Amazon’s ‘Catastrophe’ Is A Very Good Television Show

It seems odd to talk about Amazon’s Catastrophe as a television show, doesn’t it? It originally aired in Britain, which is a country in England, and its rights were purchased by Amazon as a means of giving the company’s Prime subscribers more content. But, I suppose I watched it on a television, so maybe that matters?

Or maybe it doesn’t.

In any case, let’s cut to the chase: Catastrophe is truly wonderful television, it is only six episodes long, and unless you’ve got something better to do, you should absolutely watch it. For more details, keep reading.

Catastrophe stars was created and written by Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, two performers who exist on the relative periphery of American consciousness. Horgan has starred in primarily British comedies (she is Irish) without having ventured across into American media and Delaney has starred primarily on Twitter (he is a standup by trade, but used a ferocious Twitter account to really establish his career). Horgan plays Sharon, a single 41-year-old teacher and Delaney plays Rob, a single American in London. They hook up after being crammed together in a packed pub*. They sex relentlessly for a week and then Delaney returns home. Four weeks later, Sharon calls, announcing her pregnancy, and Rob returns. We go from there.

Their courtship is nonexistent. Rob and Sharon are simply two people making things work. We’re not treated to a montage of them falling in love but rather, we see two people in extraordinary circumstances – the glow of a honeymoon period perhaps – adjusting to it mightily. We see two adults acting like adults: thinking things through, communicating with one another, occasionally acting like complete idiots, repairing the damage of those idiotic moments. We’re not forced to endure the sort of sitcomish hijinks that an American telling of this tale might force upon us.

Part of this might be the result of British television – Horgan and Delaney had six episodes, or roughly 180 minutes, to tell the story that they wanted to tell. With time at a premium, the impossibly stupid nonsense of so much American television gets put on the shelf and what we see instead is what genuinely seems to be a real couple, foibles and all. If anything, it is almost possible to come away from the show’s first series** feeling simultaneously rushed and wanting. We move breathlessly through what other shows might dawdle over or, knowing American television, never address at all. Sharon faces real pregnancy fear, with time briefly spent on abortion, a discovered pre-cancer, and her child’s potential for Down Syndrome. It is almost impossible to imagine an American sitcom mining the same ideas for laughs.

Nor is it possible to imagine an American show giving us plenty of pregnancy sex – only occasionally played for laughs, but not in the, “Eww, can you believe people have sex when they’re pregnant?” variety – as well as smoking and drinking (which would probably get an American show booted off the air if it even so much as considered the possibility).

The reality of all of this falls entirely upon the very real chemistry that exists between Horgan and Delaney, the actors, and what they bring to Sharon and Rob, the characters. It isn’t difficult believing that these characters feel deeply for one another, whether its Sharon defiantly telling a friend that she’s happier having Rob in her life than not or Rob refusing to go to a strip club at lunchtime because his interest is only with Sharon. It doesn’t feel hacky in other words; it feels natural.

One warning for those interested – the show ends very abruptly on a huge cliffhanger. If that’s not your bag, avoid at all costs, as the credits started rolling with both my wife and I muttering concerned, “Goddammits” at the screen while rolling over to go to bed.

Here’s a link to the show.

*British for bar

**British for season

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35 thoughts on “Amazon’s ‘Catastrophe’ Is A Very Good Television Show

  1. My best friend from college had a horrendously bad divorce about 4 years ago and stayed away from women afterwords. Until about around December that is, when a friend decided that he needed a girlfriend and blind dated him. Cut to now, with a baby due in October. He is 45 and she is 44. Much hilarity.

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      • I tell everyone this, but if you are in no rush for whatever physical item you are ordering via Prime to arrive, choose “no-rush” shipping at checkout. Shipping’ll take an extra couple days, but you get a buck or two credit you can use towards paid digital downloads. If you order as frequently as I do, that’s a free album every couple weeks.

        Suck it, Columbia House!

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  2. A simple yes or no would suffice but does Catastrophe give a good reason why Sharon doesn’t get an abortion or does it fall into the long list of entertainment where an abortion inexplicably doesn’t happen.

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    • Based on the first two episodes, which I watched last evening upon this recommendation, she considers and discusses it, and decides against it. The reasoning is not perfectly clear, but that seems realistic enough. She seems to realize she wants to have a baby, and is at an age where this can be problematic, so decides to keep this one even if the surrounding circumstances are not ideal.

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    • 1. I think we’ve fought about this before, haven’t we?

      2. The first answer is practical – because the show revolves around a pregnancy. If there’s no pregnancy, there’s no show, or at least, there’s a different one that isn’t called Catastrophe. And the show’s scenes featuring the agonizing reality of pregnancy – like the precancer, like the fear of Down Syndrome, etc – also don’t happen. There is, in fact, no reason for Rob to come back to Britain/England. He and Sharon agreed their time together was great and that they’ll always have fond memories for one another…before the pregnancy.

      3. The second answer might be a broader discussion of how our media encourages us to believe that we always must be shown an explanation for everything. I suppose we could assume that, for Sharon’s character, abortion wasn’t an option, but heaven forbid we do that without it being explicitly told to us (although it was obviously explicitly shown to us)?

      4. If I’m correct in remembering that you and I have fought about this before, the real answer here is a deeper and uglier assumption that choosing abortion is some sort of mathematical equation and not something far more complicated. We don’t have to do this again of course, but if the facts on display aren’t enough for you – Sharon chooses not to have an abortion, despite considering it on two separate occasions – then the issue is you, not her.

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    • Are you similarly curious about how good a reason Sharon (or Rob) have for choosing to engage in extramarital sex? Or do you accept THAT as something that doesn’t need justifying but cannot accept the character not having an abortion without a “good” reason offered?

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