[SPOILERS for Catastrophe season 3.]
Each season, Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s superbly foulmouthed comedy Catastrophe finds some new way to make good on its title. In the first, Horgan and Delaney’s characters – who are named Sharon and Rob – wind up together after a week-long fling during an overseas business trip leaves them dealing with an unexpected pregnancy and the equally unexpected realization that, despite their differences, they really do like one another. Season 2 jumped forward in time, leaving the couple with another catastrophe (or, bundle of joy, I guess) and all the problems of maintaining a healthy domestic relationship when dirty diapers, mortgage payments, and various other inescapable specters of adult life have replaced the spark of lust.
Season 3 just dropped on Amazon (yes, it already aired in the UK, so go ahead an put that comment back in your pocket), and in many ways it is the best string of episodes the series has done. Horgan and Delaney’s amazing chemistry seems even stronger, as the couple deals with some heavy issues like infidelity, unemployment, sobriety, and death. Though its subject matter is considerably darker than it has been in seasons past, Catastrophe season 3 doesn’t skimp on the jokes, which feel punchier in response to the weightier subject matter. All of this is to say, the series delivers a superb validation of its maturation and becomes a rewarding binge-watch all at once (seriously, at only six half-hour episodes, you can get the whole season done in an evening without that pesky post-binge guilt setting in).
Horgan and Delaney are great, and they have wisely surrounded themselves with a charming group of supporting actors, like Mark Bonnar’s enigmatic, ever-vaping Scotsman Chris, Daniel Lapaine’s Dave, an American expatriate who won’t let a failing liver get in the way of his good time, or Jonathan Forbes as Sharon’s sometimes callow younger brother Fergal. But throughout its three seasons, Catastrophe has always carried a secret comedic weapon in its back pocket: Carrie Fisher as Rob’s perpetually online-shopping mother, Mia.
In the past, Fisher has appeared apart from the cast, typically talking to her character’s son over the phone and expertly delivering the kind of pithy dialogue you would expect from not only her but also the show. Sadly, Catastrophe is the last role Fisher filmed before her death late last year, making Mia’s appearance affecting to say the least, and one that is further augmented by the circumstances surrounding the character’s arrival overseas.
Mia’s entrance functions first and foremost as another way for the show to live up to its title. Rob isn’t exactly itching to get back to the United States, and despite (or perhaps because of) her relatively short appearances on the show over the last two seasons, it’s not difficult to surmise that keeping an ocean between him and his mother plays at least some part in the character’s flailing pursuit of happiness. Fisher is all too aware the power of her character’s ability to vex her son and daughter-in-law, and excels in the season finale at making Mia’s presence a constant source of unspoken frustration, especially when she injects herself into situations heedless of Rob or Sharon’s desire of her to be there. There’s a laugh-out-loud moment when Fisher pokes her head into a van Horgan’s riding in. Mia is essentially the last person Sharon wants to see in that moment, which is like blood in the water to Mia’s predatory mother-in-law instincts.
More so than in previous seasons, though, Catastrophe displays an impressive tonal dexterity, demonstrating an ability to turn on its comedic axis and introduce drama into the proceedings without forgetting to be funny. Fisher delivers both in an emotionally raw conversation with her son about the damage caused by his father’s alcoholism that accentuates the seriousness of his current difficulties with sobriety. The moment also underscores Fisher and Delaney’s personal struggles with addiction, making the scene all the more poignant without being mawkish, while affording Mia’s character a surprising and welcome amount of depth.
The finale follows through on the personal interplay between mother and son, highlighting the episode’s skillful navigation toward Rob’s hardship in the season’s surprisingly dramatic conclusion. As the season comes to an end, it’s not hard to imagine that the gut punch of the final moments wouldn’t have landed nearly as decisively if not for Fisher’s affecting performance just minutes earlier. As one of her final onscreen appearances, Catastrophe perfectly highlights just what a talent Carrie Fisher was and just how much she’ll be missed.
Catastrophe seasons 1-3 are available in their entirety on Amazon Prime Video.