‘Catastrophe’: Car crash TV that is still putting the fun into dysfunctional marriage

The Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney-penned romcom remains rooted in the reality of parental responsibilities, financial insecurity and body fluids

When we last clapped eyes on Rob (Rob Delaney) – recovering alcoholic and hirsute father of two – he had just smashed into another car while collecting his slightly pissed wife Sharon (Sharon Horgan) from a nearby pub. As Sharon cradled her bleeding husband and waited for the police, he confessed he wouldn’t pass a breathalyser test, as he had been drinking on the sly for months.

And so, at the start of the fourth series of Catastrophe (Tuesday January 8th, 10pm, Channel 4), we rejoin the couple as Rob – think Sweetums from the Muppets, but with better teeth – earnestly pleads his case before a magistrate and lays his recklessness firmly at the feet of his wife. "I was in a very difficult place emotionally, your honour," he says, "as it had not been long since I found out that my wife had masturbated a young student."

Catastrophe has come a long way since its 2015 debut, when Sharon – an Irish primary school teacher in London – had a fling with Rob, a New Yorker on a business trip, whom she met in a bar and, six days later, after a valedictory shag in a stairwell, happily waved back to America. On discovering that Sharon was pregnant, the pair reunited and decided to try out life as a family.

Back then, for all its cracking dialogue on pregnancy, childbirth and its gruesome aftermath, it seemed we were in for a show about the travails of middle-class parenthood (a theme that Horgan, who writes Catastrophe with Delaney, explored when she co-wrote the 2017 comedy Motherland).


But since then, jobs have been lost, dogs have been run over, parents have died, friends have got divorced and 22-year-old strangers have been given drunken handjobs.

The children have largely stayed off-screen, deployed only to snitch on their mother for shoplifting or to deliver withering stares from the back seat as Rob and Sharon go toe-to-toe in the car.

In the pantheon of TV romcoms, Catastrophe gives us small slivers of "rom" while the "com" comes washed in vinegar. The script remains exquisitely spiky. "You were arrested so you're a criminal. A criminal in a neck brace. What a f**king catch," seethes Sharon at Rob, who has been sentenced to six months' community service behind the counter of a charity shop.

Self-loathing and embarrassment are the default settings here, combined with a basic desire to get through each day without screwing up. “How did you guys get into the whole cerebral palsy charity scene?” Rob asks his elderly co-workers. “My daughter has cerebral palsy,” replies one. “Great,” says Rob, looking like a man praying for a terrorist incident to free him from this excruciating exchange.

For all the dysfunction on display, the writing is rooted in the realism of lives weighed down by parental responsibility, financial insecurity and the often tedious intimacy of married life. Amid the fighting, deceit and gags about death and bodily functions, green shoots of tenderness intermittently spring up, reminding us that love can prevail in the most trying of circumstances.

Cynicism and melodrama may be par for the course for Sharon and Rob but, despite some atrocious behaviour, we’re rooting for them. – Guardian