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Catastrophe shifts gears to winningly crack wise about birth and death

Rob Delaney (left), Sharon Horgan (Screenshot: Amazon)
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Watch closely as characters come and go from the house Rob and Sharon no longer have to sell, and you might notice a pop of contrast against the greenery. The leaves on a couple of the trees that line the walk have changed color—they’re dead, or dying. This sign of an advancing calendar is a reflection of when season three was produced, like the Brexit and Donald Trump allusions that dot the scripts of these episodes. But those orange leaves take on additional meaning in an episode—and, increasingly, a series—with mortality on its mind.


It’s a logical next step for a show that’s successfully mined the rest of the life cycle for wickedly funny nuggets. And if season three’s fourth episode isn’t exactly the laugh riot out of the bunch, maybe it’s because it’s the one that tackles the season’s underlying doom-and-gloom head-on. The feeling of stability that Rob’s new employment status represents is short-lived, as it’s soon crowded out by the bad news from Sharon’s OB/GYN appointment, the sharp realization that her parents are getting older, and a bedtime thought exercise set in a world where Fran and Chris are dead and Sharon and Rob are taking care of Jeffrey and entertaining his celebrity colleagues Daniel Radcliffe and Susan Sarandon.

Screenshot: Amazon

But that scene, which ties together a lot of the concerns weighing on Rob and Sharon in this episode, is a great example of how Catastrophe maintains levity in the face of dire circumstances. It’s a lovely display of what makes Catastrophe Catastrophe, and what sets its protagonists apart from every other set of caustic sweethearts in the current sitcom landscape. With only a modicum of cynicism and world-wearniess, they continue to laugh through every passing cloud of shit. That cockeyed perspective helped connect them in the first place, and it continues to pull them up, over, and through personal crises like Sharon’s decreasing fertility. This episode provides a sense for how they’re the only two people on this wavelength: Dr. Harries barely acknowledges Sharon’s post-examination wisecrack, and Rob’s analogy about the doctor in Aleppo sails over Dave’s head. (But maybe “Aleppo” is one of those words that Dave no longer remembers. Don’t worry, buddy, it happens to everybody—even presidential candidates!) But when they’re lying there, imagining Chris in an iron lung, Catastrophe really nails the idea that these people belong together.

Which is why the secret of Rob’s drinking continues to sting. It’s an obvious violation of the trust that’s shown whenever Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are onscreen together, but Catastrophe finds surprising consequences to draw out of that violation. It’s a game of mounting losses: Earlier, it was a potential job; here, it’s the offer to be Jeffrey’s guardians. Delaney and Mark Bonnar play the scene affectingly, with Bonnar deploying the scowl that gets such a heavy workout after Chris meets Douglas for the first time. As the episode ends with Chris and Rob squatting on the sidewalk, there’s the feeling that if Rob doesn’t come clean, the next thing he loses won’t be so easily restored.


So, yeah, there’s a pall cast over this episode from multiple angles. But it maintains its sense of humor, and its sense of perspective: Rob “hiding” an airplane bottle of vodka in his stomach is to be taken seriously, but Fergal fleeing Spain because he fainted at a bull fight? Sharon’s entirely justified in laughing at that. The smile that spreads across Horgan’s face in that scene is a wonder, Sharon attempting to maintain a straight face for her brother until she can no longer hide her amusement with what he deems a crisis. In an episode of such grim portent, it’s a necessary gasp of relief.

“I can see how it’s not funny to you, but can you see how it’s quite funny to me?” she asks. She and Rob ought to get that engraved above their front door.


Stray observations

  • Jeffrey shouldn’t count himself out of the Game Of Thrones running on account of gender: Sharon’s OB/GYN managed to become a member of House Tully, and he parlayed that into a role on Outlander! If all else fails, at least Jeffrey’s a shoo-in to play the lead role in The Harry Styles Story.
  • The shifting tones in Dave and Catherine’s scene about breaking up and/or having a baby is something to behold. That cut between “I’m pregnant” and “That is wonderful news” alone—damn.
  • Fergal’s photographic highlights from Spain: “That’s not our cat. That’s just some Spanish cat.”
  • Rob on Douglas: “You can tell he sucks right out of the gate.”
  • The framing in this shot killed me.

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