The third run of Catastrophe (Channel 4) ended with the now-traditional catastrophe, rounding off another strong series, one that has dealt in bleakness and sentimentality, often in the same breath.
Rob arrives in Ireland with the intention of telling Sharon that he is drinking again, not realising that her ill father has died; naturally, the confession takes a back seat. A funeral is the perfect place for a complex concoction of emotions to fester. Sharon’s relationship with her feckless brother reaches a touching conclusion when she finds the letter he left her, while Fran’s pathetic grief at being 46, single and “just so horny” is wickedly funny, especially in her attempts to empathise with Sharon’s shellshocked mother.
That the comedy – like many comedies right now, it frequently leans towards tragedy – has sustained itself way beyond its original premise is a credit to the acidity and frankness of the writing. Rob and Sharon were thrown together by an accidental pregnancy, but, in among the gags about erections and vomit, it has become a show about how a long-term relationship survives, with its complicated negotiation of compromises and wavering levels of affection. When Sharon drunkenly tells Rob, in the car, late at night, after a Nando’s: “Now I just don’t work without you,” it is done beautifully.
There is more poignancy in the fact that this is Carrie Fisher’s last appearance on screen, as Rob’s garrulous mother, Mia. Mia is blunt and outrageous, telling Sharon’s mother that a mourner is flirting with her, which means, at least, that she has still got it. There are cracks about Ireland. “So this is where it all began.” “What?” “Riverdance.” A long monologue about the merits of a TV show about schizophrenic children fades into the background. There is a tough-love scene in which Rob admits he is drinking again and Mia threatens to kill him. It is funny and tender. After the credits, we are left with a picture of Fisher and just two words: “For Carrie.”
It is easy to take One Born Every Minute (Channel 4) for granted. It has been around since 2010; this is the 10th series. Alarmingly, the babies born early on in its life are now at school (should you wish to be terrified by the rate at which time is hurtling by, you can see these small people watching their own births online at All 4). It does what it does so well that little about the formula has changed. Couples come into the hospital, ready to give birth. They talk about their lives. The midwives talk about their lives, a bit. There is a lot of pain and effort. A baby arrives. Almost everyone, including the viewers, gets a lump in their throat; some go for a full-throttle sob.
One Born Every Minute shares a common space with 24 Hours in A&E, Channel 4’s other smash-hit fixed-rig documentary, but if the latter can sometimes be a panic-inducing reminder of the random fragility of life, the former is usually much more joyful, exposing the vulnerabilities of those involved, yet always showing people at their best. It is only when you see such optimism on screen that you realise its scarcity.
In this first episode, we see two couples with two decades between them. The first, 22-year-old Ste and 19-year-old Jodie, are having their first child. Ste is a likeable joker, pushing through his nerves and fears with quick wit and punchlines. There is a deft bit of editing that shows midwife Ange talking about how she can see the love between two people from the way they touch each other and that, sometimes, she envies it. Then Ste, previously the model of an attentive boyfriend, takes a phone call – from his girlfriend, Chelsea, who wants to know how everything is coming along. Ste and Jodie were never together, only ever “friends with benefits”. But they seem to be good friends, and there is an upfront honesty to their determination to make their setup work for the sake of their baby. It feels as though much is left unsaid in their story. Yet more evidence that real life is often more intriguing than scripted drama.
In another room, Maria, 40, and Derroll, 44, are also having their first child together, having met online. They are so in love that they finish each other’s sentences. Derroll gets choked up when he talks about how much she means to him. Maria told Derroll about her other children when he visited her house for the first time. “These are two of my kids, and I’ve got some more,” she remembers saying. They have a little boy, via caesarean, and Derroll’s stunned, thrilled face is a sight to behold. We may see that kind of expression in every episode of One Born Every Minute, but it is a sign of the programme’s power that its impact never fades.