“A terrible thing has happened. Let’s make the best of it,” Rob (Rob Delaney) tells Sharon (Sharon Horgan) early in Catastrophe, and it’s a line that sets the tone for the rest of the series: bleakly funny, with a mixture of pessimism and optimism that deftly work together to boost the humor. In Catastrophe, which was co-created and co-written by Delaney and Horgan, two people meet at a bar, have sex “like, 25 times in a week” but use a condom “maybe only twice,” and, as sitcoms demand, find out that they’re about to be parents despite knowing nothing about each other. But this isn’t about growing up and accepting responsibility, it’s about coming together — albeit because of an impending child — with someone you’re growing to love.
The entire first season of Catastrophe premieres on Amazon (for Prime members) on Friday, and it’s a fast but thoroughly amusing watch; I’d planned to check out only the pilot but finished the show in one sitting, immediately charmed by this new relationship and the series’ honest — and explicit — dialogue. “I don’t know what you do when you get pregnant from a stranger!” Sharon exclaims at one point, after telling Rob the “good” news. Later, when he proposes to her, she reacts in disbelief because she doesn’t know anything about him: his middle name, whether he can ride horses, if he’s ever been “fiddle[d]” by a priest.
Catastrophe, which originally aired in the UK in early 2015, is likely to get easy comparisons to Knocked Up when it premieres this week. It makes sense, because both involve a non-coupled-up couple who negotiate a sudden pregnancy together (and choose to keep the baby because, well, there wouldn’t be a narrative if they didn’t), with a lot of humor (often of the self-deprecating or oversharing variety). But beyond that, Catastrophe is different. It doesn’t necessarily concern itself with a slobby man-child learning how to grow up; it’s more about the awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes scary details that go into being pregnant when you’re older (a “geriatric pregnancy,” one doctor says), especially when you don’t fully know your newish partner.
Instead of the usual light hijinks that go into these typical stories (shopping for a crib, disagreeing on baby names, etc.), Sharon and Rob quickly find themselves in the doctor’s office, where Sharon is informed of a “precancer” condition — something that her doctor reassures her isn’t cancer, despite taking every possible opportunity to utter the word “cancer,” which, naturally, sends Sharon into a bit of a spiral. From there, they only get news of possible problems, such as Sharon’s age putting the baby at a high risk of Down Syndrome (first, it’s a 1/50 chance; later a nurse calls to clarify that they meant 1/25 — a great example of the dark humor Catastrophe is adept at) and the ensuing amniocentesis.
Catastrophe is a mature but hilarious comedy, and one that somehow remains down to earth despite the quick, building-block pacing (slight spoiler, though the series finale aired in February: the six episodes feature the couple on an adorably clumsy path to a wedding). It’s not the sort of series that pummels you with twists and turns and life lessons, but instead exhibits a quiet charm, a comforting predictability, and a few hours of real laughs.