A real Catastrophe as hit show returns without Carrie Fisher

Sharon Horgan’s show is about to return to our screens, but one of its stars, Carrie Fisher, will be sorely missed, writes Jeananne Craig.

"Sorry about the armpit smell,” says Sharon Horgan, by way of a greeting. “You might assume we’ve been here for hours adding our own scent; we haven’t even had a chance.”

Rob Delaney, her co-star in the pair’s hit sitcom Catastrophe, chimes in: “We came in here and were like, ‘Wow. It’s the armpit room’.”

If you could count on anyone to address the elephant in the — admittedly pretty whiffy — room, it would be this duo, who have created a TV show known for its brilliantly honest, no-holds-barred humour.

Viewers have fallen in love with Catastrophe, as much for the wicked dialogue and sharp observations (sample line: “If a normal courtship is a dance, then ours is like a heart attack or seizure or something”) as the against-all-odds romance at its core.

In series one, we saw Irish teacher Sharon and US businessman Rob conceive after a whirlwind ‘six-night stand’, and decide to get married and raise the baby together.

By series two, they were navigating life with a toddler son and a newborn daughter, as marital and work pressures threatened to bubble over.

Sharon ended up engaging in — and soon regretting — a drunken tryst with a stranger after a row with her husband, and things ended in a cliffhanger when, just before the final credits rolled, Rob discovered a receipt for the morning-after pill.

The third instalment picks up right where things left off, as a shocked Rob decides whether or not to confront his wife, and a guilt-ridden Sharon wonders if she should confess her actions.

They may not be the perfect couple, but as a viewer, you find yourself willing them to get through things. And their creators do too.

“I think they’re rooting for each other,” says Delaney, 40. “As the writers, we have their relationship charter; we want them to make it.”

Horgan, 46, who’s written comedies including Pulling and Sarah Jessica Parker’s latest HBO show, Divorce, adds: “We did for a minute think after the end of season two about having them have a proper old break. We were like, ‘Would it be interesting to see Rob trying to date someone else, or Sharon...?’

It made us feel sick, and I think that might also make the audience feel sick, and we don’t want that.”

She and Massachusetts-born comic Delaney met via Twitter around 2010, and started work on Catastrophe in 2012.

One of their major coups — and testament to their brilliant, Bafta Award-winning writing — was persuading Hollywood royalty Carrie Fisher to join the cast from the pilot as Rob’s outspoken mother Mia.

Series three finished filming just days before the Star Wars actress suffered a heart attack on a flight home to Los Angeles from London. She died four days later, on December 27.

It’s clear how much the actress meant to the pair, as a colleague and as a friend. “That she did our show is pretty amazing, because she would have been working in pre-production on Star Wars and she was like, ‘Yeah, I’ll also have fun doing this little show’,” says Delaney.

In series three, Sharon’s son is growing up and she also has a daughter.

“She was one of those people who always gave good chat and always had pearls of wisdom from her own life,” adds Horgan.

“You’re always going to learn something from someone like that, not only because they’ve got fantastic experiences, but also because they express it in the funniest ways.”

Horgan, who lives in London with husband Jeremy Rainbird and their two daughters, recalls advice Fisher gave her during “one of those big chats you have about your family or your loved ones”.

“She was being really lovely about Catastrophe and saying it was a good moment in time for me. She was going, ‘It’s great what’s happening at the moment — just think about the other people in your life, because it’s kind of tricky when suddenly the focus is on you,” recalls Horgan, continuing: “‘Maybe a good thing to think is how the other person is feeling.”

“I guess anyone who was involved with Carrie Fisher would always have been ‘Mr Carrie Fisher’ in some way. My situation is so many millions of miles away, but that was something that was worth saying, that she had learnt.”

Horgan and Delaney (who has relocated to London with his wife and three young children), have plenty of personal experience to draw on for the show.

“In the first series there were very, very specific things both our partners recognised and were like, ‘What the f**k?’ But in this series there’s much less,” says Horgan.

Addressing her co-star, she adds: “But your character saying to my character, ‘You’re an amazing mother but a shit wife’; my husband saw that episode and went, ‘That’s exactly what I say to you.’

“And first of all I thought, ‘Well, that’s pretty harsh’, but also, I think that came directly from Rob Delaney’s mouth, that particular piece of dialogue.

“It’s a harsh thing to say, but it’s a heat of the moment thing. It’s the kind of thing we do say and it’s lovely to hear it said to another human in a sitcom.”

With references to everything from sex after childbirth to defecating oneself at a wedding, is anything off-limits? “There’s the odd thing we might dial back on if we feel there are too many ‘f***s’ in it, because sometimes if there are too many, it’s distracting, or if you’re hearing that, you’re not hearing the other words.

"Or if there’s too much toilet humour — but it’s a quality control thing, rather than, ‘We shouldn’t do that’,” explains Horgan.

“I’d like to think we put things in the show for the right reason and it’s not just to get a reaction.”

Despite the pair’s evident affection for their characters — and Delaney joking that “an analogy for our relationship would be like fraternal twins” — we can’t expect a straightforward happy ending for Sharon and Rob just yet.

“We’ve left ourselves with a massive s***storm at the end of series three,” Horgan reveals.

“So we’re going to have to claw our way back from that.”

  • Catastrophe returns to Channel 4 next Tuesday, February 28

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