In the show’s first few scenes, Rob and Sharon–played with comic finesse by British star Sharon Hogan and American comic Rob Delaney–meet at bar, stumble into bed (overcome by lust and booze), have crazy sex for the next six days–Rob’s in London on a business trip–and amicably part. The two like each other and really enjoy knocking boots together but neither is looking for a relationship and, well, Rob lives in Boston. (You can see the trailer here.)
We next see Rob, 32 days later, on a date with a very attractive woman. As he’s flirting with her, his phone rings. The screen reads “Sharon (London Sex)”. She tells him she’s pregnant and it’s there the show begins to surprise. Rob’s not angry or particularly upset–he’s supportive. He tells her he’s coming to London and whatever happens, they’ll work it out together. It’s a startling moment because, until that moment, Rob and Sharon seem unlikely candidates for a serious relationship. She’s 40, single, and happy being so. He’s 38, single, and likes his Boston life just fine. And yet, when Sharon comes down pregnant, they both realign their lives. Within a week, Bob’s moved in with Sharon and they’ve decided to keep the baby.
Catastrophe’s a little bit of a thing–each episode clocks in at less than a half an hour–and yet every episode manages to be very funny and unexpectedly moving. Sharon and Rob are tested by their own fears–especially Sharon–as well as how little they really know each other. Both take refuge in ribald humor, are relentlessly frank, and both, when it matters, offer the other support and partnership.
Romantic comedy isn’t something American TV does especially well. The laugh-track inducing jokes tend to lack subtlety and the vast majority of characters veer toward the stereotypical. Catastrophe, despite Mr. Delaney’s participation and Amazon’s sponsorship, feels decidedly British to me. It plays like something Richard Curtis (the screenwriter of Four Weddings and a Funeral, Notting Hill, and Love, Actually) would pen. There are moments of real pathos–Sharon’s decision to have an amniocentesis because of her age and her prenatal testing results brought me to tears–and moments where I giggled uncontrollably. The show deals so bluntly with the messy realities of sex and pregnancy (separately and together) that it’s occasionally shocking. Sharon and Rob are marvelously real. They bicker, go to the bathroom, worry about their work, and view with viable skepticism their romantic chances.
The show isn’t perfect. The last episode veers into melodrama. It’s too short–three hours isn’t enough time to develop all the show tackles. Everyone around them is decidedly odd–although all the supporting cast is excellent. Rob’s mother, played by Carrie Fisher, is inexplicably hostile. I feel sure London isn’t this affordable.
I really like it. Sharon and Bob are confident, sensual adults who have no interest in being anyone other than the people they are. Catastrophe is a love letter to pregnant sex–Sharon isn’t any less seductive to Bob nor does she have any doubts about her carnal appeal. They both have jobs which they talk about as well as ideas about what their lives should look like. They are committed to their relationship but don’t pretend to be madly in love. They show up when they say they will. Catastrophe is both for and about grownups. In it, marriage and a baby are scary, sexy, and worth working for. So are orgasms, alone time, and having someone who laughs at your jokes. I’m rooting for Sharon and Rob–the show has been renewed for a second season–and, if you like your love stories to have a filthy mouth, a well-used bed, and the possibility of true love, perhaps you will be too.