Cat out of the bag: I’m not a parent, and that means two things when it comes to reviewing a show about parenthood. First, I don’t know what it’s like to have or raise a child, rendering my opinions on practicing parents utterly moot. But it also means buying into the idyllic qualities commonly associated with being a Parent (capital “p” intended) is difficult. It’s hard to believe the pain of childbirth is worth it the second you see your newborn’s face, or that you won’t sometimes miss the responsibility-free lifestyle you once had, or that you’ll happily do anything — anything — for your family.
Perhaps that’s why “Catastrophe” is the perfect comedy for both groups: parents and non-parents. Or dreamers and realists; the pure of heart and the skeptics. However you want to group people, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s Amazon series feels constantly authentic, no matter who’s watching. The gleefully uncensored f-bombs, c-words, and colorful vulgarities of all letters only add to the realism — and hilarity.
For those who had a kid and are living within the rom-com cliches of parenthood, they can look at Rob and Sharon’s life and chuckle at their struggles. “They’re doing the best they can,” the perfect couple might say, watching as these two build romance, responsibility, and partnership off of a fateful one-night-stand. “That’s what would’ve happened to us if we weren’t so lucky.”
The childless can see the future: a journey not unlike everyday life, but with the added complexity and compassion of having a partner to help out. Those who don’t want kids can enjoy the fact that the kids are rarely heard from in the show — Delaney and Horgan aren’t interested in telling those stories because the show isn’t about them. “Catastrophe” chronicles how the responsibilities of parenthood affect the parents — as individuals and as a couple. And most people have been part of a couple, just like most people have worried about an accidental pregnancy.
But then — and I think this is the majority — there are the couples who fully buy into Rob and Sharon’s scenario; who see the catastrophic couple as truth tellers, spouting feelings and opinions many are afraid to share with their partner; who think, “Yeah, you tell him, Sharon!” or “Way to stand up for yourself, Rob!” They look at these characters as living, breathing people with a unique sense of humor, a thick skin, and a particular sensibility that allows them to share their deepest, darkest thoughts without worrying about being abandoned by a spouse who’s unwilling to go there.
This kind of blunt honesty serves two purposes: It’s first and foremost damn entertaining. “Catastrophe” is perhaps the least boring show on TV that also doesn’t rely on massive twists or a joke a minute. But if the entertainment value ever eclipsed reality, the spell would be broken. No longer would everyone — couples, wannabe couples, and never couples — see themselves in these two characters, because they’d drift too far from earth.
Delaney and Horgan have discussed their intense, grueling, and reality-focused writing approach before, and it’s still paying off in Season 3. If Season 1 was their version of a meet-cute and Season 2 the honeymoon, then Season 3 is the actual marriage, warts and all. They’ve been with each other long enough to know one another intimately, down to his long stays in the bathroom and her electrolysis habits. This knowledge has become a weapon and a saving grace. It can be used to attack or defend the marriage, and Sharon and Rob are in the middle of multiple thrusts and parries.
They also remain real people with problems outside the lives of their children. Season 3 takes them both to an emotional edge and nudges them as close to the brink as they can get without falling… and then they fall. With the added weight of a family on their shoulders — if one falls, they all fall — the ending of Season 3 is impactful, to say the least. After a season of examining the constant awareness of responsibility outside oneself, each episode carries a potency beyond its length, dialogue, or content — especially the last one.
I’d go so far as to say it gives the unique impression of what it feels like to be a parent; a magnified purpose that some see as a blessing, others feel as a strain, and still others admit is both. But what do I know? I’m just some guy without a kid, laughing and loving two TV parents trying to make it work.
“Catastrophe” Season 3 is now streaming on Amazon Prime.