Alcoholism, infidelity, unwanted pregnancies, unemployment and death: it’s not the stuff of your typical romantic comedy, but then Catastrophe (ABC iview) is a long way from typical.
If you’re a late arrival to this magnificent show, things kicked off two seasons ago when school teacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan) fell pregnant to ad man Rob (Rob Delaney) after a one-night stand. Improbably, they decided to give it a go. Even more improbably, they ended up falling in love.
Now – with a three-year-old and a baby, the domestic grind, and Rob’s joblessness (he is on “a mutually agreed leave of absence” while the stench of a false sexual harassment allegation against him clears) – there’s a certain amount of friction, which Sharon had relieved at the end of season two by getting drunk, pashing and possibly having sex with a uni student she met in a bar.
Season three opens with Rob suspicious and Sharon’s friend Fran (Ashley Jensen) urging a confession. “Lies are like a child, hiding in a cupboard,” she says. “You’re always going to find them, but if you wait too long you might just find a little corpse.” If you find that funny, you’ll love Catastrophe. If you don’t, well, there’s always Carols by Candlelight I suppose.
The storm passes, but Rob remains miserable, unable to land a new job but unwilling to go back to his old one, until a lack of options leaves him with no choice.
“My family is my Syria,” he tells a friend, comparing himself to the Medicins sans Frontieres doctor he saw in a documentary. “I have to work at a terrible job so that they can eat, and live in a house, and that’s how it is.”
Yes, he’s wallowing. But he’s swallowing, too, little bottles of vodka and lunchtime beers and eventually so much grog that the sitter has to stay over to mind the kids while Rob sleeps like a baby on the couch. He’s a mess.
So is Sharon. When her father suffers a stroke, and later dies, she’s worried there’s something wrong with her because she doesn’t feel sad enough. She’s angry too, because she thinks her father loved her brother Fergal (Jonathan Forbes) more than her.
Into this mess, finally, and in the final episode of the season, swans Rob’s mother Mia (Carrie Fisher). She is magnificently, obliviously, stridently self-obsessed.
“So, this is where it all began,” she says at the funeral.
“What,” asks Sharon.
The kids try to shepherd her away from their mother, but the bereaved woman delights in her company. “She makes me laugh, and I’m not ready to be alone,” she says.
As they drive away, leaving the mothers behind, Rob asks: “What if they fall in love and get married? Would we be brother and sister? Are you OK with that?”
“I suppose,” says Sharon.
The final episode of season three was one of the last things Fisher did before her death in December 2016, and it could hardly have been a more fitting send-off. In her final scene in Catastrophe, Rob, an alcoholic, like his abusive father before him, confides he’s been drinking again, and his mother lets fly. “F—ing drinking again?” she spits. “You can’t drink!” Coming from a woman who struggled with substance abuse most of her adult life, those words could hardly carry more weight.
You might prefer to remember the Carrie Fisher of Star Wars, of course, and that’s up there on the big screen in The Last Jedi right now. But I reckon it’s in Catastrophe – with its riot of love and hate and pain and forgiveness, and of course bucket loads of laughter – that her force is most fully felt.
Vale, Carrie Fisher.
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