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Catastrophe, the best rom-com on TV, returns for another messy season

Illustration for article titled Catastrophe, the best rom-com on TV, returns for another messy season
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“If you touch me, I’ll scream” has probably never led to consensual sex in normal, vanilla contexts. Yet, in the first episode of the second season of a Catastrophe, a show I loved unabashedly and enjoyed more with repeat viewings that’s exactly what happens with in the first five minutes. It was during that initial fight that I fell in love with Catastrophe once again. Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) are fighting about the inane things couples fight about, starting with small annoyances (Sharon putting her legs on Rob) and then escalating into Rob wanting to leave the house but unable to because the car is parked too far away. It’s that moment when Rob tells Sharon that if she touches him, he will scream — as if a woman who is nine months pregnant will cause harm to a giant of a man like Rob. She smiles to herself in a way that totally encapsulates what Catastrophe is and why it’s so great. Love is strange and mean and beautiful and Catastrophe so perfectly shows each and every one facet of it.

Last season, Catastrophe was defined by two people giving up their identity is as singular entities to become a couple. Rob may have seemed more gung ho, but he had to be in order to move across the country and strip away a piece of his American identity. Sharon was more hesitant, and not just because her body had become host to their future child, but because she had always established herself as this single woman who had so much more opportunity ahead of her. She could be whoever she wanted to be. But the prospect of motherhood made it seem as if those opportunities were completely gone. This season changes tactics and evolves to a new place. Sharon and Rob have figured out their identity as RobAndSharon, a couple. Now they have to navigate their identities as parents and caregivers. They didn’t have a lot of time to be just them. And now they have to be an entire family unit, with the added stress of Sharon’s dad who is clearly suffering from some sort of dementia (this dynamic of a child having to give care to a parent is an interesting one, and something I hope, and I’m sure will be, a part of the series as it progresses). Before, they, and especially Sharon, were so independent and in less than three years they can’t get people to leave their house.

The most interesting question of this episode is how do we still love each other while loving our children even more? It seems callous to Rob and Sharon when Sharon’s mom said that after having Sharon’s younger brother, Fergal (Jonathan Forbes), she and her husband decided that they had to be a couple before they were parents. It’s crazy not to love your children more than your partner, right? But at what cost? Familial sitcom strife so often touches the surface of this — we’re not having enough sex, the kids take up all of our time, we’re tired all the time — but it so rarely gets at the reason why or the ways people actually cope with these issues without a laugh track. It’s not a pretty reason — admitting that there is a hierarchy when it comes to familial love — but Catastrophe has often been mired in the muck of un-pretty relationship dynamics.

But co-creators and co-stars Horgan and Delaney have also raised the stakes by jumping in time. Frankie, the fetus of the first season, is now full-blown toddler. They have a dog (or, at least had a dog), and Muireann (I had to check the spelling of that) is on the way. This time shift is totally unexpected and works on quite a few levels. The cliches of new parenthood — babies get up in the middle of the night! They shit everywhere! Etc. — are minimized because this isn’t their first go-round. It allows for Sharon and Rob to already be harried and start to explore the questions how they can remain a couple when they know longer outnumber the minors in the house. But the time jump also allows for another conversation that began in earnest at the end of this episode: that Sharon has not bonded with her baby yet (“You don’t think she seems manipulative? Like she’s plotting something?”). When Muireann cries, Sharon trudges over to pick her up and helps her almost as if resigned to. In the first season, Sharon was so terrified that she would not love her baby no matter what, a fear that was clearly assuaged once Frankie was born, but that fear seems to be manifesting when it comes to Muireann for reasons of biology that Sharon can’t control.

But these weighty concepts — the nature of identity in a couple, balancing parental responsibilities with those of being partner, post-partum depression, and potentially caring for a parent who is regressing — are balanced out by Catastrophe’s pitch perfect tone and its supporting cast, especially Forbes and Mark Bonnar, whose quirks are more palatable now that we’ve gotten to know them over the six episodes of the previous season. Few people can talk about Michael Flatley, Lord of the Dance, by saying “When I saw him dance, I wept … in my panties,” and really mean it like Carrie Fisher can.

Stray observations

Look for these reviews at noon for the next five episodes!

Mark Bonnar, episode MVP: “It doesn’t get big or hard enough to bridge the fucking gulf that has opened up between us. It would take 10 very long, very hard penises. I could talk across them like a tightrope maybe and throw a handful of jizzum at her.”