Keeping It Real

‘Catastrophe’ Has The Most Refreshingly Eff’d Up Parents On TV

There’s a scene in Catastrophe where new-ish parents Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) hear their infant daughter crying while they’re having sex. In response, Rob puts his hands over Sharon’s ears, so she can’t hear the baby, and says, “I know what you’re thinking, but it’s better for everyone if I just finish this off.” It’s a pitch fucking perfect. And that’s the beauty of Catastrophe. The BBC show, which also streams on Amazon, is among a handful of sad-coms, including Netflix’s Love and the canceled FX series Married, that pair laughs with dark truths and favor naturalistic interactions over hammy dialogue. Ignoring a crying baby to focus on sex? That might not be parents of the year behavior, but it’s one of many moments that make Rob and Sharon, and their strained efforts to juggle kids and marriage, one of the most relatable couples on TV.

In the Catastrophe universe, as in real life, parenthood is neither a uniformly miserable experience nor a beautiful journey. Instead, the show’s first two seasons — the third will be available to stream on Amazon on April 28  — serve as a sharply funny, and often bleak, reminder that the good times and the bad times aren’t mutually exclusive.

Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan, who write every episode of Catastrophe, play the eponymous Rob and Sharon, an American man and Irish woman who meet at a bar and enjoy a few nights of casual sex without any plans to see each other again. But when Sharon learns she’s pregnant, the two quasi-strangers move in together and dive into a relationship. Against all odds, things work out. They share a frank sense of humor that draws them together and makes their coupling a binge-able viewing experience.

Season one, which ends with Sharon in labor, comes across as an unconventional and non-saccharine work of romantic comedy. But purely light-hearted moments are on shorter supply in season two, which picks up roughly two years later: Rob and Sharon now have a lovely (perhaps unrealistically so) house, a toddler with unspecified health issues, a newborn on the way, and various other grown-up responsibilities. We watch as Sharon, weighed down by postpartum depression, struggles to bond with her newborn daughter and gets rejected by the only mom-friend she likes. Rob, meanwhile, stays at a soul-sucking job because his family needs him to — that is, until he finds himself on the wrong side of a sexual-assault complaint.

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They’re both exhausted and irritable. Their sex life has fizzled. They fight, a lot. They complain about the upper-middle-class rites of parenthood, such as sleep-training and mommy and me classes, which they still ultimately feel obligated to perform. And they screw up all the time, in small and large ways — Sharon drunkenly hooks up with a twenty-something; Rob falls off the wagon; Sharon does a spotty job wiping her son’s butt.

Still, throughout the show, it remains clear that Rob and Sharon love each other and work well as a pair. Their affection and compatibility are most striking whenever the two use humor to cut through tension or amplify joy. And, while Rob and Sharon aren’t smitten with every aspect of child-rearing, they’re good parents — good, imperfect parents. Their lives are not an aspirational tale of people who have it all, but rather a realistic one about people who have a little more than they can handle.

There’s no time jump before the third season, which picks up with Rob and Sharon reunited after a brief separation. In the first few episodes, life continues to throw them carrots and sticks, in the form of familial burdens, helicopter parents, and rocky career moves. And they continue to make jokes and flub opportunities and be the refreshingly effed up people and parents they are.

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