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Summer 2015 Review: Catastrophe

29 Jun


Catastrophe is that frequent film, but rare TV beast, the romantic comedy. It’s common on film but rare on TV, because by the nature of their respective lengths, film and tv rom coms are very different creatures. Film rom coms have an obvious arc, and a sense of finality. The couple generally has an unlikely meet cute, goes through a couple of trials, including a big one towards the end, and then gets together to finish the movie after some grand gesture, or occasionally in artier rom coms falls apart. TV rom coms more usually consist of unlikely couples getting together, and largely staying together, with plenty of trials and tribulations along the way but without the big dramatic sweeps of a movie.

Catastrophe is also a British series. Surprisingly, for a series and a theme that is replete with people embarrassing themselves constantly, it’s not that awkward to watch, relatively  (a British show featuring a Brit dating American Andy Samberg a couple of years ago called Cuckoo was awkward to the extreme). What really makes Catastrophe work, more than the jokes or the laughs or the story, is the tone. Catastrophe finds the perfect spot between earnest and cynical, awkward and mawkish, sentimental and restrained. This tone makes the show enjoyable and excessively watchable.

Here’s the pitch for Catastrophe: Rob is an American visiting London for a week for business. He meets Sharon at a bar, they hit it off, and have sex in his room. They both seem to actually like one another, and hang out and have lots of sex for the rest of the week until Rob has to go home. A couple months later, they’ve more or less moved on with their lives, having great memories of their time together and no hard feelings, until Sharon calls Rob and lets him know that she’s pregnant. It’s pretty much the premise of Knocked Up (and I’m sure many properties before that) but with a more mature, both emotionally and age-wise couple. Rob, unsure what to do, doubles down, and proposes to her, believing staying the together for the kid and making a real go of it as a couple is the right move. Countless hilarious mishaps happen between point A and B, as both parties examine their decision to try to make it together even though they barely know one another and try to figure out if this is the right move, while they seem to actually like, and maybe one day love, each other.

The chemistry between leads Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan is casual and natural, and an essential part of what makes Catastrophe go. Everything is centered on the two of them and their relationship; if we don’t both believe deeply that they could be together and want to keep watching them interact, there’s no way the show can be salvaged. Luckily for Catastrophe, it works.

Catastrophe isn’t the funniest show, it isn’t a particularly unique show, and there’s nothing that makes it obviously stand out plot wise, or dialogue wise, or aesthetically. However, it successfully navigates the spaces within its genre to create an enjoyable viewing experience where you’re generally rooting for both of them; hardly a necessity for a show, but sometimes a welcome respite from more serious fare. I love big drama as much as anyone, but there’s nothing greater after watching an episode of Hannibal or Rectify, or whatever else, than watching a light half hour that can leave you smiling.

Will I watch it again? Yes. It’s British. There are six half hour episodes; it’s shorter than a Hobbit installment. I’ll probably be done by the time you’re reading this.