In ‘Catastrophe’, The Only Thing Harder Than Having A Baby Is Growing Up
Who among us has not wondered—maybe while paying the credit card bill, or shopping for a pencil skirt—so then, this is adulthood? And more importantly, am I doing it right? Therein lies the conflict at the heart of “Catastrophe,” currently available for streaming in its six-episode entirety on Amazon Prime (the UK’s Channel 4—the show’s original broadcaster—has already picked up a second season).
Penned by its stars, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, “Catastrophe” follows a straightforward premise, neatly laid out in the first episode: Rob, a Boston ad exec, meets Sharon, an Irish teacher, while on a business trip to London. Rob and Sharon have a few days of great, no-strings-attached sex. Weeks later, Rob’s iPhone lights up; it’s “Sharon London Sex.” Sharon London Sex is pregnant.
Many sitcoms unearth comedy by taking everyday people or settings and heightening that reality until it becomes absurdist. “Catastrophe,” on the other hand, finds humor in the tension between fairly banal grown-up stuff, and the things we’re often too nervous to state out loud about all of it.
Each roughly 25-minute episode is based around the unspectacular trials of two people trying their hands at adult-ing. Rob attempts to make friends after moving to London. Sharon Facebook stalks Rob’s blonde, paddle-boarding ex. Dinner parties and job interviews are had. Parents are met. Brusque OB/GYNs deliver worrying news.
Many sitcoms unearth comedy by taking everyday people or settings and heightening that reality until it becomes absurdist. “Catastrophe,” on the other hand, finds humor in the tension between fairly banal grown-up stuff, and the things we’re often too nervous to state out loud about all of it. Consider Rob’s entirely realistic reaction to Sharon’s admission that she’d like to christen their baby: “How weird is that? A bunch of adults standing around a baby pretending to believe in the devil so they can renounce him?” When he suggests a naming ceremony instead, Sharon protests, “That is a bullshit California yoga retreat load of bullshit!” Later, Sharon wins the argument by theorizing, “God is the best friend of the lazy parent.” It’s refreshing to hear such a blunt, realistic conversation about parenting and religion that isn’t anywhere near dour—you don’t see much of that on network sitcoms.
“Catastrophe” is at its best when it doesn’t reach too far from reality. One supporting character, Rob’s rich friend Dave, tends toward caricature, but for the most part the main and supporting players talk, curse, drink, smoke and have sex like normal people. The show is unsparingly filthy—an Episode 1 monologue about the horrors of childbirth is particularly disgusting and hilarious—but it’s not shtick-filth, it’s the way many adults talk when they’re grinding through, trying to figure it all out.
Not so long ago, and in certain segments of America today, the subversive thing about “Catastrophe” would have been its depiction of two unmarried adults parenting a child after a one-night stand. But when Sharon cries, in response to Rob’s marriage proposal, “Aren’t you supposed to fall in love first!?” it’s not subversive because the couple is “living in sin,” but because a 40-ish woman is acknowledging that “I-must-be-missing-a-step” anxiety that we so often gloss over as we craft pithy Tweets and curate Insta-posts. “Catastrophe” dares the viewer to take half an hour and just sit with the apprehension, even fear, of growing up—or better yet, laugh about it.