Surviving the 'Catastrophe' Called Everyday Life

It turns out that the people prioritized by the ratings experts don’t even watch TV. But they can still enjoy ‘Catastrophe,’ whether bingeing or streaming.

Sharon Horgan is sitting on a table next to and Rob Delaney, who is sitting on a chair, as they pose for a publicity shot for 'Catastrophe.'
Linda Nylind

TV creators, producers and providers live by ratings, which makes those who live by counting heads (i.e., the agencies who came up with some scheme or formula that assesses in real time who is tuned to what) into TV gods or gurus. Millions of viewers whose sets are tuned to a particular channel on a particular day and hour (which does not necessarily mean anyone is watching it) can make or break a series long before it gets a chance to settle down and/or develop in the minds and souls of creators and viewers alike.

Within the ratings data, there is a segment of the TV viewing population that is supposed to matter more than others, namely those within the 18-49 age group. They are supposedly those who make the world go round, neither adolescents (you can’t trust them, and what do they know about life or TV?) nor those who go on living past their sell-by date, the soon-to-be elderly (i.e. people like me).

Things being what they are (in one word – good; in two words – no good) the above facts are misleading, to say the least, as I have discovered fairly recently. My firstborn, a psychologist, was interviewed on a newscast last week about the findings of a long range field study he is running with his associates. To my biased mind he looked great on screen, and managed to get his points across with aplomb. The next day I asked him about the feedback he got from his peers (after being on screen at prime time), if any. His answer was: “Dad, in our [he is in the 18-49 age group] generation no one watches TV anymore. We do not tune in. Whatever news we need we get on the net, whatever series we watch we binge or stream at our leisure. Each one of us marches to his own tune.”

The main reason for this situation is – it seems to me – that his generation is too busy “getting a life,” and has neither the time nor the will to squander on passive staring at a box.

My impression of the validity of data on the viewing habits or preferences of the 18-49 group was reinforced by a chance phone conversation with my youngest daughter, also a psychologist. At the time, she was multitasking – cooking a meal, answering questions and requests from her four children (aged between one and eight), and talking to me. I was trying to tell her about a British TV series titled “Catastrophe,” created, written by, and starring Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney, whose second season will be available on HOT VOD as of April 20.

The series is, roughly, about a young couple starting married life. They have children who have a tendency to burden the romance with too many details of the sordid reality of being (including nappies and nannies). They have in-laws who mean well, but can be as mean as they come. Carrie Fisher of the film franchise “Star Wars” fame plays Rob’s mother, and boy, is she obnoxious; even her son concedes that. They also have an army of friends and acquaintances of all races and genders.

The first season of six episodes was broadcast by Channel 4 in Great Britain in early 2015, and the second season – also of six episodes, was commissioned almost immediately, planned for 2016, and preponed (the opposite of postponed) for the Brits in October 2015. It was released by Amazon Prime for U.S. consumption in its entirety on April 8.

Strains of daily life

Horgan and Delaney share writers’ credits for all the episodes, which sort of explains why each season has six episodes only – much too few by American standards, but they don’t have a whole team of writers. The aim of the series’ creators was to present the strains in the daily life of a couple (who have children and jobs, phobias and “philias”) in a way that allows the audience to identify with them and laugh at, and with them at almost the same time.

In a world where series are based on a milieu (a place or profession), and are driven by a plot, Horgan and Delaney managed to create a sitcom, or possibly a “bedcom,” that is character-driven, and in the words of more than one American TV critic,“too real.” And coming back to my conversation with my daughter, all she wanted to know when I went on and on about it was – after having said that she does not have the time or the means to watch it (she does not subscribe to any TV provider and as yet has no Wi-Fi in her new abode; don’t start me on that theme) – was to know why the series is entitled “Catastrophe.”

I tried to explain that the decision of Sharon and Rob (the creators retained their first names for the series’ characters) to start a family, after their one night stand resulted in pregnancy, has the inbuilt ingredients of a catastrophe in the making. A friend who is better read than yours truly told me that there is a passage in “Zorba the Greek” that talks of “wife, children, house, the full catastrophe,” but it is not mentioned in the series or the press material about it.

With “Catastrophe” being a sitcom, one would have thought it does not involve spoiler phobia for one who writes about it. Nevertheless, I can’t tell you at what point in Sharon and Rob’s married life the second season starts, nor even hint about how the second season ends. Let me just say there is no way this charming series will not have a third season, as the second ends with Rob opening his mouth to say something to Sharon, and – believe it or not – it’s a cliff-hanger that makes “who shot J.R.?” pale in comparison.

The chief assets of the series are its creators: both Sharon and Rob are not too young, not too handsome, and yet very articulate, with a great sense of humor – most lovable characters. On top of that they are impulsive, quick to quarrel and equally quick to seek understanding, leading to make-up sex. A lot of the plot is about sex, the talk about it being all no-nonsense, open, funny and awkward, (as sex tends to be, and Amy Schumer is mining that lode), always calling a spade a spade (for “spade” read any sex-related word or action). The plot is the life they try to lead together, weathering the catastrophe that life is anyway. The point of this series seems to be that one can survive the calamity called everyday life, provided one has a sense of humor, and a personality that knows how to use it and benefit by it.

Anyway, I’ll be waiting for the third series, hoping that both Horgan and Delaney will heed the pleas of their admiring American reviewers, who want more episodes per season.