8.7

Catastrophe Review: Rotting Bodies and Panic Attacks

(Episodes 3.03 and 3.04)

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<i>Catastrophe</i> Review: Rotting Bodies and Panic Attacks

When the camera opens on Rob (Rob Delaney) and Sharon (Sharon Horgan) sharing their saga of change, unemployment and financial issues in the season’s third episode, it’s easy to assume they’ve resorted to couple’s therapy. The dialogue is everything you’d expect from a blame-game session, matched with exasperated eye rolling and forced politeness. What doesn’t quite add up, however, is the awkwardly sympathetic look on the supposed therapist’s face. It’s a known fact that certain professionals tend to double as involuntarily therapists—the bartender, the masseuse, the check-out girl at the local supermarket—and, in Sharon and Rob’s case, their amateur therapist for the day is their real estate agent, the very man who sold them the dream home they can no longer afford.

Though Rob admits to liking Sharon again after her “snake-handling” incident, I was still surprised to see them find their groove again—and quickly, at that. Although there seems to be a bit of pussyfooting going on, the honesty that makes this relationship work prevails. They have no problem cracking jokes at each other’s expense, discussing bathroom habits or saggy tits (“tubes,” as Frankie likes to call them), but when it comes to real, personal issues, they’re all about smiling through denial: Sharon is (or chooses to be) oblivious to Rob’s silent breakdown, and Rob is determined to keep it that way. The fact that he can’t secure a new job, let alone get through one dignified interview, is making him feel like enough of a failure already; confiding in Sharon about having tumbled off the wagon is something his fragile ego couldn’t possibly handle at the moment.

These middle two episodes take an interesting look at the pressures of adult responsibility and the process of aging. While Fran (Ashley Jensen) is considering vaginal rejuvenation and Botox, Sharon is dealing with an ailing father, a selfish brother and a bad case of sore boobs. Her visit to the gynecologist is one many women will be able to relate to: The doctor handles her with the sensitivity of a robot. (Bedside manner is clearly very low on his list of priorities.) After checking her breasts for lumps with the occasional grunt of concern, he simply sits behind his computer with his back to her, clicking away on his keyboard, before informing her that she has few eggs left in her basket—and that’s enough to send her into her first bout of phantom hot-flashes as she feels her woman’s worth slipping away. Yo, doc—a little friendly chit-chat with your bare-boobed patient, who’s awaiting you with her legs spread and further privates on display, will go a long way in making her feel a little more comfortable and a little less like a toy for you to prod and poke. Especially while you’re preparing that giant dildo used for ultra-sounds. Just sayin’.

The men, on the other hand, are dealing with even bigger existential crises. Dave (Daniel Lapaine), who’s still having troubles stringing together entire sentences following his near-death OD, finds it difficult to entertain the idea of having a baby with Cathy (Amanda Hale). He loves the fantasy but doesn’t believe he has it in him to be a good person—so, how the hell is he supposed be a good father? But it’s all a little too late for this kind of self-reflection, because, surprise!—Cathy is already pregnant. Chris (Mark Bonnar), currently headed for an amicable divorce with Fran, insists on Rob and Sharon becoming their son Jeffrey’s (Kai Alexander) guardian, should they kick the bucket before he makes it to his 21st birthday. With Fran having taken yet another new lover, the plastic surgeon who called her a “masterpiece” and refused to work on her face, Chris can feel his place in the family hierarchy swiftly shifting, and is adamant to pick a male role-model of his own liking for his son.

But it’s Rob who’s having the roughest time of it. Having finally come to terms with the fact that his current reputation is making it impossible for him to secure a job anywhere else in London, he finds himself crawling back to his former place of work, Braeband. Yes, it sucks, but as he explains to Dave:

“I was watching the news the other night and there was this doctor in Aleppo and he puts people back together after they get blown up, and he just stays there and sticks it out. And I know that’s not my situation, but my family is my Syria, and I have to work at a terrible job so that they can eat and live in a house, and that’s just how it is.”

Rob’s attitude toward the situation highlights the burdens of a patriarchal society, in which he is made to feel that he alone can be the breadwinner and protector of his family, even at the cost of his own health and mental wellbeing. And, unfortunately, the fact that, in his eyes, Sharon is a “cosmopolitan clothes fiend,” doesn’t help. As much as he would like to convince himself and others that he can handle the stress of the situation, his “odd private drink” suggests otherwise. It’s not until he’s directly confronted by Chris and literally trips over his own excuses, landing his arse on the pavement, that he’s finally forced to admit he does have a problem. The final scene, showing Chris joining Rob on the pavement, beautifully emphasizes the bond between two middle-aged men who have hit rock bottom.



Roxanne Sancto is a freelance journalist for Paste and The New Heroes & Pioneers. She’s the author of The Tuesday Series & co-author of The Pink Boots. She can usually be found covered in paint stains.

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