There are many things to celebrate about the arrival of spring. Floral prints, churchyard daffodils, days that feel like summer and the fact that Season 3 of comedy series Catastrophe has premiered on Channel 4.
Catastrophe is written and performed by Boston beauty Rob Delaney, and Irish comedienne Sharon Horgan. Of the two, Delaney – once lauded as the ‘King of Twitter’ – is the more well known and yet in a third act twist it is Horgan who seems on track to becoming a one-woman comedic powerhouse.
Having logged more than a decade writing and acting in roles large and small here in the UK, amongst them a part in Chris O’Dowd’s Moone Boy, she was lauded last week by The Guardian as “the most watchable woman” on television. And yet she is, crucially, the quintessential observer as well as the observed. Her dynamism as an actress is paralleled, outshone even, by weightier off-camera accolades.
Horgan is the co-founder of production company Merman with partner Clelia Mountford and the creator, writer and executive producer of HBO’s Divorce starring Sarah Jessica Parker, Thomas Haden Church and Molly Shannon. Her career, while long established, has taken a steep upward trajectory of late that runs parallel to the the sharp and self-effacing writing she has showcased in recent work.
Catastrophe, in particular, is one of those rare pieces of art that adds to the conversation as opposed to recycling platitudes. It imagines the relationship between an American ad executive and the one-night-stand he (…fortuitously?) impregnates on a business trip to London. The pilot opens with schoolteacher Sharon and businessman Rob’s meet-cute in a crowded bar, in a scene that is characteristically offbeat. Her choice of drink? A margarita. His? A coke – he’s a recovering alcoholic who once ‘sh*t his pants’ at his sister’s wedding. This pairing of light and dark sets the stage for the show’s blended genre: brooding satire anchoring the shinier trappings of a Rom-Com. The observational comedy that follows chronicles the almost-strangers as they join forces to navigate doctors’ appointments, the Atlantic Ocean and newly shared common ground.
When Catastrophe first broadcast in early 2015, Horgan and Delaney chatted to London’s Evening Standard about why they had chosen to explore the dynamic of impromptu relationships. “In a way, wouldn’t it be nice to feel the muzzle of a gun on the back of the cerebral cortex and a voice telling you who you have to marry?” joked Delaney. “You’d say: ‘Thank God, I don’t have to think about it.’” And in a world of infinite, unquantifiable options, perhaps it would be?
In the show’s first two seasons the writing duo pursue this line of questioning while refraining from patronizing their viewership with any one contrived answer. Energy that is usually spent weaving storylines and gift-wrapping the sometimes-tenuous life lessons gleaned by TV writers is assigned instead to juicing every drop of sticky, bittersweet reality from the everyday occurrences born of pregnancy, parenting and relationships.
This heightening and elevating of the ordinary is achieved not only through what’s on the page but also via the undiluted intensity of Horgan and Delaney’s performances which despite having an improvised feel are delivered with merciless conviction.
If you’re new to Catastrophe here are five reasons to binge watch what you’ve missed so far.
1. It stars Carrie Fisher
Catastrophe features palate-cleansing cameos by the indomitable Carrie Fisher as businessman Rob’s acerbic American mother. Fisher’s character co-opts any cynicism you might have over her son and daughter-in-law’s shotgun love affair by being meaner and funnier about it than you could be.
2. It sidesteps overplayed tropes of fictional romance
Neither character is waiting to be rescued from their lives, dispelling the idea that any love worth having can only blossom in the cracks between grief, heartbreak, promiscuity, self-absorption and emotional unavailability. Nor does it play into the ‘yin and yang’ ideal. The male and female leads do not play dominance against acquiescence, showman against audience. They tussle, tangle and collide with a baseline of equality that is so deeply rooted in the ethos of the characters that it comes across as incidental; almost tangible in its fairness.
3. It is charged with the energy of its time
The show unites European and American sensibilities in a climate in which countries are finding themselves increasingly and inadvertently interconnected. It rings pitch perfect as the product of a culture in which people of similar values all over the globe are being made to come together and face messy situations.
4. It nods to the new normal
When we meet Rob and Sharon they are in their early forties, un-affectedly single and indisposed to dwell on the relationships, miscarriages or missteps of their past. The series captures the default setting of the post baby boomer generations who are no longer operating under the assumption that they can expect a carefully structured, Hallmark card life. It reflects the experience of younger generations who, within a rapidly changing set of social parameters, have come to accept a more chaotic, uncertain existence.
5. It smoothes no edges
Catastrophe encompasses the full, raging indistinctness of modern man. Less and less is defined. Are we in this together or are we not? Do I have cancer or don’t I? Am I straight or am I gay? Was I sexually assaulted or wasn’t I? Am I an addict or am I not? Do I hate you or do I love you? Would I cheat or wouldn’t I? Did I cheat or didn’t I? This current of ambiguity is amplified, rather than resolved, as the show progresses. While the first season looks at how a so-called disaster can be turned on its head through the creation of a family, the second season looks at the ways in which family life is, ironically, fertile breeding ground for disaster.
Rather than referring to one isolated event, the ‘catastrophe’ becomes all-consuming, growing to describe a state of being that is at once an onslaught and a refuge from the alternative: not taking a chance on love or life at all.
Written by Sabrina Ceol.
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