Laying On Its Side
by ALEX CARNEVALE
creators Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney
Carrie Fisher is almost unrecognizable in the new BBC sitcom Catastrophe. She appears with her dog on the phone with her son Rob Norris (Rob Delaney), advising him not to marry the British woman he has accidentally impregnated.
Accidentally may be a strong word. There must be a subconscious reason that Rob doesn't use a condom when he has sex with Sharon Morris (Sharon Delaney). Instead of encouraging her to abort the pregnancy, he decides to move to London. We get a sense of the city on Catastrophe. It is a friendly and unfriendly place for an American, and we can see why Rob would not want to live there. He suggests they move to Boston, where his job is, and Sharon laughs in his face.
Horgan is a beautiful and subtle Irish comedian, and she is far and away the star of Catastrophe. "I want to be a choice," she tells her sudden love interest, and it is attractive in a pathetic kind of way. Sharon's brusque personality has, in the past, made her hard to love by anyone except her elementary school students. In the show's only predictable scene, her pregnancy causes her to vomit in front of her pledges, but for the most part descriptions of her gas are relegated to accentuating the couple's sex life.
Horgan is stunning, but Catastrophe works so well because of its surrounding cast. Fisher is brilliant feuding with Horgan as Rob's mawm Mia, and Ashley Jensen plays her friend Fran with an unearthly aplomb. The show's best character is Fran's husband Chris (Mark Bonnar), whose love for his wife is almost but never transcended by his irresistible style.
With such terrible role models, it is a surprise that against the advice of all the people in their life, Horgan and Delaney plan to turn a weeklong hookup into a marriage and a family.
Rob Delaney, a long-time standup, writes Catastrophe with Horgan, and his own battle with alcoholism is the subtle backdrop of the show's story. Delaney is still finding his way as a believable actor, but his timing with Horgan is already great, and the bristly former party animal he plays feels fresh and new as a character.
Delaney uses his brow and mouth to accentuate most of his jokes, which is a little broad for this style of comedy, but his ministrations are so likable the hammy stuff kind of works. During a conference call with his old advertising partners where he has to crouch in the bathroom for privacy, accentuating how much larger he is than virtually everything in England.
Everything on Catastrophe comes from the mind of Horgan and Delaney, and you can tell immediately that this project is not the work of a room of writers. The dilemmas of Catastrophe are completely believable. Nothing is sugarcoated, whether it be Horgan's pregnancy or Delaney's shitbrain friends. When Horgan goes to meet up with an old boyfriend the show even becomes painful and disturbing, without losing any of its signature voice.
Catastrophe allows us to see couples in relationships as they really are, and not as a glamored over loyalty like that of a dog that you see on other comedies. This simple but completely original honesty makes Catastrophe the best comedy on television. (Amazon will be bringing over the BBC show to America this spring.) At a time when everyone else is making jokes about our last differences, Horgan and Delaney have revealed at length that we are all the same, and miserable.
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
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