With only six 24-minute episodes, the first season of Catastrophe is almost painfully short. I mean, you can binge it if you have Amazon Prime (I did), but it almost doesn’t warrant the classification of a “binge”. Really, it’s just a long movie.
Catastrophe was humorous, pleasant, and I occasionally laughed out loud. It was really just a nice comic break (though it still feels smart in its execution and observations) in the summer TV landscape. If you haven’t heard or read about it, “Catastrophe”, is a Chanel 4 comedy that aired in the UK in January and February of this year and which has recently become available on Amazon Prime. It’s a bit of a critical darling at this point for being a pleasant, touching, funny, real, etc., romantic comedy.
I had heard about the show a few times over the past month, but it was listening to Slate’s “Culture Gabfest” podcast with Stephen Metcalf, Dana Stevens, and Julia Turner as they discussed the show that really inspired me to watch it. In fact, I immediately stopped the podcast half-way through and, because I had nothing better to do, started watching the show and watched it in its entirety. Ahhh, summer nights when all of my friends are out of town… Anyways, they discuss the show in primarily glowing terms. Metcalf describes it as such: “It’s about doing the right thing that turns out to be the right thing…in rom-com-destiny terms.” After watching the series, I agree. It’s very much set in reality, yet, not an overly gritty world. It’s a reality specific to a certain segment of the population, granted. True to genre, its premise is classic romantic comedy (or recent romantic comedy) in which two strangers meet, fall in lust, and then have to deal with the unexpected consequences. Given that the two characters are late 30s, early 40s, and they both have jobs and some security, Sharon’s character decides to have the baby, and if he wants to help, then, great. This happens to a lot of people. And it can work out with some hard work. They like each other enough to give it a go. As they were saying goodbye after their week of hooking up, they each reflected, more or less, that they had a good time with the other person and, as Sharon says, he “might actually be a good person.” Hey, that’s a pretty solid endorsement for someone you’ve only recently met in extraordinary circumstances. And, true to form, it’s never overly sappy. They don’t pretend to fall head over heels in love with one another. In an interview with The Guardian, Sharon reflected that “We never have them say ‘I love you’ through the entire thing. We wrote it and then we took it out.” Though it’s a romantic comedy, it’s not one in which people simply fall in love. Though they can have a relationship based, first, on mutual lust, enjoyment, respect, and fondness. And love. Though it doesn’t need to be said right away or all the time.
In analyzing the two primary characters, Dana admits that she at first felt that Rob Delaney’s character is somewhat “bland” as he goes with the flow, moves to England, and lacks a lot of angst, despite the stressful situation. But Stephen Metcalf counters that and offers this great analysis that really resonated with me after I watched the show:
“I like that at the center of it there’s a good guy, Rob Delaney, who shows us that men who do the right thing, or are impelled to do the right thing, and who aren’t filled with a lot of trite darkness, are just as mysterious as villainous men. And I like that… And the men that I know who are like that are totally mysterious to me, way more mysterious than the neurotic, dark, complaining, selfish ones. In fact, they’re quite explicable. But those men I know who are big and solid and almost always, if not always, do the right thing—that’s a fucking mystery.“
At this, Dana reflects: “You’re right, he’s like walking human ballast.” I kind of love that description of him. A human ballast. He is that in some ways. Not that he’s perfect, beyond reproach, or always steady. He’s not some robotic paragon that is always understanding, blahblah. He freaks out, too. But, when he explodes at one point, he has really effing tried his damnedest to be understanding and support Sharon and, despite how he might act, it was never as simple nor easy.
The other great thing about this show? Mark Bonnar. He is pitch perfect as a supporting actor. (Well, all of the supporting actors are really great here.) But, Bonnar… he’s so bizarrely charming. At first, I just thought he was going to be this kooky one off guy, but then, as he becomes friends with Rob’s character, there’s just all of this weird charisma that oozes from him.
And he has a great thing in the second episode in which he describes what it was like for him to see his wife giving birth. These kinds of descriptions are always humorous, if not particularly clever or new. (Although the toboggan description was somewhat inspired.)