Amazon’s excellent comedy returns, hilarious as ever, as the life of its central couple takes a turn for the even more difficult.
Perhaps because the show has always been loaded with laughs, people came away with the assumption that Amazon’s superb comedy Catastrophe, created, written and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, was somehow jubilantly upbeat.
How else to explain viewers’ new narrative that season three, which premieres Friday, is “dark”? Well, it’s dark-er, sure. But Catastrophe has tackled serious subjects since its inception (and it’s called Catastrophe, remember), so any perception that it’s been frothy and cheery in the past is off-base.
But yes, things are moving in a more complicated direction for Rob and Sharon, who first became a couple in season one by way of an accidental pregnancy, then navigated married life, pregnancy issues and an impending baby with the same wary, eyes-open approach all couples do when life changes dramatically. The show entered season two with the central couple tackling life with a second child (newly born); a sexual-harassment charge at work against Rob (drummed up); Sharon’s father experiencing continued signs of dementia; Rob’s friend Dave (Daniel Lapaine) nearly dying from an overdose; Rob falling off the wagon; and, in the end, Sharon getting really drunk and doing something possibly bad with a very young musician that required the Plan B pill, the receipt for which Rob found at the end of the season.
So, yes, real life and its relentless twists and complications have been an enduring (and sometimes endearing) feature of Catastrophe, so that’s not exactly news. But if you have found yourself in any (or all, or many) of the same scenarios as Rob and Sharon, you know that it takes a psychic toll and a whole lot of grown-up adjustments to get through it all, and that indeed can seem pretty dark when illustrated on the small screen. In that sense, the progression the couple has been on — a car careening ahead without brakes is an apt image — does perhaps reveal itself in a way that an avalanche of jokes can’t quite hide, as it might have in the past.
So, yes, Catastrophe is getting more serious in season three, but the good news shouldn’t be unexpected: The series is no less funny. Really meaningful, relatable humor comes directly from these kinds of real-life experiences, and that has always been the X-factor in Catastrophe — it was just overshadowed by the witty repartee of the leads and how winningly sardonic they both were as they soldiered through life.
It’s inevitable that pushing the hardships will bring more of a dramatic tone to Catastrophe, but that only serves to enhance a seriousness that was always there. Even before the sounds of Nick Lowe’s “I Love the Sound of Breaking Glass” come through a radio in the couple’s kitchen in season three, viewers are given clues that life is about to get harder for the couple. And it does. (The late Carrie Fisher, who plays Rob’s mom in the series, appears later in the season.)
Rob is still off the wagon, but managing things — a stealthily excellent way not to put an exclamation point on a problem that will undoubtedly get worse (I watched three of the first six episodes). Rob will find it’s not easy for an American to get a job in London (particularly if he leaves his last place of employment off his application so as not to have to explain the sexual-harassment allegation).
Plus, it’s not going to be easy or smooth to get past Sharon’s transgression, as the two try to work things out like adults. In one scene, Rob reminds Sharon that she kicked him out of the house for flirting, which makes his current simmering resentment about what happened between Sharon and the college student justified, he tells her. “You had the female response — to go nuclear and try to destroy our family. I’m having the masculine response — which is to bury the pain and jerk off in the basement, rather than touch you,” he says.
That is one of many wonderful lines that remind you why the series is such a gem.
Sharon’s annoyance with Rob’s pouting also rings true. “How long are you going to stay in bed?” she asks him. “Till morning,” he says. “So just the 17 hours, then?” she retorts.
There is much to admire beyond the well-earned laughs as season three of Catastrophe unfolds. If there’s a feeling that going a little darker takes some of the fun out of the banter and belly laughs that distinguish the series, well, maybe that’s more on you than the show, which remains remarkably consistent season-to-season while deepening all the strong characters throughout. If there’s a complaint to be made about Catastrophe, it shouldn’t be that the drama is interfering with the laughs; it should be what it always and justifiably is — that the six-episode seasons are too short.
Cast: Sharon Horgan, Rob Delaney, Ashley Jensen, Mark Bonnar, Jonathan Forbes, Daniel Lapaine, Carrie Fisher
Creators: Rob Delaney, Sharon Horgan