The second season of “Catastrophe” has only one major flaw: It’s too short.
There’s something to be said for the U.K. TV model, in which seasons rarely stretch past half a dozen episodes. “Catastrophe” couldn’t be more different in tone and subject matter than the great U.K. crime drama “Happy Valley,” but neither overstays its welcome, which is a wonderful quality in a TV show.
Even so, given the level of nimble craft on display, it’s easy to believe that “Catastrophe” creators and stars Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney could come up with a couple more episodes each year without diminishing the comedy’s quality. Given the deep pockets of Amazon, which releases the show in America, it couldn’t be that hard to arrange. Put it this way: To get more “Catastrophe,” I’d give up a month of free shipping from Amazon. Possibly two.
It’s not necessary to have seen the show’s debut season to enjoy the second, though forgoing the first six episodes would be a catastrophic decision for any discerning comedy fan. The basic set-up is as follows: In season one, Rob and Sharon (also the name of their characters) had a weeklong fling in London while he was there on a business trip, and when it turned out she’d gotten pregnant, these irreverent sex buddies attempted to make a go of coupledom.
Season two wisely skips ahead a year or two, and as the show returns, Rob and Sharon are no longer battling the very idea of commitment — they’re fully engaged in the unending and frequently absurd slog of parenting and domestic life. An episode oriented around a party early in the season is sheer perfection; Rob admits to his wife that he invited everyone over so they could get rid of all their social commitments in one go. Later, a sleep-deprived Sharon can’t resist unloading on Rob’s memorably monstrous mom (Carrie Fisher, having a whole lot of fun). Later, Sharon hides in a bedroom, waiting out both her embarrassment and their guests (one of several moments that had me saying, for the thousandth time, “too real, this show is too real.”)
When Rob finds Sharon hiding, the dialogue between them zings between anger, sympathy and cutting wit without ever toppling into the contrived kind of banter that most couples in TV comedies exchange. Perhaps “Catastrophe’s” neatest trick is the way it manages to surgically reveal hard truths about the realities of domestic life and the pitfalls of real love without ever losing its bouncy, bouyant charm.
The easy rapport between the two leads is, if anything, even more smooth and enjoyable this year, and their frisky dialogue, always full of delightful left turns and segues, manages to incorporate anger, frustration and affection in equal quantities. “Sexual rainchecks are abusive!” Rob shouts at one point, but his character is imbued with such core of bearish sweetness that his rants never contain a shred of malice. Rob lumbers through his soul-killing corporate job and his cozily chaotic home life with such an air of amused, open-hearted surprise that everyone ends up confiding in him. He exudes an air of trustworthy placidness that Sharon’s spiky energy crashes into at will without every getting dented, and that dynamic is lovely and amusing to watch.
Like “Master of None” and “You’re the Worst,” its fellow anti-sentimental romantic comedies, “Catastrophe” organizes each episode around a central idea or incident, which makes each outing feel like a rich, satisfying distillation — an zesty aperitif, if you will, with a memorable kick. The couple’s trip to Paris — their first real jaunt away from the family grind — goes about as disastrously as those kinds of trips tend to go, and another episode revolves around a series of dates, good and bad, that various characters have in different locations all around London, which gives “Catastrophe” another set of opportunities to display its keen observational skills. A brief set of scenes with a sex worker, for instance, manages to make her so memorable and specific that I hope she returns.
Speaking of supporting players, now that the heavy lifting of the first season is over, they get even more to do, and they feel more nuanced than they were last year. All the actors, especially the peerless Mark Bonnar, who plays Rob’s dryly observant friend Chris, make the most of their storylines, and the show treats their adventures with its trademark mixture of compassion and gentle disbelief. Life is absurd, and couples like Rob and Sharon, who live together but whose daily experiences are seriously divergent, can feel real insecurity about their futures, but this show never goes to contrived places to reflect any of that. And underneath its well-honed digs and silly wit are some kind and thoughtful observations about connection, depression and what it takes to survive not only parenthood but the quest to be a semi-moral human being.
So we’re agreed, then — eight episodes next season? Please?
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney talk (in a non-spoilery way) about the second season of “Catastrophe” in the latest Talking TV podcast, and it’s also discussed in another recent podcast (along with “Outlander” and “Happy Valley”). The Delaney-Horgan podcast is here, on iTunes and below.