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Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Catastrophe: “Episode 1”

Illustration for article titled Catastrophe: “Episode 1”
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Rob Delaney has a Twitter albatross hanging around his neck. He’s going to be the Twitter famous guy for awhile. A massive popular figure on the social media platform, million of followers and all, who send outs irreverent missives on the regular. Hopefully, Catastrophe, a British import now streaming on Amazon Prime, will make him more just the Twitter Famous Guy (although, considering the success it has brought him, that’t not a bad thing at all). Because he and co-creator and co-star Sharon Horgan have created a wonderfully frank little story of two people creating a family under some pretty strange circumstances “A terrible thing has happened,” Rob’s eponymous character tells Sharon’s similarly monikered one. “But let’s make the best of it.”

Rob and Sharon have completely mucked up the “First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes the baby in the baby carriage” adage (Sharon’s young students would be extremely disappointed, no doubt). While on business in London, Rob meets Sharon and they have a six-day tryst involving lots of sex and few condoms. They don’t expect to see their extraordinarily good-smelling or sturdy love-making partner again. But then she gets pregnant and he moves to London to be with her because he didn’t know his father and it sucked and he’s going to attempt to not fuck up this kid as well. Neither of them are entirely sure this is the right move or makes any sense at all, but, hey: Terrible mistake, best of it.

By making the best of it, Horgan and Delaney have created a lovely little TV rom-com, a genre hard for a medium that has to keep its comedic tension consistently moving forward. None of this would work without the easy chemistry between Delaney and Horgan. They can can deliver this barbed dialogue at each other and directed toward other people (“I shouldn’t have called her a cunt. She’s really more of a bitch.”) and it sounds like it’s coming from two people who have an easy rapport with each other.

Horgan is a known quantity for British TV fans. (For those who recognized the major Katherine Hahn vibes she gives off, Horgan originated the role Hahn would eventually play on the swiftly-cancelled NBC version of Free Agents. But more importantly, she’s already played against extreme American optimism before against another American going overseas to try his hand out a sitcom: David Cross in The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret.) The tension in the comedy here smartly does not come entirely from their situation — these people still need to fall in love and we still need to want them to fall in love — but from their different outlooks on life. “You don’t have to be so American about it,” Sharon tells Rob when he insists on staying to raise his child. But, of course, he does. He’s all go-get-’em, we-can-do-this optimism while she’s stiff-upper-lipping her way through a situation she’s not even entirely sure she wants to be in.

Delaney, at least for me, was an entirely pleasant surprise. He’s affable and sweet, and a natural presence onscreen, especially playing against Horgan, who imbues Sharon with great humanity. This woman is truly terrified and has no idea what she’s gotten herself into. She’s trying to make the best of it, but that may also turn out to be a terrible decision.

To ease their way into this chemistry, Delaney and Horgan smartly write their alter-egos into two different scenarios — one in OBGYN’s office, something only an expecting couple would need to go through; while the other is at a friend’s house for dinner. Pregnant or not, most couples have been in the latter situation, trapped in a double date that neither one of them wants to be on. The scene allows them to establish who they are out as two people coming together outside of their situation. Even if Sharon was not pregnant, it’s hard to believe that dinner party — with Extras’ Ashley Jensen and Mark Bonnar — would have gone any better.


One of the slight issues I have with this episode is there is little sense of time. Because Catastrophe is working on a short six episode run, there’s little chance for dilly-dallying. That’s great in the sense that we’re not wasting time on meandering episodes just to fill a run, but it also squishes events that would normally be played out over several episodes into one. How long has Rob been there by the time they go to dinner? Perhaps, I only find this a problem because I want to spend more time with these people, to watch them interact even more. That’s not a bad problem to have. Catastrophe is a wonderfully sharp entry into the rom-com genre, one that does not always work on TV.

Stray observations

  • Hey guys! I’ll be reviewing this weekly so look forward to these every Friday at noon.