‘Catastrophe’ Creators Talk Rom-Coms and Romantic "Endurance": "It’s Love Under Pressure"

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan talk with THR about their genre-bending sitcom: “We’re not aiming to make people sad or happy. We’re just trying to show a true, real relationship.”
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

[Warning: This story contains plot spoilers from the first season of Catastrophe.]

An American man and an Irish woman walk into a London bar …

What sounds at first like the beginning of a crude joke quickly transforms into the meet-cute between the protagonists of the U.K. romantic comedy Catastrophe, which made its American debut on Amazon this past month. Created by stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, the simultaneously sweet and dirty sitcom aired originally on the U.K.’s Channel 4 before premiering for American audiences June 19. (The second season will air in the U.K. sometime in late autumn.)

So, back to the story, an American man — Rob Norris (Delaney), in London on business — and a Irish woman — Sharon Morris (Horgan), a school teacher living in London — walk into a bar. What happens next? Well, they hit it off, fall in lust, start a fling, have loads of sex, and, a few months later discover they are pregnant.

“It’s not the most complicated idea in the world, but it’s got the basis for everything really,” Horgan, who previously created the hit U.K. comedy Pulling, tells The Hollywood Reporter. “We just wanted a good, straight, simple idea that we could use as a springboard for talking about the stuff that we really gave a shit about.”

Throughout its six-episode first season, the show follows the new pair and they navigate what it means to be a couple and prepare for parenthood. However, with a title like Catastrophe (Delaney revealed the title was stolen from Zorba the Greek’s description of building a family) everything is far from being roses. The series has quickly become a critical darling stateside, winning over critics at NPR, Grantland and more.

So can the couple survive? THR caught up with the Delaney and Horgan to talk romantic comedies, real-life inspiration, and why you should watch the show. (Hint: It has something to do with butts and maternity wear).

Starting from the beginning, what initially drew you toward each other?

Horgan: I started following Rob on Twitter because he was writing the funniest tweets I’d ever read. They made me feel a little bit ill and laugh at the same time. So, I was just happily following him, and Rob comes up to me — he liked all the shows I made — and that [humor] was the thing that connected us. I don’t know what you’d call it. I was going to say dark …

Delaney: Our approach? Is it dark? Because sometimes it’s light, like when we were talking about our love of slapstick and silly stuff the other day. Is it dark? Is it a rainbow? I don’t know.

Horgan: Well, you are quite silly.

Delaney: Sometimes, but I just thought that Sharon was the funniest person in the world, based on the shows that she’s made. [Also,] my favorite stuff to consume is stuff that men and women make together.

How did you transition into working together on Catastrophe?

Horgan: We talked about writing together. It was something we thought we might do in the future, and then Rob got the opportunity to [write a script] in the U.K., and he asked me to write it with him. 

Have you noticed any differences in the way it’s been received in both countries?

Horgan (to Delaney)I’ve made shows in the U.K. and it’s nice that people are not expecting anything here, isn’t it? They’re just taking it for what it is. Obviously, you’re known as a comic and the Twitter thing, but no one’s seen you make a sitcom and no one’s really seen me make a sitcom here.

Delaney: That’s not true …

Horgan: Well, not really, a tiny portion. There’s no expectation is what I mean. People are surprised that it’s good. Whereas in the U.K. it’s a little bit more like ‘What have you got for us?’ type of thing.

Delaney:  The one thing that I have noticed is that there is one thing that happens that is perhaps a bit unsavory in the show, and in the U.S., people get angrier about things because people expect certain tropes to be adhered to, certain types of happy things that happen. People were like, "How dare you deviate?" where in the U.K., they’re a little bit more like, "Oh, a terrible thing happened. Great.”

The show is one of a few newer romantic comedies on TV. Did you always envision the show fitting and challenging that genre?

Delaney: We knew that there was warmth between them, that there was a spark, and we knew that they were falling in love, but it really did take us by surprise. When we saw the episodes, we were like, "Oh my goodness, it is quite romantic.” That is a happy byproduct for us. We certainly didn’t sit down and say, "Hey, it’s time to write a romantic comedy.”

Horgan: The films that we were watching around at that time did inspire us to go down that route, like Before Midnight — Rob introduced me to that trilogy of films and I introduced him to The Heartbreak Kid. We were watching stuff that is romantic comedy but not necessarily with happy endings. The challenge [with the genre] is to avoid the saccharine.

Did you always know you wanted to end the season with such a dramatic cliffhanger?

Delaney: Yes. We had the series pretty mapped out pretty explicitly. We just wanted to be honest and they were a couple who is under immense duress. There is going to be cracks in the facade and sometimes they are going to respond to stress better than others. If anybody’s earned the right to freak out, it’s these two people.

Horgan: We liked the idea, the mix of it being the happiest day of their lives, and by the end of it, we leave viewers to think that it’s the worst day of our lives as well. The challenge was … we didn’t want it to come out of the blue. We wanted people to see the little cracks along the way and the stuff that could lead to that tension.

The show walks a very fine line between dirty humor, sweetness and an underlying sense of potential tragedy. Do you find it difficult to maintain that balance?

Horgan: We [didn’t go] out of our way to break people’s hearts or mess with them. We were just trying to be truthful. We want to put these people through the ringer because that’s what happens in real life. As we’re writing season two at the moment, it’s the same again, they’re just in a slightly different place, further into the relationship. The challenge is trying to keep the sweetness there because, obviously, romance dissipates to a certain extent [further in], not for everyone, but it becomes more of a challenge.

How much of the show is drawn from your own real life experiences? How much of your own quirks are in “Rob” and “Sharon”?

Delaney: A tremendous amount. Certain scenes are practically transcribed from our real lives. We certainly loaded particular episodes with more stuff than might necessarily befall — that might not have been quite as intense when they were happening to us, but a lot of it is based on real life. As far as the characters being based on us, yes, they don’t share just our names.

Is there anything specific you can share?

Delaney: No doctor scene didn’t happen to either Sharon or my wife.

Horgan: Obviously, we didn’t have Tobias Menzies or any hot doctor, but all the complicated pregnancy stuff happened. [Also], the scene in episode two where Rob [tries to buy a] ring with Sharon’s brother, that exact same thing happened to my husband. There’s little things. Quirk-wise, I feel similar to the Sharon character because I’m a little bit harsh. Rob is similar because we make our Rob character a really nice person, and Delaney happens to be a nice person.

The first season really intimately focuses on your characters. Will the world of the show expand more in season two?

Delaney: It does. We figured it out when we were editing that there was only one scene in the first season that neither of us were in. Either one or both of us were in every single scene except for one. There are more of those in season two. We are still the show’s beating heart, and we’re probably in more of it than your standard sitcom, we have [explored] the world and we enjoyed the [other] characters.

Horgan: What we haven’t done is broaden the world in that — we haven’t introduced more characters. There’s not a whole bunch of new friends. We’ve just given [our main core players] more screen time because they deserve it.

Do you have a favorite scene from the first season?

Delaney: In episode five, when Sharon has braided her hair to resemble an ex-girlfriend of mine and then also tries to make me jealous by telling me about an ex — a French ex-boyfriend — of hers, Sharon in that scene is just a masterclass in comedy. I was screaming quietly inside of my body when we shot it, but when I watch it makes me so happy.

Horgan: I’ve got two. The first one is actually in the very first episode and it’s Rob and Chris (Mark Bonnar) when they’re discussing the horrors of labor. It’s just such a vile but beautiful moment. The second one is in episode two when we’re just sitting outside a café and my character is trying to convince Rob that he doesn’t have to stick around and we see how much she really does want him to stick around [and] she’s being hard and saying the right things, and he’s not having any of it. He’s cutting right down the middle of it and telling her to get a grip.

What would you say is the biggest theme of the series?

Delaney: The thing I’m thinking, as somebody who’s approaching their ninth or tenth — one of those — anniversary.

Congratulations.

Delaney: Thank you. A long-term relationship is about showing up and working hard and banking on each other. If one’s down, the other might be up and can help the other one up, and sometimes you’re both down and you just [band] together. Endurance is a big theme of it for me. That might not sound romantic, but I kind of think that it is.

Horgan: It’s love under pressure. That’s going to come out more in season two.

For people who haven’t watched yet, why should they watch this show?

Delaney: You will laugh if you watch. Sharon and I hopped into meat grinder and made sausage of our soul. We are ghosts now. We did leave it all on the field, to use a sports analogy, and I think you can tell when you watch the show. I’m not saying you’ll like it, but I’m saying that you will laugh and you will know that it is genuine.

Horgan: And, you get to see [Rob's] butt three times (laughs).

Delaney: In episodes one, three and four you get to see my naked buttocks.

Horgan: And also there’s a lot of good pregnancy [fashion].

Delaney: Oh my god, Sharon’s wardrobe in amazing!

The entire first season of Catastrophe is available now on Amazon Prime. 

Twitter: @NotPhelan

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