In the opening moments of Amazon’s Catastrophe, Rob (Rob Delaney), an American businessman in London, meets up with teacher Sharon (Sharon Hogan), in a bar. They hit it off famously, which is to say they have a metric ton of sex, much of it unprotected, in the week before he heads back to Boston. Weeks later, he gets a call: she’s pregnant. “You just don’t think that stuff like this will happen,” he says, after flying back to think things through with her. “What?” she asks. “That repeated sexual intercourse between two healthy adults will do the exact thing it’s supposed to do?”
It’s a delicious line, crisply delivered, and in a way it sums up what’s special about Catastrophe (premieres on Amazon June 19; the pilot is on Facebook through June 17). The premise is nothing revolutionary: she’s knocked up, he moves to London to be with her, they develop a relationship while adjusting to the idea of parenthood. But the six-episode comedy is distinctive for taking this setup and dealing with the messy complications that naturally occur, but that romantic comedies generally try not to think about.
For starters, Catastrophe is one of the best extended TV treatments I’ve seen of the simple, practical, physical facts of pregnancy. Sharon and Rob are immediately thrown into a gauntlet of exams and consultations, each with its own casual terrors: Down Syndrome, for instance (Sharon is told she’s at higher risk because she’s in her 40s), and a “precancer”–a condition the doctor tries to downplay as nothing, the assurance undercut by her using the word “cancer” about a million times in the consultation.
At the same time, Catastrophe is a charming story about love between two grown-ups that doesn’t heighten its drama with a lot of artificial roadblocks. Rob and Sharon seem compatible from the start and–here’s a twist!–they are, sharing a ribald and irreverent sense of humor. Preparing to have a baby gives them a challenge to adjust to, but not in the typical way, where the clueless guy learns to grow up and his uptight girlfriend learns to trust him and they become responsible adults together. Horgan is likably acerbic, and comedian Delaney is laid-back in the kind of role comics will often play as antic and freaked-out.
The episodes (cowritten by Delaney and Horgan) have fun with the characters’ differing backgrounds (we meet her very Irish-Catholic family, we meet his eccentric mother, played by Carrie Fisher) and their need to leapfrog years of dating to become middle-aged-ish new parents. But refreshingly, they dive in as partners, not misfits yoked together by an umbilical cord. There’s little getting-to-know you wackiness, maybe because Rob and Sharon are already mature enough to know themselves.
Instead, the stakes, and the comedy, come from the already considerable pressures of suddenly getting ready to birth a small human and keep it alive. That’s enough in itself, as Sharon says when Rob suggests they might want to keep the baby’s sex a “surprise” instead of learning it after a scan: “For the moment,” she says, “I would like a whisper of certainty in my life. Not even in my life: in my body.”
Racy, amiable and honest, Catastrophe doesn’t feel the need to amp up its story with surprises either. It just does the exact thing it’s supposed to.