Catastrophe box set review: a six-nighter becomes much more

Sharon Horgan’s Irish teacher and Rob Delaney’s American advertising guy are a perfect, witty fit as two strangers drawn together by sex – and then pregnancy

Sharon is a teacher and Rob works in advertising. They meet in a bar, go home together, and spend the next six days having lots of sex before deciding to call a fling a fling. Rob flies home to the US and they go their separate ways at the airport – where they also have sex.

It’s not until Rob gets a call from Sharon in London to tell him she’s pregnant that Catastrophe’s title begins to make sense. As if to show just how little they know each other, she is listed in his phone as: “Sharon, London (Sex).” Catastrophe is the story of how a six-nighter becomes much more. As such, the series burns through plot: the first episode ends with Rob moving to London and proposing. Turning the sitcom cliche of will-they-won’t-they on its head, Catastrophe tells us they will, they have, but where do we go from here?

Sharon and Rob are played by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, who also wrote the show after meeting via Twitter (they clearly didn’t work very hard at coming up with names for their characters). In the series, he calls her an “an extraordinarily good-smelling woman with a magical ass”, while she is less complimentary, summing him up as a “sturdy love-maker with a massive chin”.

The emotional pull of this first series – the second recently started on Channel 4 – comes from the ups and downs of pregnancy, though the show is unafraid to touch on more serious issues alongside the comedy. The couple’s fears and uncertainties, clearly drawn from real life, are captured with style and biting wit – but also pathos. Sharon, in her 40s, is told she runs the risk of having a baby with Down’s syndrome.

She is also referred to, charmingly, by a doctor as a “geriatric” mum and informed she has cervical dysplasia. That’s a type of cancer, she’s told, but don’t worry, it’s more of a pre-cancer, the cancer you don’t have to worry about. “Doctor,” Rob replies, “you have said cancer rather a lot, like more than you would hear in a casual conversation that isn’t about cancer.” This is the sort of dialogue – the slowly cracking mind speaking out loud – that harks back to Horgan’s previous triumph, Pulling.

Having a baby is hard enough for couples who have known each other for years. Sharon and Rob enter it all as near strangers, learning about each other just as they are learning about morning sickness. As for the christening, Rob lets it be known he would prefer a non-religious naming ceremony. Irish Catholic Sharon tries to meet him in the middle and fails, opting again to put it bluntly: “That is a bullshit California yoga retreat load of bullshit and my parents would kill me.”

Powerful support comes from Carrie Fisher, who makes a rare TV appearance after a successful post-Star Wars career as screenwriter and memoirist. Her involvement is quite a coup, brushing the whole series with stardust as she gets her teeth into the part of Rob’s overbearing, disapproving mother Mia. “You don’t have to stay there,” she tells him over the phone. “It’s just a foreign baby. They can’t extradite you.” It’s all a long way from Princess Leia.

Catastrophe isn’t afraid of going to easy places for laughs either. When Rob finally proposes properly, he does so in a puddle of urine on a street corner. And when he asks his friend Chris about being present at the business end of the birth, he is warned against it with the memorable words: “You see your little troll tobogganing out of your wife’s snatch on a wave of turds.”


David Renshaw

The GuardianTramp

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