I'm sitting with these two pleasant people, Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan. I ask them, "Are you surprised that Catastrophe travels well? Surprised it got rave reviews in the U.S. and Canada?"
"Yes," Delaney says. "I suppose I am surprised. We didn't make it with the U.S. or Canada in mind." Then, he looks over at Horgan, as he does often.
"No," she says, glancing at Delaney with exaggerated exasperation. "I don't think I'm that surprised, really. I didn't expect these reviews but, if you think about it, it's a simple show. It's about a relationship between two people. Then they have a baby. It's universal."
They're like that, these two – riffing off each other constantly. Feigning that they needle and deride each other. That's their comedy in person and on the show.
Horgan doesn't mention that Catastrophe is a demented version of what is universal in television – the romantic comedy. Outrageously bawdy, it's a rascally show. So, it needs to be said to you, the reader, at this point – Catastrophe (Season 2 is streaming on Shomi) is probably the best and smartest comedy you're not watching right now.
Why you're not watching is your own business. I've had feedback from readers who love it, but not many. There's a lot of great TV. Excuses, excuses.
In general, an awful lot of people want shows about relationships. Or families. Couples coping with kids, that kind of thing. And in that genre, Catastrophe is gloriously original in its rudeness and it is startlingly fresh. Its first season was free of the clichés of the rom-com format, and its second season, now available in Canada before the United States, where it streams on Amazon Prime, is blessedly free of the creaky platitudes and bromides of new-parent comedy.
In the beginning – the first season – Catastrophe was just charmingly irreverent. The first season was about two single, fortysomething people who meet and have a fling. Horgan and Delaney (who both write and star, and play "Sharon" and "Rob") meet, mostly in bed. He's an American on a business trip to London. She's a schoolteacher there. They click, have a lot of sex for six days before he returns to the United States.
Later, Sharon calls. She's pregnant. Rob returns to London.
In the second season, the baby is born, they're together and dealing with parenthood. (There's a twist, too, about the stage of the relationship, which I cannot give away.) Thing is, "it," the baby, hardly appears. Most sitcoms – and Catastrophe is a sitcom of sorts – make all the humour about baby, emphatically. Instead, Catastrophe continues to emphasize the relationship between Rob and Sharon.
"We concentrated on their relationship, like how the baby and having a family affects their love rather than how to cope with children in a relationship," Horgan says. Delaney adds: "We wanted children to essentially be scenery and operate on their relationship as a stressor."
And Horgan, warming to the theme, said: "Also, we have a deep fear of child actors. And we are also scared of child-actor parents."
They're joshing. Horgan and Delaney are an oddity in the same way that Catastrophe is a very odd show. They are a creative team, not a couple. Both are married to other people, both have kids. The humour clicks and is bountiful when they work together.
I ask them how they do it, especially the writing together. They both work on many other projects. Horgan is heavily involved in the HBO comedy Divorce, coming this spring, which will star Sarah Jessica Parker in her first role since Sex and the City.
"I always imagine us sitting at a desk, side by side, trying out material on each other," Delaney says. And Horgan chimes in, "But that's not the case. When we started working on the first season for Channel 4, it worked like that. Now, we e-mail each other, we Skype, we talk on the phone. Sometimes, I have ideas in the middle of the night, but Rob is in some other time zone and we discuss an idea on Skype. It sounds a bit mad, but it works."
Delaney says: "Well, the pluses are we can look at each other's material with laser-sharp focus and, when we meet or Skype, see if the other person is laughing or not laughing at an idea that the other one came up with. So there's nowhere to hide. Our sensibilities are pretty well-tuned to each other. It's not just people in the writing room who don't know each other. There's no way to pretend that something is or isn't funny."
What's also very funny on Catastrophe is Carrie Fisher playing Rob's mom. How did that happen?
"It was a pipe dream," Horgan says. "We saw her at an awards show in London and she did this speech, and she was so witty and fun. And we decided there and then she had to play Rob's mom. And we asked her to do it and sent her the pilot and scripts, and she said yes. And I think, when she turned up, she had no idea what she was turning up for. She thought it was like a little student film or something. She might get some shopping time in London, but as it turns out, she watched it and she really liked it. And then people responded to her so well that for Season 2 we wanted to get her in it a bit more. It was so exciting watching her in Star Wars, knowing that she had been in our show. It's kind of surreal and ridiculous."
And everything about Catastrophe is surreal and ridiculous, actually. But brilliantly funny, too. Watch it.