There are plenty of reasons to justify spending $99 a year on Amazon Prime (free two-day shipping, anyone?) and “Catastrophe” (2015 – present) certainly ranks high among them. The British import, which originally airs episodes on Channel 4 in the U.K., debuted its second season on Amazon’s streaming platform on April 8 and, despite a few weak spots, remains mostly in fine form this time around.
The season one finale left the just-married Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) amid a potentially relationship-ending fight — and on their way to the hospital to deliver the baby they conceived during a weeklong fling when native Bostonian Rob was in London on business. Season two, however, picks up nearly three years after this night. Rob and Sharon, now parents to son Frankie and expecting a new baby at any moment, are living the would-be perfect suburban life. The time jump, which the show hardly even acknowledges, is a surprising but rather deft storytelling decision, if only because Frankie was born prematurely and faced serious medical problems as a young baby. Delaney and Horgan, who have penned every episode of the series so far, are wickedly funny, but it’s unlikely that even they could have found humor in that situation. Skipping ahead three years allows them to explore how Rob and Sharon’s relationship evolves (and devolves) as they navigate an unglamorous, often stressful attempt at domestic bliss.
Neither Rob nor Sharon — or really any of their friends and family — are particularly likable people; while far from meaning “Catastrophe” is unpleasant to watch, this only makes the show more hilarious. Delaney and Horgan allow their characters to take everything just one step too far; they possess none of the restraint most balanced humans do. They’re rude and crass, selfish and immature, judgemental and unprofessional. Rob and Sharon say and do everything that is best left unsaid and undone — which means that in their hands, situations have an unfortunate tendency to escalate very quickly. For the most part, the characters don’t face terribly serious consequences for their actions, though when the show grapples with heavier themes and storylines in the final few episodes Rob and Sharon are forced to confront their own less-than-stellar behavior.
The second season has not been without its missteps, however. The most egregious of these has been the show’s handling of a trans character — a prostitute Rob’s friend Chris (Mark Bonnar) sleeps with. In an April 8 recap for Refinery29, Esther Zuckerman offers a succinct explanation of why this story arc fails so miserably: “This plotline relies on the outdated stereotype of the trans prostitute and then reduces that character to a punchline,” she writes. “Chris’ main character trait is ‘being weird’ and his interest in trans women is frustratingly used as another example of his ‘weirdness,’ rather than a sensitive exploration of his own sexuality.” In general, “Catastrophe” is not particularly interested in writing politically correct characters, but, as writers, Delaney and Horgan are mostly able to depict this political incorrectness in a self-aware and tongue-in-cheek sort of way. This is, at least in part, where much of the show’s humor stems from. This strategy, however, fails utterly here, and the plotline comes across as remarkably ignorant and rather cold-hearted.
The supporting cast has been given a little more independence this season: almost all of them have had storylines that did not prominently feature Rob or Sharon. Delaney and Horgan likely wanted to develop these characters outside of their relationships with the protagonists — an admirable goal, though not necessarily one the show particularly benefits from. Disappointingly, this season also saw little of Carrie Fisher as Rob’s delightfully spiteful mother; perhaps she was too busy promoting “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) to shoot scenes for “Catastrophe.”
Still, the comedy manages to remain a bitingly funny and often raunchy depiction of the stress, frustration and heartbreak that comes with raising a family. Delaney and Horgan’s partnership — both as writers and as actors — is one of the best creative pairings on TV today, and the duo continues to imbue the show with its trademark combination of tenderness and spousal resentment.