Of the many reasons why Catastrophe has worked, one of the more overlooked or, at the very least, underappreciated, is its understanding of the power of brevity. After all, when a series stars two very funny, talented, and likable performers in co-writers, co-creators, and co-stars Sharon Horgan (creator of HBO's Divorce) and Rob Delaney (the funniest part of Deadpool 2), it’s understandable that the audience might want to spend as much time as possible with them. Yet the characters both Horgan and Delaney present onscreen are nevertheless not always as charming, funny, or thoughtful as the individuals playing them might lead you to believe. They’re often selfish, rude, and entirely too caught up in their own seemingly insurmountable pile of personal bullsh*t. In other words, despite being TV characters, the fictional Sharon and Rob are a lot like the people watching the show.
That can make watching a little uncomfortable at times (shows that hit too close to home can sometimes do that). But Catastrophe isn’t a cringe comedy or even a dark comedy, and though you could understandably compare it to the likes of Julia Davis’s Camping or her more recent effort, Sally4Ever, the series is more grounded and compassionate than either of Davis’s shows. Instead of continually looking for new ways to push the audience’s buttons (or even actively push them away), Horgan and Delaney are more interested in seeing how far the relationship between their onscreen counterparts can bend without breaking. But the joy in watching the series is how, when it seems as though the couple is indeed on the verge of calling it quits, they nevertheless manage to circle back and find one another again — though not without delivering a litany of well-crafted and cutting insults that are part and parcel to any successful relationship.
As such, brevity becomes a key ingredient to Catastrophe. At just six half-hour episodes per season, the series can be binged in its entirety in less time than it takes to get through a single season of one of Netflix’s now defunct Marvel TV shows. The effect, then, is twofold by 1) making sure the audience is never worn out by Sharon or Rob’s often tense (but hilarious) relationship, and 2) it makes the series as a whole feel more like a precious commodity.
That’s readily apparent at the beginning of the fourth and final season, as things pick up not long after the season 3 finale, in which Rob (a recovering alcoholic) was involved in a car accident and revealed to Sharon that he’d been secretly drinking again. It’s the sort of scenario in which viewers might look at it and think, “Well, this is how it all ends.” But the start of season 4 and the episodes that follow work to subvert that expectation by showing how, against all odds, the two remain inextricably linked to one another in a way that’s both funny and surprisingly heartfelt.
The plausibility of this relationship’s longevity is entirely wrapped up in the indisputable chemistry between Horgan and Delaney. Some of the series’ biggest moments are when Sharon and Rob are having it out with one another, in yet another spectacular row — either about his drinking, her presumed infidelity, money, children, etc. — but the most memorable and affecting moments come when the two are alone — usually getting ready for bed — when they speak openly with one another and, most importantly, make one another laugh. This is has been a hallmark of the series from the very beginning, and it’s one that’s all too easy to understand — that these two charming, funny people would, at the end of the day, always be able to bring a smile to one another’s face.
It’s an often overlooked element to most onscreen relationships in film and TV — the idea that people aren’t just in love, they actually enjoy the company of the person to whom they’re committed. For Catastrophe, that’s the main ingredient, and it also explains why Sharon would stick by Rob despite his being convicted for a DUI (a slap on the wrist, really), or why, despite the couple’s near constant bickering, they’re really the other’s biggest supporter, their teammate.
That notion becomes increasingly obvious as the series winds down, and as the couple’s recently separated friends, Fran (Ashley Jensen) and Chris (Mark Bonnar), begin to question whether they’d made the right decision splitting up. The closer Catastrophe gets to its admittedly pitch perfect and somewhat ominous ending, the more apparent it becomes that the many surface-level reasons why Sharon and Rob shouldn’t be together are actually one of the many reasons why they actually work in the first place. Instead of bottling their emotions up and keeping them hidden from one another, they’re constant blowing their lids at one another. And, in the show’s uniquely messy way, it’s secret to their success.
That’s readily apparent as a late season story arc addresses the passing of Rob’s mother, played by the late Carrie Fisher. The moment affords Horgan and Delaney a chance to shine, even while faced with the worst life has to offer. It’s also, strangely, one of the series’ high points, and one that effectively turns the series finale into a bittersweet farewell. Catastrophe’s secret weapon was always its understanding of brevity, and in its final moments it leaves the audience wanting more.
Catastrophe season 4 will stream on Amazon Prime Video on Friday, March 15, 2019.