Una Mullally

Society, life and culture on the edge

Why is Catastrophe so amazing?

An analysis of awesomeness. *SPOILER ALERT*

Mon, Feb 23, 2015, 16:05


The sixth and final episode of the first series Catastrophe airs tonight on Channel 4. The show has already been commissioned for a second series, so your only tears will be ones of laughter. And impatience.

Catastrophe is amazing. It’s one of the best sitcoms in years. But what makes it so good? Here’s what I think.

Sharon Horgan is amazing.
I don’t want to overstate things, but SHARON HORGAN FOR PRESIDENT OF THE WORLD. What a wonderful, talented, brilliant, smart, actor and writer. What a charming, funny, intelligent, deft artist. What a complex, fizzing, hilarious brain she has.

Rob Delaney? Also amazing.
Delaney is perfectly cast; manly and sensitive, smart but goofy, trying hard and in a mess, funny, sweet, flustered and calm. He is a gem.

It feels real.
This Observer profile says, “There is a seam of semi-personal memoir that runs through much of her work. Catastrophe was partly based on her own experience of an unplanned pregnancy six months into a relationship with the then advertising executive Jeremy Rainbird.” Write what you know! But there’s plenty of reality outside just the plot. The little deceptions couples play on each other, for example. Sharon goes on a date with an ex, Rob lies about meeting a male friend, Sharon ringing Rob’s mother to find out Rob’s ex’s surname so she can look her up on Facebook. The awkwardness with families – Sharon’s brother who we’re not too sure about. Is he sound? Even Sharon herself can put her foot in it. The characters feel real, MUCH LIKE REAL PEOPLE IN REAL LIFE. Which is why it works.

It has heart.
One of the most touching scenes in Catastrophe was Horgan smiling at a young girl with Down’s syndrome after her pregnancy was given the all clear. The sensitivity displayed in this scene was so touching, so melancholic, so appreciative of humanity, so joyful, so beautiful, so considered, so deftly-handled, you almost wonder what it was doing in a sitcom. But Catastrophe is that good.

It has conflicted heart.
One of the best things about Catastrophe is how it contextualises moments of sentimentality by pulling the rug from underneath them. Trying to find the perfect engagement ring is steeped in constraining financial realities. The subsequent marriage proposal with said ring is steeped in urine. The Irish Dad trick of pressing cash into the palm of his daughter’s hand appears sweet, until she opens her fist to reveal ten euro and an eye roll. Sharon cares for her kids in school, yet thinks nothing of berating them gruffly.

Things happen.
Each episode is full. There’s no faffing about. Loads of stuff happens! The story moves along as joyously as a kid pulling their red wagon. Scenes skip by with dialogue so sparkling it practically plink-plink-fizzes.

Nobody is just two dimensional.
It goes to show the skill of the writing in Catastrophe that you manage to feel slightly sorry for Rob’s douchebag friend Dave when a sentiment of loneliness emerges after Rob declines going to get his prostate massaged with him. And Chris seems completely whipped initially, but then turns out to be quite a decent guy.

It depicts sex in an authentic way.
Sex on screen is generally terrible in so many ways, from the Dawsons Creekisation of overdramatising intimacy, to the weirdo abuse of Fifty Shades, sex on TV and in film tends to use ridiculous stylistic flourishes to depict sexy times. Lena Dunham might have brought grim sex to the mainstream small screen successfully, but Catastrophe depicts it in all of its fun and lighthearted glory. They’re not teenagers fumbling around, nor make believe lotharios recreating erotica.

It depicts pregnancy in an authentic way.
There are no GOOPisms here. This is pregnancy with all of its fears, sense of urgency, conflicting hormones and jadedness. Those characteristics aren’t new when it comes to depicting pregnancy on screen, but Catastrophe does it with an unlit fag between its fingers and an angry (or horny?) tear in its eye.

It’s a cliché free zone.
While many sitcoms seem to be hellbent on turning back the evolutionary clock of humour until all that remains of the audience is a bunch of chattering gibbons defecating on their hands and throwing it at the screen, Catastrophe sidesteps every cliché throughout a subject matter that could be cliché-laden. It’s smart. It’s as smart as you are. Watching a sitcom about a relationship that gives you everything you don’t expect, is like watching a hot new guitar band that should be as formulaic as everyone gone before them, but are in fact utterly exciting. It’s the Arctic Monkeys’ first album version of a men-and-women-sitcom.

It’s a break from po-faced “serious” or “heavy” television.
Catastrophe is not sexist, homophobic, racist, misogynistic, classist, ageist or violent. No women get murdered! There are no Danish detectives, Machiavellian politicians, crystal meth vans, rapists, period costumes, gore, car chases or entire episodes where nothing happens. Feel that absence of weight on your shoulders? You don’t have to dip into Catastrophe worrying how terrible you’ll feel about your gender/the world afterwards.

It’s contemporary without trying too hard.
Yes Sharon is on Facebook. Yes Rob is in a video call with his American co-workers. This does not need to made into an asset. It’s just real life.

It’s funny.
And that’s down to Horgan and Delaney, their skills of honing humour and their writing abilities, along with their cracking performances. Catastrophe offers a menu of laughter; bahahahas and little chuckles, thigh-slapping chortles and staccato ha!s.

And finally…

It’s kind.
I care about Sharon and Rob. I like them.