day and age, with our mutual love and hatred of Facebook and the like that is scarily, honest.
It’s a funny show, with much of the first half hour being packed with one liners and jokes and a frank discussion from Chris on why Rob should avoid witnessing the delivery, but it’s also an immensely emotional show with a tour de force performance from Horgan in the fourth episode.
Sharon learns that she runs the risk of having a child with downs syndrome, and it shapes the way she looks at the pregnancy over the course of the episode as she’s riddled with fear. A child is already a huge responsibility within itself, and a child with downs syndrome means that it’s something she could be dealing with for life. She’s brutally honest about her concerns, but never does she feel over-the-top or cruel; she’s looking at it from a human and fearful perspective. She learns that her chances are low and is relieved until she sees a beautiful and happy little girl at the train with her equally happy mother. Horgan says so much with her eyes in this scene. She’s regretful over what she’d been fearing, relieved still that it’s something she won’t have to grapple with, and charmed by the child.
Catastrophe is a show (not unlike Please Like Me, a personal favorite) that isn’t afraid to toe the line between genres, being primarily a comedy with real life concerns and characters who are three-dimensional. Sometimes life is hard, sometimes people suck, and sometimes all you can do it find the laughter in the situation. Big on heart, small in scope, Catastrophe is one of my favorite shows of 2015 so far. Never given the chance to stretch itself too thin, and packing an impressive amount of story over the course of three hours, it’s a gem of a show worth seeking out. It’s a fantastic and confident series and one that I’m already anticipating to return.
Best Episode: Episode Four
Season Grade: 9/10