The stars of Catastrophe have great faces. And I don’t mean that the way Sharon might about her rock-star student anti-fling, or the way Harita might when she calls Olivia “fuckable” (a darkly comic wrench in a discussion about workplace harassment). What I mean is that Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney can communicate so much with raised eyebrows or a sour expression, something that became apparent as I went back through the screenshots I took while watching the first episode of Catastrophe’s third season.
Here’s Delaney, as a suspicious Rob listens to Sharon’s story about the morning-after pill receipt and the grocery-store toothbrushes, scanning his wife’s words for an inconsistency he might be able to pounce on.
Here’s Horgan, taking a drag with her mouth but saying everything we need to know with her eyes: Even though she didn’t sleep with Nico she still feels guilty; above all else, she doesn’t want her life to crumble like Kate’s has.
When Rob and Sharon leave the hospital with a stitched-up Frankie, Rob makes a startlingly frank observation about Sharon: “You’re a fascinating person, you know that? I mean, you’re multifaceted. You’re a genuinely good mother—you handled that lazy doctor really well. You were calm, you asked all the right questions. Considering what a shit wife you are, it’s a fascinating collision of skills.” We don’t see the doctor’s examination, but we do see Rob’s examination of his marriage, right after he fails to remember his oldest son’s blood type, which Sharon immediately calls to mind in a tearful recollection of the time Frankie was bit by a squirrel.
And at the end of the episode, the expressiveness comes full circle: Delaney’s grump face, Horgan’s doleful eyes, heads leaning on shoulders. It’s all evidence of why Catastrophe remains, at the start of its third season, one of the best-acted, best-written comedies on TV.
There’s no time jump this time around: The new season premiere picks up where the last season finale left off, with Rob flummoxed by the Plan B receipt left in Sharon’s wallet. The cliffhanger seems to set up an explosive confrontation, but come on: This is Rob we’re talking about. He’s going to let that shit stew, becoming the acrid fuel that powers intentional snooping while pouring his own deception down his throat. But off-the-wagon Rob is Catastrophe’s long-game secret—the story of Sharon and Nico gets nipped in the bud, in a lacerating confession that has plenty of room for jokes, too: “Secret professional nipple grooming!” is a hell of a funny way of saying “J’accuse!”
The actual exclamation point on that scene further highlights the episode’s excellence. Throughout, there are very funny references to things that little Frankie is doing offscreen: He’s watching Million Dollar Baby (his interest in mid-’00s Oscar nominees clearly piqued by an evening of Brokeback Mountain and pizza), or falling asleep with a potato. Catastrophe’s whole reason for being, Rob and Sharon’s eldest is kept offscreen for the majority of the episode. And then Frankie comes crashing back into the picture, his bathroom accident (not that type of bathroom accident) serving as a reminder that what Rob and Sharon have isn’t something that just gets tossed away by a forgotten penis-handling or a drinking binge. Rob says as much at home, back on the couch, but we can read that commitment—and the compromises that come along with it—in the way he and Sharon look at each other throughout the episode.
Catastrophe has given this couple so many chances to wash their hands of one another, but one of the show’s underlying strengths is that they so clearly don’t want to. Because they’re connected in so many different ways—and also because they’re surrounded by living, breathing warning signs about what could happen if they split up. The premiere visits three of these Ghosts of Rob and Sharon Yet To Come, and frankly I’m itching for this season to blast full steam ahead, so Chris and Fran can get more mixed up in the main story. Ashley Jensen and Mark Bonnar make the most of their screentime here, though, especially Jensen, who gets in a spectacular lie—turns out her “life coach” is the British panel show Loose Women and farting—and a deliciously morbid punchline about lying: “Lies are like a child, hiding in a cupboard. You’re always going to find them. But if you wait too long, you might just find a little corpse.” You can make a bunch of screencaps to illustrate Catastrophe’s brilliance, or you can just re-watch that phone call between Sharon and Fran. (Though Sharon Horgan’s facial reaction to that cupboard line is still pretty great.)
- What is this marvelous terrestrial radio station that’s playing vintage Nick Lowe in the morning, and why can’t it exist in our reality?
- Rob isn’t just drinking his feelings—he’s eating them, too. Sometimes those bad habits collide, like the chip trick he pulls to hide the Tom Collins he downs at lunch. Other times, it’s just poor workplace behavior: “Does Tina from R&D know? Because she was unnecessarily vocal when I ate all those hot cross buns that she brought in that her daughter baked one time. I didn’t know they were homemade, because they were terrible!” “Why did you eat them all if they were terrible?” “That’s not the point!”
- I hope the fact that Sharon’s browser history contained some “fat Johnny Depps” gets brought up again. “I was just fascinated…”
- Hi, I’m not the person whose Catastrophe thoughts you’re accustomed to reading. Don’t worry: Molly Eichel will be back for episode three. We’re handling this season of Catastrophe just like we handled the second season of Love, splitting the reviews between Molly, Esther Zuckerman, and myself. Esther’s got episode two tomorrow, Molly’s on episode three Sunday, I’ll do episode four on Monday, and so on.