We are all aware of what a typical romantic comedy is made of – long, lovelorn stares, season after season of will-they-won’t-they wondering, near misses and almost kisses, misplaced voicemails, running, more running, and a season finale with a grand gesture at the Empire State building.
Channel 4’s Catastrophe, about two people coming together to raise a baby they hadn’t planned, is about none of this.
Written by lead actors Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan (who met on Twitter), Catastrophe starts when Sharon, an Irish school teacher in London, and Rob, an American advertising professional, hook up for a week and end up pregnant. Rob moves to London and the rest is a catastrophe. Having made this premise clear in the first 10 minutes, Catastrophe makes way for some amazingly awkward and relatable hilarity.
Sharon is 41 and has to deal with hormones and mentions of cancer and Down’s syndrome every time she visits the doctor, along with breaking the news to her family about marrying a man they know nothing about, except that he is the father of her unborn child. Rob, who readily moves to London to do the right thing, is tasked with finding his advertising agency new business across the pond while learning to live with his pregnant partner and striving to make new friends. He finds one in a very intense Chris, who, it turns out, is married to one of Sharon’s least likeable and most annoying friends.
The show is too real to be overtly romantic or to care about plot stereotypes. Sharon, “an extraordinarily good-smelling woman with a magical ass”, agrees to marry Rob, the “sturdy love-maker with a massive chin”, after a botched proposal that consists of the cheapest ring in the store, drenched in a drunk woman’s piss on the roadside.
Simple attraction, a ready sense of humour and low inter-personal expectations — Sharon Morris and Rob Norris seem to be rewriting the recipe for marital success on television.
The sitcom (now also on Amazon Prime) does not shy away from subjects that are usually hard to deal with on television. British comedies are grittier, dirtier and usually a lot more daring than their American counterparts, which makes Catastrophe a fresh of breath air on a screen that is choking on matching sweaters, Christmas proposals and too much “love” – a word Sharon and Rob haven’t used for each other well into the second season now.
There is, however, an unstated trust and understanding between these near-strangers that helps them manage their situation, even when most things (including Rob’s mother, played by Carrie Fisher) seem to be against them. The comedy never gets too heavy even when age, unemployment, exes or fatal life-threatening diseases become a part of the conversation. For instance, while at the doctor’s, Rob points out that “You have said cancer rather a lot, like more than you would hear in a casual conversation that isn’t about cancer.” But trust me, the show is never a bummer.