Co-created and written by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, Catastrophe—which originally aired on the U.K.’s Channel 4 but debuts for Amazon Prime members today—follows the intersecting lives of Rob (Delaney), an American advertising guy visiting London to open a new firm, and Sharon (Horgan), an Irish schoolteacher living in London. The main reason Catastrophe works so well is the comedic chemistry between Horgan and Delaney: She created and starred in one of the most underrated British sitcoms, Pulling, and Delaney is a comedian and author whose irreverent wit made him a Twitter celebrity.
Catastrophe wastes no time getting to the sex that leads to its titular situation: We see Sharon and Rob collide within minutes of the first episode. A month later, Sharon calls Rob and tells him she’s pregnant while he’s on a date with someone else (she’s still in his phone as “Sharon London Sex”). Rob lies to his date and says it’s his mother (who’s actually played by the wonderful Carrie Fisher). Eventually, he ends up in London as the two try to sketch out their future.
Rob and Sharon feel like one of the most relatable couples I’ve seen on TV in a while: They volley jokes back and forth, get snippy with each other sometimes, act selfish, and seem naturally compatible. Rob makes it known he’s going to be there as a father, while Sharon is the more uncertain, unpredictable one, a subtle reversal of the typical rom-com roles. They work because they feel like they’re playing themselves—like in some alternate universe, they are this couple.
We see so many shows that focus on the struggles of parenthood, marriage, or single life. Catastrophe presents two professional people in their 40s who’ve found success in life without marriage or kids, who seem comfortable with themselves. And they balance each other. When Rob says he can’t believe she got pregnant, she slaps him back to reality: “What? That repeated sexual intercourse between two healthy adults will do the exact thing it’s supposed to do?”
The humor in Catastrophe is subtle, as when Sharon reveals to Rob that she went on a date with her ex, but not because she still had feelings; she desperately hoped he still liked her. “I get it,” Rob says. “I have a Facebook account.” Elsewhere, a cancer scare adds some dramatic tension to their future-plotting. In one scene, Sharon’s steely second-opinion doctor explains how the potential cancer will likely be “blown out” of her cervix during birth, along with other “stuff.”
Catastrophe loses momentum when Sharon and Rob’s friends are brought in; their characters are so natural together, but their friends don’t seem like people they’d actually be friends with, and they’re not sympathetic at all, especially Rob’s womanizing pal Dave. And the show needs more Carrie Fisher.
Amazon tried something different for promo: On June 15, it premiered the pilot on Facebook for 48 hours, in an attempt to get more eyes on the show and potentially lure people into Prime time. Hopefully it worked. At just six episodes, a binge-watch is easy, but you’re going to find yourself wanting more Rob and Sharon.
Screengrab via Amazon Studios/YouTube