“Quite possibly the best comedy you’ll see all year” is how we described Season 1 of Catastrophe, which aired on Channel 4 at the beginning of the year. Now, before 2015 is over, the show has already returned for a second season. With another programme, it might seem like a rush, but frankly, this new run of six episodes couldn’t come soon enough.
How do you follow up the first season of a romantic sitcom that managed the tricky task of being funny, rude, sweet and brazenly honest all at the same time? Keep going.
Season 2 continues the tale of Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) as they struggle do just that. After Season 1’s climax saw her water break, we pick things up with the arrival of the new baby. Except there’s a surprise in store: this is now their second baby and we’ve jumped forward two years.
That leap takes us from the sweet stage of their blossoming relationship to the uncomfortable patch somewhere in the middle – a contrast that plays perfectly into Horgan and Delaney’s hands. If Season 1’s raunchy banter emphasised the pair’s charm, Season 2 highlights their ingenuity for insults. “You felt threatened?” exclaims Rob within the opening minutes, after angrily standing up. “What are you, a blogger?” “You’re going out,” Sharon retorts, moments later. “What are you, a teenager?”
The show was originally conceived by Rob and Sharon as a marital tale, only for them to opt for an origins story in the first season. Their chemistry feels even more natural here, as the couple manage to make the cruelty hurt as much as the cuteness endears. The couple’s writing is sharp, but their tongues are even more so: their connection is at once relaxed and abrasive.
Two years into married life, then, and Sharon’s feeling down and put-upon. Rob’s putting up with her mother and can’t even pronounce their child’s name – the wonderfully Irish “Muireann”, always pronounced after the slightest of pauses. If these things sound familiar on paper, the cast’s performances make them caustically fresh on screen, able to switch between romantic apologies and biting put-downs.
“Sorry I called your mum a haemorrhoid,” Horgan quietly offers, following another barn-stormer.
Director Ben Taylor gets equally sincere turns out of all of the ensemble, from Carrie Fisher, who remains hilarious as Rob’s mother, to the scene-stealing Mark Bonnar as Chris, whose deadpan melancholy fits right in with the life problems on display. Split from Ashley Jensen’s Fran, we even begin to sympathise with this unlikeable supporting duo, as they both find unhappiness with other people.
The show’s grasp of the term “bittersweet” has never been more assured, confidently whisking us off to Paris, only to undermine the mood with a forgotten breast pump, or bringing the family together to celebrate the new birth, only for them to be faced with a breastfeeding cake.
That dark streak is deceptively bold for a mainstream sitcom, tackling topics as bleak as infidelity, depression, debt and overdoses. But crucially, these things are all as funny as they are recognisable: when a decisive row between Rob and Sharon takes place in front of one of her friends, even she can’t help but titter at the absurd dialogue they invent. “Is your email address still impatient shithead at me dot jerk?” Rob yells, his face as laughably ridiculous as it is believably annoyed. You’re more likely to hear those words than anyone saying “I love you”, but you never doubt that it’s the case: we can see it from their actions. Wonderfully mature yet perpetually childish, the result is a perfectly judged tribute to the beauty of commitment in all its ugliness. Love, Catastrophe reminds us, doesn’t have to be chocolates and flowers. Sometimes, it can be a quick shag in the park. 12 episodes in, Catastrophe is without a doubt one of the year’s best TV series. Twice.
Catastrophe Season 1 and 2 are available to watch online available to watch for free on All 4″>for free on Channel 4’s All 4 – or without adverts on Amazon Prime Video, as part of a £5.99 monthly subscription.
Photo: Ed Miller