Hilariously, the day after finishing season one of Jane The Virgin I started Catastrophe. While both shows kick off with an unexpected pregnancy, that is where the similarities end.
Catastrophe is a British sitcom that is available in the US exclusively through Amazon Prime Instant Video. The first season, or, as the Brits say, “series,” consists of only six half-hour episodes, making it a very doable one-sitting binge. Created by and starring American comedian Rob Delaney and Irish writer Sharon Horgan, the plot follows two characters, also named Rob and Sharon, who meet and have a week-long fling while Rob is in the UK on business. Once he’s back in the US, Sharon discovers she’s pregnant, and he decides to move to Europe permanently and attempt to build a life with a woman he barely knows.
If Girls and Broad City are for the 20-something set and Togetherness is for the 30-something set, Catastrophe is for the 40-something set. While I’d like to be clear that I think all three shows can appeal to those outside the demographic they are written about, there is something to be said for the unique set of challenges each decade brings. Because of her age, Sharon’s pregnancy is deemed high-risk from the start, leading to several rather serious storylines. While a couple 20 years younger in their situation may not necessarily try to make it work, Rob and Sharon feel almost as if they don’t have a choice—she fears this could be her only chance to have a baby, and in many ways they’re both ready to settle.
All of that sounds rather heavy, but I promise this is a comedy. It has a very British sensibility, and the humor can get quite dark, but it still possesses many classic traits of rom coms. Rob’s multiple botched attempts to propose, his party animal new UK best friend, and his wacky mother (played, of course, by Carrie Fisher) all bring about a lot of laughs, as do Sharon’s disastrous bachelorette party and obsessive Facebook stalking of her ex. No one in their lives understands their decision to build a relationship around the pregnancy, but the two have an endearing, offbeat chemistry that makes you think these crazy kids could actually make it work.
They do, of course, clash, as any two people who go from 0 to 60 in a relationship as quickly as they do would. There is a lot they don’t know about each other, and they both struggle to let go of certain aspects of their single lifestyles. The show, just like their relationship, is bumbling and charming and kind of messed up, not unlike real life.
My one criticism of the brief first season is that the pacing was sometimes a bit odd, particularly in the season finale. The show packs quite a bit of time and story into not even three hours of television—we zip through about six months of Sharon’s pregnancy in what feels like the blink of an eye. While the show plays with comedic highs and dramatic lows throughout, the season finale goes to such a dark place that it is a bit shocking, and ends on a cliffhanger that seems a bit like they ran out of time and simply stopped telling the story. Things were left on a strange, awkward note. Luckily, the show has already been renewed for a second “series,” and I am curious to see how they choose to handle the surprising and, honestly, depressing events of series one’s final episode.
For all its darkness, the show really is bitterly funny. Take, for example, Sharon’s panicked response when Rob asks her to marry him very early on. “Who are you? Do you have a middle name? Can you ride a horse? Did a priest ever fiddle with you? These are things I don’t know!” she exclaims. What’s fun about Rob and Sharon’s relationship is that there’s no love-at-first-sight moment. They are just two flawed people thrown together by circumstance who decide to try really hard, and, most of the time, they do seem to genuinely care for each other. Their entire approach to their relationship seems to be “why not?” And, despite their occasional idiocy, you want them to succeed and make it work so that their lives don’t live up to the title of the show.