September 2016

Noted

‘Catastrophe’

By Harry Windsor
Season two; ABC2

The first season of Catastrophe premiered last year and was a riotous wonder: an antidote to the antiseptically primped relationships that stock every other sitcom. The six-part half-hour comedy was the brainchild of its leads, Sharon Horgan, the Irish writer and star of several UK shows, most notably BBC Three’s Pulling, and Rob Delaney, a square-jawed charmer who looks like a cartoonist’s version of an American abroad – a bear in loafers.

Season one began with ad man Rob and school-teacher Sharon meeting in a London bar before repairing to the bedroom for a week-long fling, ending only when Rob returned to Boston. Shortly after, Sharon was pregnant, and Rob moved to London to make a fist of it. The season ended with a screaming match on their wedding night, followed by Sharon’s water breaking prematurely. The second begins with a rug-pull: the couple’s morning screw is interrupted by their three-year-old.

That jump only amplifies the cosmic contraction of their old lives. Sharon is heavily pregnant with their second child, and beset on all sides: by her father’s dementia, her unsympathetic mother-in-law (an unbridled Carrie Fisher), and the mothers at playgroup who find her vulgarity nose-wrinkling. For his part, Rob is shilling drugs that don’t work while fending off the advances of the office vixen, his veterinary dreams abandoned. The pair’s attempt to re-energise their sex life on a trip to Paris goes awry when Sharon forgets to pack her breast pump.

Despite the growing family at its centre, season two of Catastrophe is still distinguished by how uninterested in children it is. “I’m more proud of us than I am of the kids,” says Rob. “What’s to be proud of there?” Sharon’s friend Fran (Ashley Jensen) brags endlessly about her son, a child actor who works with the likes of Patrick Stewart, but we never meet him.

This season we get more time with side players such as Fran and her husband, Chris (Mark Bonnar), a Scot whose fondness for the scatological reference is typical of the entire show. On their first meeting, he advised Rob to steer clear of the delivery room: “I saw my son coming out, and it was a fucking war zone.”

Shading in the ensemble is a canny move: a testament to the vivid work of the supporting cast as well as an acknowledgement that the domestic trials of our heroes are becoming a touch oppressive. Catastrophe is as funny as ever, but the bile is swelling, and the season ends on a cliffhanger that makes earlier ones look like very small beer indeed.

Harry Windsor

Harry Windsor is a Sydney-based writer.

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