An odd thing happened to me yesterday as I watched the first three episodes of season 2 of Catastrophe: I laughed. Not like I’m some fucking humorless rock with no soul but I ACTUALLY laughed. Listen, I’ve tried to see the humor in Melissa McCarthy riding a scooter through cement. I’ve tried to laugh at Andy Samberg movie trailers. I’ve even forced out a snicker during a Kevin Hart monologue. I’m not proud. I just want to belong. I want us to say “Holy shit is that latest Sandler movie the bomb or what?” over a couple of beers, even though I no longer drink. I want to laugh at what you laugh at. But goddamnit. I cannot. I’m sorry. So when the laughs came out of me as I roasted tomatillos (seriously who isn’t roasting tomatillos on Tuesday and if you’re not, well we might be done here) and watched episodes in my kitchen, I was shocked but relieved. Shocked because despite my best efforts I apparently can’t laugh at anything anymore. And relieved because I remembered season 1 being a brilliant, laugh out loud treat and these episodes, now available on Amazon Prime, didn’t disappoint. In fact, they might even be funnier and it’s where these laughs come from that makes Catastrophe unlike any other show on television.
The premiere episode of Season 2 finds us against all odds laughing at dementia, a dog dying, postpartum depression and sobriety. Not the things big ha-ha jokes are made of but just what you’d expect from a show this smart. The setup for Catastrophe is an easy one: American guy named Rob visiting London meets an Irish woman named Sharon they have sex Sharon gets pregnant and the two are forced to fast track a relationship and figure out what the hell they’re doing. Like everybody, Rob and Sharon (played by and written by Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan) come with considerable baggage. He’s a recovering alcoholic with an insane mother (played by my spiritual godmother Carrie FIsher). She’s slightly neurotic with a father experiencing dementia and a brother who seems prone to financial drama. As a couple Rob and Sharon are in uncharted waters and we the audience are along for the ride. The second season starts roughly a year after season 1 ended which is smart because the real life time between the two seasons was about a year. In that time, their first child has been born and Sharon is pregnant with baby number 2. Sharon’s transition from career gal to full-time mom, Rob dealing with temptations at work and familial insanity on both sides are a few of the pots simmering on the range for season 2. In Catastrophe-land there are no sitcom tropes like the wacky mistaken identity episode or the misheard conversation episode or the stupid camping episode. Instead, we get to laugh at (and identify with) the real. Created by Horgan and Delaney, many of the storylines are pulled from their own lives– she got pregnant late in life, he has been sober for years. And that might be the secret to the show’s success. Part of what makes me not laugh like some communist gymnastics judge is the jokes usually ring hollow. Here, I’m laughing at what Rob and Sharon are going through because I’ve been there or know someone who has or I can at the very least feel compassion for these characters while chuckling at the fucked up-ness of their lives. As a person who’s sat through countless 12 step meetings, I can tell you part of what “keeps me coming back” is the ability to laugh at dark horrible crap and watching people get on the other side of that. Catastrophe embraces much of that same spirit. Life is not perfect for us the viewer and it isn’t for Rob and Sharon either. We identify with them. We root for them. Most amazingly, we laugh at them. For this stone faced, barely smirking television viewer, this is the miracle of Catastrophe and it’s these catastrophes the make the show so deeply funny.