'Catastrophe': TV Review

Catastrophe Still - H 2015
Courtesy of Amazon Studios

Catastrophe Still - H 2015

A charming and hilariously subversive British comedy.

A one-week fling leads to an unplanned pregnancy and then a relationship in this new Brit com streaming on Amazon Prime.

"Catastrophe" is one of those words we use hyperbolically all the time. And the new show Catastrophe is no exception. It sounds like a disaster series involving a group of intrepid survivors who band together after a giant boulder crashes to earth, but it’s actually a charming and decidedly salty series about Rob (comedian Rob Delaney), an American ad man, who meets Irish school teacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan) while in London for work. The two spend a wonderful sex-filled week together without any intention of it ever becoming more than a fling. But then Sharon becomes pregnant, which is what happens when you “have sex about 25 times in a week” and only use a condom “maybe twice.” The title sets the tone for the series; this is a catastrophe of a different sort.

Rob decides to relocate to London, and the two embark on an awkward yet sweet romance. The show’s distinctly British sense of humor is wonderful. “A terrible thing has happened. Let’s make the best of it,” Rob tells Sharon.

Part of the show’s appeal is that Rob is a good guy. He wants to do the right thing, not because of any societal pressure to be responsible, but because he didn’t have a father growing up and he doesn’t want that for his son. When Rob’s lecherous friend Dave (Daniel Lapaine) talks about how wonderful it is not being committed to any one woman, Rob says, “That is great for you. For me, a different thing is great.” Rob’s a nice guy, but not a pushover or the stereotypical exasperated “yes, dear” kind of man so popular in mainstream comedies.

Delaney has amassed a huge Twitter following by being simultaneously honest and hilarious, and he brings those same attributes to his fictional alter ego here. He also has an innate acting ability that eludes many of his comic peers. Like the real Rob Delaney, Rob on Catastrophe is a recovering alcoholic. He tells Sharon he decided to stop drinking after he defecated on himself at his sister’s wedding. There’s something great about how Rob’s sobriety is folded organically into his character; it’s not something the show dwells on or discusses, and none of the other characters make a big deal about it.

Horgan is equally delightful. Sharon is one of TV’s few realistic pregnant women. She’s not throwing up every five minutes or demanding Rob run out for a midnight snack of pickles and ice cream. She does jones for a cigarette, however (even taking a puff at one point) and dismays over her swelling feet. She also still drinks, which in the United States would make onlookers apoplectic. “The new thing is it’s okay to drink,” she says, clearly knowing that’s not exactly true.

It's lovely watching the interactions between two actors who share a rapport that rings true. “I don’t know what to do when you get pregnant by a stranger,” Sharon tells him. The script is peppered with all sorts of profanity, but it never feels like the characters are swearing just because they can.

Sharon struggles to fit Rob into her tiny apartment, while meanwhile Rob tries to create a life for himself in London outside of Sharon. And they both must navigate each other’s friends and family. Anyone who has ever been pregnant has definitely run into someone like Sharon’s frenemy, Fran (Ashley Jensen). Fran badgers Sharon with talk of the virtues of a natural childbirth and the horrors of using any kind of painkillers during delivery. Sharon’s brother Fergal (Jonathan Forbes) is giddy over the mess his sister has gotten herself into. Back home, Rob’s mom (Carrie Fisher) is working every angle to convince her son that he doesn’t have to be a father to his baby.

More than anything, the show, written entirely by Delaney and Horgan, is laugh-out-loud funny. Rob has Sharon listed as “Sharon (London sex)” on his phone. When Rob insults homeopaths only to learn that Fran is one, he deadpans to Sharon, “You could have told me that in my pre-dinner briefing.” Somehow the show even makes Sharon's diagnosis of a pre-cancerous condition hilarious.

The six-episode first season of Catastrophe aired earlier this year in Britain and has already been picked up for a second season there. One hopes Amazon will decide to pick up the second season as well. If they don’t, it'll be a catastrophe.