Catastrophe finale review – the end of a gloriously monstrous era

Through four years of caustic dissection of marriage and parenthood, the charisma, warmth and chemistry of Catastrophe’s brilliant leads ensured we went out on a high

After four scabrous series in as many years, covering sex, pregnancy, cervical dysplasia, a child whose name its father can’t pronounce, drunken encounters with stray young penises, bereavement and alcoholism in cruelly, hilariously honest fashion, Catastrophe (Channel 4) last night reached its end. Pulling, the first comedy by Catastrophe’s co-creator Sharon Horgan, is often cited (perhaps because it was so misunderstood, and cruelly cut off in its prime, by the commissioning powers-that-be) as her masterwork. Even its brilliance is but a candle to the blazing beacon that is the story of American ad man Rob Norris (played by Catastrophe’s co-creator Rob Delaney), Irish schoolteacher Sharon and their journey from one-week stand and accidental pregnancy to married parents of two living in domestic bli-… well, living happily together. Well, living together with enough moments of happiness to make it worthwhile. Probably.

I don’t know how singletons found it, but for the spoused-up it was like being battered for half an hour in a rough sea and emerging exhilarated at the end. “Smug marrieds” was always the least believable trope in Bridget Jones (most people wanting to couple up don’t take inspiration from their friends, but rather lessons in what not to settle for). Horgan and Delaney’s creation gave us the truth. That marriage means long stretches of bonding mostly over problems that your children have created, and hoping that the waters of life leave you enough stepping stones – as they slowly submerge the love you have for each other – to get you to the other side and the sweet release of death.

Comedically, Delaney and Horgan are made for each other. A show this caustic – and it burns through comforting delusions as efficiently as acid through meringue – about long-term love, parenthood and fortysomething bodies needed their individual and joint charisma, warmth and chemistry. Without that, Sharon would easily have transmuted from magnificent virago to simple bitch, and Rob the henpecked husband instead of awed, unflinching admirer, happy to let her whet her blade on him but never stupid or soft enough to let her plunge it in.

In the final episode, Rob’s mother dies (as Carrie Fisher, who played her, did after the previous series finished filming) just as they arrive for a holiday with his family in the US – and just like Sharon’s dad did when they went to Ireland to see hers. “People die when we visit,” says Rob. “We have a dark power.” Who should they go and see next, wonders Sharon. Rob suggests her brother Fergal, whom he hates. And whom Sharon knows he hates. They laugh, and keep driving towards their now grief-filled destination. Acknowledging each other’s hatreds and the impossibility of changing the situation is one of this couple’s greatest strengths. The show’s awareness, too, that this kind of thing is really what partnership is all about is one of its most powerful weapons.

It is also always perfectly paced at every level; from the movement of a whole six-episode series, to every half-hour within it, down to the exquisite escalation – and, often even more perfectly, de-escalation – of their many marital rows. It captures the power shifts between couples and between friends, the different qualities of silence that can exist between people who love and periodically can’t stand each other, and the innumerable odd moments that can only happen between people who – though it might literally kill them (or at least Sharon) to say it – are each other’s lifeblood. Last week, Sharon threw herself into a taxi after a row on the street with Rob, slammed the door and glared at him furiously through the window before winding it down and saying: “Well, get in!” “I thought …” says baffled Rob. “I just felt like slamming the door!” she says. He gets in. Back home they go, together.

And has there ever been a more perfect encapsulation of marital sex than the moment in episode four when the prospect rears its head and Rob explains: “The idea of having sex with you is great, but if you were to initiate something right now I’d be really angry. I still have a really fond feeling when I look at you, though! Maybe that’s enough.” “Maybe,” ponders Sharon. “Fuck it – it IS enough!” And lie down contentedly they do, together.

No spoilers for the ending, except that it did right by them (and by us all). Sharon remains gloriously, borderline monstrous to the end but allows the slightest first hint of a scintilla of a shadow of a willingness to contemplate some personal growth in the last moments of the last scenes. From first to last Catastrophe has been an unremitting triumph.


Lucy Mangan

The GuardianTramp

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