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Catastrophe Stars on Why the Bickering Couple Actually Has a Model Relationship

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The Rob and Sharon of Catastrophe are not the same people as creators and stars Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan. The show—in which American boy meets Irish girl on a business trip, Irish girl gets knocked up, the two get married and try to make a go of it—is filled with antics torn straight from the two comedians’ real lives. But Horgan says she’s way less easygoing than the character Sharon, while Delaney points out that the character Rob’s libido is eight times greater than his own.

Back for a second season (now streaming on Amazon Prime), the couple in Catastrophe faces more challenges than ever: two kids, a useless in-law in Carrie Fisher and temptations that could lead to a break-up. And yet Horgan and Delaney maintain that the Rob and Sharon of the show have a model relationship. TIME spoke to the creators about the show’s return.

TIME: The second season begins a few years after the first season ends. Why the time jump?

Sharon Horgan: It was initially how we pictured the show. Originally the first episode of the first [season], they meet, they get pregnant, they decide to make a go of it, they get married, and then you time jump and three years later, and you’re in the middle of their life. That’s all happening in episode one. Rob and I were interested in talking about a relationship within a family, or a partnership that has kids getting in the way.

That’s a lot for just one episode.

Horgan: We put it to the channel, and then the channel were really much more interested in learning about this new relationship, and spending some time with us as we go through the pregnancy and get to know each other.

When it came to season two, we thought, let’s do what we planned. We weren’t interested in seeing a new couple struggle with a new baby and getting it all wrong.

This season Rob and Sharon’s relationship is really tested. The bantering becomes bickering more often than not. If they weren’t in these circumstances, do you think these two people should be together?

Rob Delaney: They do belong together, as much as anyone can belong together. They’re in love.

And I think one of the most hallmarks about their relationship is they do something throughout both seasons that is really important in a long-term relationship, which is they make the choice. I don’t feel that they resign themselves to it, but they put in the work. They’re not perfect and their mistakes have consequences, but I think that they’re a pretty good model for a relationship, in my opinion.

Horgan: The thing that makes a relationship last is people who can talk to each other and people who can make each other laugh. They do both of those things.

Why did you name the characters after yourselves?

Delaney: We just started writing it that way because I think it helped us get into maybe a more honest head space. We had initially planned on changing it, and then the network said, “Don’t change it.” That’s one of the sticking points right now is we negotiate a third season: we adamantly want to switch their names to Tony and Vivian. The network is really pushing back on that.

I can see why.

Delaney: I can’t.

It is tough in interviews because people think I identify with the characters, and although yes, there are overlaps, they’re not us. But hey, what are you going to do? Occupational hazard.

So in what ways are you nothing like your characters?

Delaney: I think Rob’s ability to stay for more than 20 minutes in a job that he’s not ecstatic in, he has much stronger conviction than me because I couldn’t do that.

Horgan: A big difference for me is Sharon has a creative tendency but is afraid to try and make that sort of career work. I don’t think she’s unhappy because of it, but I think it has fed into her more cynical nature that your dreams don’t come true. She doesn’t have the blood thirst I have.

Delaney: I just thought of another one, speaking of blood thirst. Rob on the show’s libido is, I would say, maybe eight times greater than mine. Having three children—my oldest just turned five—I usually start to fall asleep by 9:15 p.m. And while the idea of sex on paper is very attractive to me, in practice I’m normally asleep by the time normal people begin kissing and light petting.

Horgan: I know the Sharon character doesn’t seem like an easygoing person, but she’s more easygoing than me.

I watched the Nora Ephron documentary Everything Is Copy after bingeing on your show. Ephron’s son says his mother called writers cannibals—they consume their own lives, and the lives of those around them. He concludes that his mother didn’t feel guilt about her “cannibalism,” which is what made her a great writer and comedian. You use material from your real-life in the show. How do you feel about the description of writers as cannibals?

Horgan: I genuinely don’t feel guilty because we deal with our partners in a very affectionate way. I don’t think there’s ever a moment where we use something that’s happened and we take them down for it or use it to attack.

I actually agree with that. I do feed off my own life and the lives of others, but I either hide it quite well, I hope, or if I can’t hide it well, I ask. I never use anything without asking permission. I’ve done that a few times now, and when I haven’t asked permission in the past, I don’t use it.

Delaney: Yeah, I think “cannibalize” is an interesting word, and a fair one. I feel like I want to give myself some coverage and use maybe the word “alchemize” or “transmute” or something, rather than “cannibalize” because that sounds violent, and I want to pay tribute to the people I care about. Even if it’s a story that I find unsavory, by telling it, hopefully it’s investigating our humanity because we all do bad things and hurt people.

There’s no way to really do anything around me or be around me without me processing it story-wise, and at least imagining what it might be like in a script or something, whether or not it actually goes in there.

Horgan: When we put something into it that we’ve done personally on screen, it does become confessional. I find it therapeutic.

Obviously Catastrophe is fictional, but Rob do you feel the same way about using true stories for your stand-up.

Delaney: Yes. Yes, period.

All right. People think of British humor and American humor as two very different things: the British Office vs. the American Office. Your show merges the two. Do you think it leans more one way than another?

Delaney: I think there’s been a lot of cross-cultural homogenization and pollution, especially in the last decade, between British and American shows, and humor. When you get into the big leagues, the really good stuff is going to play well in both cultures.

Horgan: When the first [season] premiered [in the U.S.], I did think that the Sharon character wouldn’t appeal in the same way. I think an American audience prefers someone who’s a bit less harsh. For example, at the beginning of the American Office, Steve Carell’s character was much more of an a—hole. Then you had to find his kindness or find his humility, and then suddenly it took off.

So I thought Sharon’s harsher, more cynical take on the world might not appeal. I think Rob’s character smooths the edges. I think if Catastrophe had her just as the lead character, we’d have issues translating well to an American audience.

Delaney: But if either Sharon or Rob were missing from the show, it would immediately collapse and fall down a mind shaft.

Horgan: Absolutely, it would be a catastrophe.


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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com