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Things begin to look up on Catastrophe, until they don’t

Sharon Horgan (left), Rob Delaney (Screenshot: Amazon)
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There’s something perfectly familiar and lived in about the opening of the third episode of Catastrophe. Sharon and Rob begin the scene by picking at each other, passive aggressively blaming each other for having to downsize and acting as if their real estate agent is their couples therapist. They begin working actively against each other, but then the tide turns. They don’t get the news they want and their enemy becomes their real estate agent. This is a sort of perfect metaphor for Rob and Sharon’s relationship: They may not be the best for each other, but they’re at their best when they’re against other people. That makes them a team, it allows them to survive as a couple. There are ups and downs but their unity, even for negative reasons, keeps them together.


The third episode is the first time that Rob and Sharon truly feel in sync with each other, at least in the beginning, after two episodes where they’ve dealt with the aftermath of Sharon’s dick holding. They laugh and joke, and play off each other, seeming to have hope for the future (and specifically their future) in a way that hadn’t existed in the first two entries in the season. That hope was built on little evidence—they’ll get the mortgage? Of course they will! Downsizing isn’t so bad!—and only half decreased by Rob’s basic pragmatism about their economic realities. But Rob has his own delusions about his job prospects that are dashed to the point where he applies to work at a big and tall model agency (on Sharon’s suggestion, of course!) and finally calls his old boss, running back to the life he hates, all while sipping the beer we all know he shouldn’t have. Sometimes I forget that Rob has stopped drinking because he’s not an immediate mess. He’s slowly screwing up his life, and there’s a reality to the dread of knowing his rock bottom is coming.

Sharon’s basic hopefulness—her marriage is getting back on track, she likes the smaller house that could be their new home—is not just dashed by Rob’s inability to secure a mortgage, but the reaction of Wallace, the old man who they were going to purchase their potential new home. Wallace feigned ignorance at the two dancers/potential “roommates” hoping to purchase his house, but when Rob and Sharon reveal their news, he loses it. He’s not the sweet old man Sharon thought he was. Not even Wallace was a good guy. But, yet, we circle back to their dynamic with the real estate agent: Once again, it’s Sharon and Rob versus the utterly dickish world.

In Rob and Sharon’s decision to sell their house for a smaller one, without figuring out that their single income and the current economic climate will not work in their favor, there’s an interesting discussion of economics and how they bleed into the personal. The Guardian had an interesting column about Brexit looming on the edges of Catastrophe’s third season, and it gave excellent insight to me as an American viewer about how the political reality affects the rom-com fiction. Stuart Heritage writes that Brexit is this catch-all baddie because no one really knows the full effects of it yet. This is just the beginning. As someone who doesn’t have to deal with the political realities of Brexit, I appreciated the way that Catastrophe has integrated it into the show. Rob and Sharon have a definitive political stance on the topic, but it’s not overbearing. They still have everyday problem—Sharon still held another man’s penis, Rob still doesn’t have a job—but we see how the world at large can seep into their marriage that has enough strain as is. And, even on this topic, Catastrophe remains funny: Rob says that a better time for two people in their position to get a mortgage was pre-financial crisis 2007. “We didn’t even know each other then,” Sharon laments. I’ve always praised Catastrophe for how well it reflected the problem and issues of real life relationships, and this is the perfect example of that. The personal rules but politics still creep in.

Episode three began as an episode that would remove some of the dour pallor—not a criticism!—that has characterized this season. But as it progressed the positive outlook for the future once again turned sour. This was not a turning point episode, and I liked it that way. In relationships, things are difficult and they don’t become easy with a couple of decisions. Catastrophe will stay difficult too.


Stray observations

  • Ashley Jensen and Mark Bonnar are still the best. This season has mostly focused on Sharon and Rob, a shift from last season where the focused opened up to Fran and Chris, but I appreciate them whenever I can get them.
  • “Maybe we’ll learn to take a shit in under 20 minutes.” “That’s ridiculous. And impossible”
  • “You’re a cosmopolitan clothes fiend who consciously left Ireland to shop.” “You think I’m cosmopolitan?”
  • “I’d like to be a little closer to the action. And someone will find me sooner if I die at home by myself.”
  • ‘I‘ll kick a cupcake up your pussy.” “Why are you looking at me?”

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