Catastrophe review: tender, believable and filthily funny

Channel 4’s deliciously tart romcom is as truthful a portrayal of postnatal depression and dementia as you’re likely to see – and certainly the funniest. Meanwhile on BBC3’s Professor Green: Suicide and Me, the rapper explored his father’s history

Rejoice! Catastrophe is back! Channel 4’s deliciously tart romcom of sorts burst on to screens in January, a riotous romp through the relationship of an American man and Irish woman who meet in London, shag (a lot), get pregnant, move in together, fall in love, get married (because why not) and — almost, at last, finally — have a baby.

This was a romantic comedy for those who start itching at the term, honest, authentic and warm-hearted, but at the same time truly, filthily funny. It takes some serious writing chops to pack that galloping plot into six episodes of just 24 minutes apiece, finding time along the way for storylines about cervical dysplasia and Down’s syndrome, and all the while making your central couple and their fast-forward romance believable and likable. And, crucially, leaving enough room for the jokes.

For that, happily, Catastrophe had Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney as writers, stars and executive producers; she’s one of the geniuses behind Pulling, he’s a Boston comic who made his name cracking brilliant gags on Twitter (harder than it looks).

Reviewers loved it instantly and, if anything, its reputation has only grown in the months since (it’s had a successful run on Amazon in the US too), earning a second season that was so hotly anticipated even Channel 4 couldn’t wait, bringing transmission forward from the new year.

So what’s the catastrophe now? When we last met them, Sharon and Rob (coincidence, huh?) had just got married, had a flaming row about nothing and her waters had broken. When they return, she’s still pregnant, they’re still fighting and still shagging a fair bit, though it’s perhaps not quite the breathless hormone rush of before (“Will I have to put my mug down?”)

But when a toddler ambles into the bedroom it is clear why: we have leapt forward in time, and before long (“Caesarian me! Push it back in and cut it out!”) the couple who everyone seems to agree “had as much chance of lasting as a fart in a storm” find themselves with an implausibly nice house, a dog and two children — “What I always wanted, apparently.”

There’s plenty of salt in the sugar, though – Sharon’s boobs are leaking, the nappies in the bins are hers, not the baby’s, and the dog is about to have an overly close encounter with the bumper of a passing car.

Most deliciously of all, Carrie Fisher – playing Rob’s acidic mother, Mia – has been liberated from the phoneline to which she was confined in the first series. Here, she is on an interminable visit to London, failing to buy Hummel figurines on eBay and making zero effort to pronounce her new granddaughter’s Irish name (which, in fairness, even Rob can’t manage).

Sharon’s father, meanwhile, can’t even remember what his daughter is called, while she is worried she hasn’t bonded with the baby and is so tired she finds herself flinging the dirty cot sheets out the window. It’s as truthful, caustic and tender as any comedy you are likely to see about postnatal depression, dementia and old-lady bras – and certainly the funniest. “Sorry I called your mother a haemorrhoid,” says Sharon. That’s OK. Keep it coming.


Stephen Manderson was 24 and hadn’t seen his father Peter for seven years when his dad killed himself in 2008. Peter had never been a big part of his son’s life; after Stephen’s mother walked out when he was one, leaving him with his grandmother, his father, too, became only an occasional presence in the shy little boy’s life. He would long for him, though, sitting for hours at the window of their Hackney flat watching the bus stop opposite in case his dad came to visit, “and, for the most part, he never did”.

Stephen is now better known as the rapper Professor Green, and lives in a house with a very glam kitchen with his wife Millie Mackintosh, an heiress and Made in Chelsea alumna. But despite his distant relationship with Peter, he has always been “tormented” by the fact and manner of his death. In Professor Green: Suicide and Me (BBC3), he set out to discover more about his dad and why suicide remains the biggest killer of men under 45.

Not an easy subject, but the thoughtful, articulate, deeply sensitive young man at the centre of the story gave this film its considerable heart. Manderson found out that Peter had been abandoned by his own mother as a young child, had lost a twin at birth, and had watched two siblings die in the two years before he killed himself – a beloved sister to cancer and a brother, horribly, to suicide. All, learned his son, can be contributing risk factors, though the musician was careful to acknowledge throughout that he would never really know why his dad had done what he did.

It was a gentle but impassioned plea for depressed men to talk about their feelings, and in opting to be so open about his own, plentiful, tears, Manderson led the way commendably.


Esther Addley

The GuardianTramp

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