Making a success of Catastrophe

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney return with a second series of their hilarious comedy, writes Gemma Dunn
Making a success of Catastrophe

PROVING there’s still a place for romantic comedy on television, Channel 4 sitcom Catastrophe tells the story of Sharon Morris and Rob Norris, a hapless, unsentimental couple whose lives are as chaotic as their relationship.

A recipe for disaster? Sometimes. Workable formula for a touching comedy? Absolutely.

Hailed as one of the funniest small screen collaborations in quite a while, it’s the creation of creators Irish actress/writer Sharon Horgan — now more famous than her rugby star brother Shane Horgan — and American comedian Rob Delaney. The duo also co-star in the series and describe the script as “part biographical”.

“Half the stuff has happened to either one of us, or both of us,” admits Delaney,

The result is a series that’s both laugh-out-loud funny and relatable. Here’s a look at the plot so far and what’s in store for the upcoming run:

THE CLUE IS IN THE NAME

A quintessential love story this is not. Instead, Catastrophe offers up a more honest account of relationships, from the good to the bad to the downright ugly. And that’s what resonates with audiences; to know that others share our insecurities, woes and peculiar habits, the stuff we’d ideally like to hide from our partners but invariably never do.

For Sharon and Rob, things got off to a rather unconventional start.

In the first series, which aired at the start of the year, Rob, an American businessman and “sturdy love-maker”, comes to London for work and has a fling with Sharon, an Irish schoolteacher and “extraordinarily good-smelling woman” who is living in the city. After a few days, they amicably say their goodbyes — but then Sharon discovers she’s pregnant and, after deciding to keep the baby, Rob returns. In a bid to do the right thing, they get together and tie the knot.

MAKING A GO OF THINGS

The new series picks up with Rob and Sharon attempting to navigate their way through the mayhem of married life, dealing with awkward families and parenthood. Having skipped forward in time a little, their child is now a toddler.

“It’s about how our two characters relate and deal with each other,” explains Boston-born actor and comedian Delaney, 38.

“The first series was more of a love story — the lust and falling in love — whereas the second series is about staying in love,” adds 45-year-old Horgan, who was born in London but grew up in Ireland. “Our original series began with Rob and Sharon meeting but it was all very condensed, so we decided to skip forward to when they’re with a family.

“Rather than a second series that shows us coping with a new baby, we liked the idea of being right in the middle of it and thought it would be more interesting to show a couple still trying to be romantic in a family situation.”

LOVE IS OVERRATED

Viewers expecting Sharon and Rob’s comical fallouts to be resolved with gushing, love-led sentiments will be left disappointed. In its place, anticipate scenes of all-too-honest make-up sex, that Horgan refers to as “hurried, grabbed, and not-very-good”.

“We’re not interested in showing any ‘sexy’ sex,” says the actress, who is best known for BBC comedy series Pulling, which she also starred in and co-wrote.

“We do love each other but we want to show it, rather than tell it,” reasons Delaney. “We only have one ’I love you’ this series, and it’s not pretty.”

A THIN LINE

In addition to juggling bedroom antics and parenting duties, Sharon and Rob offer a great depiction of the bickering couple.

Grateful for the broadcaster’s creative freedom, Delaney — who is also married in real life and has three children — insists that while they want the scenes to be real, they “never push the envelope for the sake of it”, and rarely have to self-censor their writing.

“We want that playful side to show, but it has to be usable and have enough love. Likewise, when a relationship hurts, it should hurt,” he says.

It’s all about the right balance though, notes Horgan: “The tricky thing is, we’re trying to use as much real life as possible so that people can relate to it, but if we showed real, real life, there might not be as many laughs.”

TRIALS AND TRIBULATIONS

While the series prides itself on its laugh-out-loud moments, these are intertwined with a number of heart-warming plots that allow the viewer to grow closer to Sharon and Rob.

First, there’s Sharon’s dad, whose dementia storyline will continue throughout the series.

Plus Sharon, who is pregnant again, finds herself isolated from the local mums’ group after they deem her “needy”.

“It’s sad, because it can be really lonely for new mums who are just expected to be at home and get on with it,” says Horgan, who lives in London with her husband Jeremy Rainbird and their two daughters.

One of the new mothers who rejects Sharon, however, is soon put to rights by a dutiful Rob, when he shames her in public — and this leads to a lovely moment between the married couple.

MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN

As well as the humour and authenticity, the show’s appeal also comes down to Horgan and Delaney’s dynamic chemistry on screen. “We’re both very lucky that we found each other, because it doesn’t happen very often. For us, things happen fairly organically,” says Horgan.

Promising they’re nice to each other behind the scenes, the star confesses to taking inspiration from films like Before Midnight, His Girl Friday and The Heartbreak Kid, but insists that “it’s disingenuous to say we were making a romantic comedy”.

“It just happened, and I think that’s why the formula worked, we weren’t trying to do something funny,” she adds.

Does that mean they’ll be making a third series too?“I didn’t know what we would do for a third series, until we started editing this one,” declares Delaney, “but now we’d love to!”

Catastrophe returns to Channel 4 next Tuesday

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