“Catastrophe,” the new Amazon Original launching this weekend for US Amazon subscribers, is the story of an unplanned pregnancy and the relationship that results. American Rob (Rob Delaney, “Key and Peele”) never thought he’d see London-based Sharon (Sharon Horgan, “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret”) again, but when she lets him know that their week of sexytimes has resulted in her conceiving, he comes back to England to see how that might evolve.
Thematically, then, it’s kind of appropriate that “Catastrophe” is one of the first Amazon Originals to launch without going through the service’s unique piloting program. Instead, all six episodes of the first season were released today, and that’s because all six episodes had already been produced — the show is a British import originally produced by Channel 4. But even though Amazon wasn’t consciously a part of the show’s conception, it’s fully committed to it.
Created and written by Delaney and Horgan, “Catastrophe” opens itself up pretty easily to comparisons to Judd Apatow’s “Knocked Up,” which also (in case you need reminding) focused on an unlikely couple brought together by an unexpected pregnancy.
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But while “Knocked Up” drew criticism from even star Katherine Heigl for the fact that in the real world, a young woman in that situation would quite likely get an abortion, “Catastrophe” not only has the characters discuss the idea beyond the level of muttering “smushmortion,” but has a compelling and believable reason for why Sharon might choose to keep the baby.
As Sharon is on the other side of 40, it seems pretty reasonable that a woman of her age would take this chance, given the likelihood that she might never again have the opportunity. And then following that decision, the medical realities of what the show’s doctors love bluntly referring to as a “geriatric pregnancy” actually drive a surprisingly large amount of the show’s…
Well, plot is technically the word. Despite the number of scenes which detail all the things that could potentially go wrong with Sharon’s fetus, “Catastrophe” is decidedly not a medical drama. While it does have structure to its episodes, with choices being made that keep things from ever feeling static, it’s, at heart, a character piece; one which only really comes to life when Rob and Sharon are in the room together.
And that’s what, in the end, is the thing you take away from “Catastrophe.” While the guest cast is solid, including Ashley Jenson (“Extras”) and Carrie Fisher (everything good in life), “Catastrophe” functions best when it micro-focuses on its core relationship. They’re two very funny people saying very funny things to each other and not necessarily laughing at each others’ jokes (which always feels a bit unnatural). But the chemistry between Delaney and Horgan is palpable and could easily drive several more seasons worth of story.
Which is good news because a second season is already in the works, and also Season 1 ends with a bit of a slap to the face that sticks with you. It’s that final scene, an echo of Rob and Sharon’s first time together, that makes you realize how invested you are in these characters, who have fallen so fully in “like” with each other that it does look like love. The joke of the title is that this pregnancy has ruined everything for both of them. But sometimes, beautiful things can be found in ruin.
“Catastrophe” Season 1 is now available to binge-watch on Amazon Instant.