Last year’s best romantic comedy, Catastrophe, was a bustle of quips, charm, and a lovely determination to not fuck up an eminently fuck-up-able situation. A weeklong shag-a-thon between Irish schoolteacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and vacationing American Rob (Rob Delaney) resulted in an accidental pregnancy and the two strangers deciding to get married. “We all thought [the relationship] had about as much chance as lasting as a fart in a storm,” admits Sharon’s dad (Gary Lilburn) at the “meet the baby” party for the pair’s second child in the Season 2 premiere. We had a lot more faith in Sharon and Rob — an assumption the show’s sophomore year suggests we were too quick to make.
Debuting in its six-episode entirety via Amazon on April 8, Catastrophe’s second season skips three years ahead to find Rob and Sharon still figuring out how to be together, especially when they agree that each other’s first priority should be 2-year-old Frankie and infant Muireann. (Rob’s not alone in having no idea how to pronounce his daughter’s Gaelic name. “Myron?” asks his mom, played by Carrie Fisher. “Moron?”) With Horgan and Delaney penning every installment (just as they did last year), Catastrophe introduces another chapter of its bawdily effervescent love story with candor and fresh approaches to familiar marital woes.
A romance should sell not just the allure of its lovers, but the particularities of their rapport. Sharon and Rob are easy to root for because they share the same foul-mouthed, but only slightly mean, sense of humor. Their nighttime spat in the premiere’s opening scene is handily resolved by him making her laugh — one of the show’s cheering and low-key sexy rituals. Later, they bond on the couch over their shared adoration of something only the other would understand. “I love [Frankie’s] baby penis,” says Sharon, leading to a giggly conversation about their hopes for their son’s future genitalia.
You could guess a lot of what happens in Rob and Sharon’s getting-by-ever-after: different levels of sexual desire after Sharon gives birth, her injured vanity, mishaps with breastfeeding, and arguments about who’s got it worse — the drudgery of staying home all day with the baby or the shame of shilling questionable drugs for a coolly deranged pharmaceutical company. But Catastrophe reframes nearly all of these habitual conflicts through Horgan and Delaney’s sensibility, as when they don’t hold back with the horrors of labor. “Am I shitting myself now?” Sharon shouts, alarmed, appalled, and already aware of the answer. Rob is nothing short of supportive: “Barely!”
Things don’t just happen to Rob and Sharon, they hurtle at them. The scenes are packed with the small-scale disasters of middle age, cued by a jangly, anxious soundtrack and often edited to induce a vague sense of carsickness. Sharon’s dad shows early signs of dementia, their needy friends get divorced or spin out (and so get needier), and a workplace flirtation ends in the corporate version of a dumpster fire, i.e., a mandatory meeting with HR. After delving into the health risks of over-40 pregnancy last season, the show explores another rarely discussed issue for women: Postpartum not-quite-depression, in which Sharon worries that she cares for her healthy second child less than her premature firstborn. When she recoils from Rob’s advances, her shrink offers a pill that’ll make her “more receptive to sex but less able to enjoy it.” “Was that a riddle?” Rob asks.
There’s a sturdy stepping-stone to Season 3, though a couple of the storylines end too tidily to fully resonate. Catastrophe also palpably suffers anytime Horgan or Delaney are not on screen; the supporting cast of Ashley Jensen, Mark Bonnar, and Daniel Lapaine are stuck in single-life or post-separation calamities mainly so that Rob and Sharon figure out that they’re much better together than apart. Bonnar at least gets one memorable line; caught by acquaintances haunting a club known for transgender sex workers, his character claims he actually just came back from a movie: Adam Sandler’s Fart Vacation.
Season 2 offers a mini rom-com within itself in the third episode, when Sharon and Rob head to Paris to get away from the kids and finally (hopefully!) have sex again. Their getaway naturally goes awry from the start, then slides downhill further until Rob’s in a pharmacy, trying to describe a breast pump in half-forgotten French. “I don’t think we’re holiday people,” Sharon concludes at the end of the weekend, summing up the show’s appeal. “I think we’re good on a Tuesday ... Like, my favorite time in the last year was when we pretended my arms didn’t work, remember? You washed my hair and put that weird outfit on me.” Love can be getting swept up in the whirlwind of the extraordinary, but Catastrophe seduces us into the flurry — and the flutters — of the everyday.