Find Catastrophe series 1-3 in On Demand > Box Sets > Comedy
If you've never experienced the joy that is Channel 4's superb sitcom Catastrophe, now with three seasons in the bag, you are missing out on one of TV's most joyful half-hours. Co-written by Sharon Horgan (Pulling) and Rob Delaney (er, Twitter), it tells the story of a Transatlantic one-night stand that turned into a pregnancy that turned into a family. Need a reason to watch? Look no further than the ones below...
The whole concept of the show is based on the fact opposites attract: Rob Delaney is a large, smiley man from America, whereas Sharon Horgan is a petite, acerbic woman from Ireland. The same is true of their characters, Rob and Sharon, but the relationship works on screen and off: Horgan and Delaney starting writing the show together in 2012 after meeting on Twitter, and as a result the show features biting humour that appeals to both sides of the Atlantic. (Catastrophe has been a huge hit in Delaney's native US as well as in the UK).
It's pretty dark
Essentially, the show is about a man and a woman who are thrown into a situation where they have to deal with a terrifying human baby. Most sitcoms would use that as a jumping off point for shenanigans and zany antics, but Catastrophe ventures into serious territory when the occasion permits: the show tackles themes like alcoholism and drug addiction, depression, cancer and divorce – but it always does so with a smile. Characters use humour to puncture awkward moments of tension; often the funniest gags are the ones delivered at the most inopportune moments.
The characters are awful
We mean, they're lovable. But they are awful. Sharon, mostly, but Rob has his moments too. It's so refreshing to see a TV show that doesn't feel the need to put its characters on a pedestal: Rob and Sharon are flawed, selfish and frequently prone to temper tantrums, but they always remain good company. It's their laissez-faire attitude towards their kids that always gets the biggest laughs; like, Sharon, counting the hours until she can go back to being a teacher after maternity leave: “I'm quite looking forward to it actually. It’s going to be nice to be around kids that don't want to sit in my lap when I take a pee.”
It is very liberal with timeframes
Catastrophe is a show that knows we don't need to see every step of a relationship to join the dots. Having established itself as a show about an unwanted pregnancy, the entire first season carries Sharon's baby to term, but we don't even get to be present at the birth. Then, when the second season begins, Rob and Sharon have two children – we've skipped forward a few years. Delaney and Horgan know that you don't need to be slaves to timelines to mine the best humour – sometimes you can just cut straight to the good stuff.
In the show, Rob doesn't have many UK friends so he's introduced to Chris (Mark Bonnar), the husband of Sharon's friend Fran. Chris is, shall we say, a one-of-a-kind character. He's intensely quiet with sage-like, albeit foul-mouthed, wisdom – like Yoda with a vape stick and a copy of the Profanisaurus. Needless to say, Chris's attitude towards pregnancy and birth take Rob back a bit: “You see a little troll tobogganing out of your wife on a wave of t**** and part of you will hold her responsible.” He's since been promoted to one of the show's regular characters and is damn near the best thing in it.
It has a very realistic attitude to sex
Sitcom sex is not sexy, nor is it realistic: characters rarely talk about sex, or do so only in broad terms, and you never see any evidence of it, except for maybe characters covered by a strategically-placed bed-sheet. Catastrophe's characters, however, broach the subject constantly, warts and all, and there is always evidence visible (tissues are used a lot, and birth control is frequently mentioned). It's also a healthy part of the characters' relationship, even when Sharon admits she almost didn't call Rob back because he once made a weird feminine sex noise.
It still seems strange to be talking about her in the past tense, but Carrie Fisher was an integral part of the show's appeal. As Rob's mother, she appeared in precious few scenes but was ever-present in Rob's psyche; only ever a phone call away from belittling his “foreign baby”. Star Wars has rightly claimed Carrie as its own, but she's on magnificent form here, a galaxy away from her calm, statesmanlike appearances as Princess Leia – frankly, we prefer her as a batty, un-PC mother-in-law spouting filth from across the ocean. That's the Carrie Fisher we knew and loved.
It features great swearing
None of which, sadly, can be featured in the article. But you can fill in the blanks. Rob Delaney knows his way around an effective f-bomb, but Sharon Horgan is a master of the art of profanity – not just the dictionary definitions, but the devastating deliveries too. The show features inventive swearing and Mark Bonnar has a fascinating knack for a foul-mouthed metaphor, but often the simple ones are the best, such as when Rob and Sharon leave Fran's house after dinner. “She seems nice,” offers Rob. Sharon offers back a disparaging glance, pauses, and says simply: “She's a c-”UT to commercial, is what a lesser show would do.
No hugging, no learning
The old Seinfeld adage is as true here as it was there: Jerry Seinfeld famously forbade his characters from hugging out their problems or learning any life lessons as, to be quite honest, it was much funnier for them to learn nothing. Catastrophe knows that every healthy relationship has an element of bite to it: even after three seasons and two children together, Rob and Sharon still enjoy slanging matches and squabbles – because it's way more realistic and much, much funnier to have them be juvenile than have them behave as responsible adults. Who wants to see that?