What happens when a businessman from the U.S. travels to London, hooks up with a plucky Irish lass and gets her pregnant? In the British comedy series Catastrophe, the answer is not at all what you might expect.
Created by, and starring, up-and-coming comedians Rob Delaney (Life After Beth, Key and Peele) and Sharon Horgan (Pulling, Imagine Me & You), Catastrophe is a short series about making pie out of some really bad apples. With a stellar cast, smart writing that rivals the most cynical, dark humor of shows like Louie and Girls, and a snackable length of just two and a half hours (six 25-minute episodes), Catastrophe‘s first season is perfect for binging on a rainy Sunday afternoon.
Pregnancy comedies tend to follow the same formula: Here’s a girl. Here’s a guy. Girl meets guy. Girl and guy have sex. Girl finds out she’s pregnant. They bumble through the awkwardness of “making it work,” and end up falling in love. Cue the collective “aww.”
Catastrophe loosely follows this formula, but deviates in several key places. Whereas your typical pregnancy comedy starts before the unfortunate — or fortunate, depending on your perspective, I guess — “incident,” Catastrophe drops you right in the middle, and lets you figure these two people out just as they are figuring each other out. As is required, the pace is lightning speed.
Fifty-five seconds into the pilot, Rob is slamming Sharon down on his hotel bed, only to find a piece of leftover room service stuck to her naked back. By a minute and half, they’re exchanging numbers the next morning — he’s in London until Thursday. By minute three, he’s on his way to the airport, and by minute five, she’s calling, interrupting his date with the news of her bun in the oven.
“I don’t know what you do when you get pregnant by a stranger,” Sharon says. “I don’t know the etiquette.”
“I’m not a stranger,” Rob says. “I’m a familiar acquaintance — a friend — who helped you make a mistake and will now help you figure it out.”
By minute 10, he’s back in the U.K., ready to take responsibility.
That’s another admirable deviation from the pregnancy comedy formula. Catastrophe provides a realistic characterization of two people in an regrettable situation, while still managing to be laugh-out-loud funny. Rob does not come bumbling back to London to fulfill his masculine, patriarchal duty to a woman he knocked up. He is responsible, but not in an obsessive, “I’m going to be a daddy!” sort of way.
He’s not obsessed with her either. He likes her, wants to spend more time with her and wants to support her in whatever decision she makes. Choosing to give birth is not a given until she makes the decision, but once it’s made, he’s on board with no hesitation.
He’s a self-assured grown up, not an impotent man-child ill-equipped for the duties of fatherhood. Rob seems to genuinely care about what happens to Sharon and their offspring. And he feels ready to be a part of the outcome, and take on whatever their shared choices come to mean for him.
Sharon is a multifaceted woman. She is older — we’re not sure how old, but there are plenty of references from the start to her ticking clock and the risks of pregnancy “at her age.” It’s rare to see a woman “past her prime” in popular culture played as a sexual being with confidence, agency and personality — especially a woman having sex for fun, not looking for a husband. Think Louie‘s on-again off-again love Pamela, but a shade less derisive.
Rob and Sharon’s chemistry is front and center, but rough around the edges. After all, they’ve only known each other for a few weeks — and this is no Disney fairy tale — but the building blocks are there. They have a same sense of humor: a little bit vulgar, a little bit weird and overly sarcastic. Their jokes land with each other even better than they land with the audience. They’re both attractive, intelligent, successful people. It’s not hard to root for them, whatever that means. Should they fall in love? Maybe. Will they?
When the season ends, you’ll be glad to know that a second season has been ordered, due out sometime in 2016.
Catastrophe can be streamed on Amazon Prime.