I recommend the Channel 4 sitcom Catastrophe to James. Well, I was going to recommend it to James, but he’s already seen it. Perhaps I’ll recommend that he continues watching it, as it would be a shame for him to miss the last episode of the series, which is airing next Wednesday. I also recommend that he doesn’t try and look up what time it’s on, because the Channel 4 episode guide tells you what happens in it, for fuck’s sake.
Catastrophe follows the whirlwind pregnancy of Sharon and Rob (Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney who write and star in the show). Sharon is a single school teacher living in London when she meets Rob, an American who is in the UK on a business trip. They have a passionate affair before Rob hops back on a plane across the Atlantic. When they find out that Sharon is pregnant they decide to make the best of it and Rob moves to London. The tale of their life together is dark at times as they struggle with living together, loving each other, dealing with their parents, dealing with their social lives and all the other issues of an unplanned family.
Ashley Jensen, who was equally excellent in Extras, is perfectly hateable as Sharon’s toxic, narcissistic friend Fran. Her husband Chris (Mark Bonnar) is the archetypal repressed British male. Hiding behind his cutting Scottish accent and dead-pan delivery, he is hilariously unpredictable as his repressed feelings manifest themselves in unexpected ways. He clearly wants to be friends with Rob, but leaves him bewildered by his apparent refusal to acknowledge that he has emotions. The show doesn’t make cheap American / British / Scottish / Irish jokes (although, on Sharon’s birthday, there is a point when they all walk into bar) and this clash of cultural norms is between two complex characters rather than caricatures. I know you’re not supposed to have favourites, but I think Chris is mine.
Rob’s mother Mia is also a great addition to the show. Her distaste for Sharon and the way her eccentric, forthright attitude clashes with, well, everyone she meets, is painfully amusing. There’s an interview with an American TV network in which Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan are asked about the actress who plays Mia: Carrie Fisher. The interviewer asks them if cinnamon buns or a gold bikini are ever used in the show “a la Star Wars.” The way that they visibly squirm when asked this question tells you a lot about Catastrophe.
There isn’t a single weak link in the supporting cast and characters. The sibling rivalry between Sharon and her brother Fergal (Johnathan Forbes) sees childishly try and get one up on each other over serious and adult issues. Fergal also flits between trying to undermine Rob and asking him for support. The drug-addled Dave (Daniel Lapaine) is the only American Rob knows in London and he acts as an insight into Rob’s hedonistic past. Rob, like real life Rob Delaney, is a reformed alcoholic.
At the core of it all, it’s the chemistry between Rob and Sharron that holds the show together. It makes their arguments real, which means the funnier bits are even funnier, and the tragic bits are even more tragic. The best moments are those when conflict with the other characters (Sharron calling Mia a haemorrhoid, Rob telling Fran that homeopathy is bullshit) brings Rob and Sharron together.