When we last saw Catastrophe, Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) were having a blowout of a fight on their honeymoon, and the barbs got bad enough to raise serious doubts about their hours-old marriage. But those questions were immediately tabled with the sudden arrival of an even scarier unknown: Sharon’s water broke, and she was going into labor — way too early. Would the baby, and by extension, their relationship, survive?
The brilliant, hilarious first season of Catastrophe got a lot of mileage out of Sharon and Rob’s frequent passionate clashes (and even more frequent, even more passionate, um, “reconciliations”). Despite the appetite Horgan and Delaney (who co-write the series) have shown for finding humor and tenderness in the dark side of romance, I questioned whether they’d be able to apply such an acerbic strain of comedy to a plotline involving a premature baby. Luckily, we never have to see those scenarios play out, as Horgan and Delaney land on an ingenious workaround that allows Catastrophe to function in more or less its same comedic mode, while simultaneously pushing the series’ characters and narrative to the next level.
That’s right! It’s a time-jump, that trusty device that let us skip over Leslie Knope’s pregnancy on Parks and Recreation, Nancy Botwin’s jail time on Weeds, and countless other jettisoned TV plotlines we never had to see. Catastrophe is a little sneaky about it, opening its second season on Rob and a tremendously pregnant Sharon together in bed, bickering about why they’re watching crappy TV (“Mad Men’s finished, and Game of Thrones isn’t on yet, there’s nothing else,”) and whether Rob was “threatening” Sharon when he shoved her feet off of his legs. Their banter is of a slightly different caliber than what we saw in season one — the sort of stuff old marrieds fight about — and there’s a brief mention of them living in a house Rob bought. Still, a casual viewer could be forgiven for assuming the show picks up where the pair left off, following a false labor scare.
But then a toddler runs into Rob and Sharon’s bedroom as they’re “reconciling,” followed by a dog, and we realize what’s happened: Years have passed, the premature child survived, and these crazy kids have somehow managed to make it work, to the point that they’re having a second child.
And just like that, Catastrophe has morphed into a very different show. Not only did Sharon and Rob make it as a married couple, but they made it as parents. There will be no “new baby” story lines here, at least not as they apply to first-timers. No watching Rob and Sharon struggle to put on nappies, no hearing them complain about losing all of their childless friends, or any of the other million familiar beats of a new-parents-in-over-their-heads story. (We do get a labor scene, though, complete with Sharon demanding they push the baby back in and give her a Cesarean while Rob watches a little poop come out of her butt. Catastrophe’s back, everyone!) Rob and Sharon’s children are obviously going to play a major part in this season, but they will not be its raison d’être — and I, for one, am relieved. The first baby, whom, we learn is named Frankie, is why Rob and Sharon came together in the first place; he was both the reason for their relationship and the scariest thing about it. It was one thing for season one to mine humor from the panic and uncertainty of Frankie’s impending arrival, but stretching that vein of humor out over the “new parent” phase … well, it just doesn’t sound that interesting, to be honest.
Instead, we get to see Rob and Sharon in a whole new context, one that would have scared them had they known it was coming when they first met: They’re settled. Happily settled, even. (That sweet moment when Rob says good-bye to Sharon but can’t kiss her over her giant belly, so he strokes her face instead, is so tender and familiar it borders on startling.) They’re not back at square one, or even square seven, but they are back at a starting point of sorts — a new normal, if you will. And the ways that new normal are upended by the appearance of baby Muireann — Moron? Myron? — will be very different than the ways their old normal were upended by baby Frankie. Though it’s only briefly hinted at here, with Rob’s comment about how Frankie was a dark-red, hairy-backed, four-pound “monster” when he arrived, it becomes clear later in this season that there was a lot of trauma surrounding his premature birth. Not the stuff comedy gold is typically spun from, so let’s be glad the ordeal is far enough away for them to joke about it.
At first, it seems like Rob and Sharon’s biggest problem following Muireann’s birth will be the unwelcome, overlong presence of Rob’s mother, Mia (played by a thankfully returning Carrie Fisher). Mia has come to visit against Sharon’s wishes, and spends most of the party thrown in Muireann’s honor terrorizing Sharon and her parents. (“I would love to visit you in Dublin. Should I? I have an open-ended ticket … “) But wacky mother-in-law high jinks are a cakewalk compared to the deep issues that surface during the party. Specifically, Sharon and Fergal’s father, Des (Gary Lilburn), is showing signs of dementia: He calls his daughter by the wrong name, then later wanders out of the house, leaving the door open for Frankie to slip out too. (Frankie turns out to be fine, but the family dog isn’t so lucky — Rob and Sharon, in their characteristically jerk-wad-y fashion, are actually a little relieved that the dog gets hit by a car, and treat it more like a hassle than a tragedy. Poor pup.) Even more alarming, Sharon seems unusually irritable throughout Muireann’s party, which is saying something for someone as irritable as she is. The reason becomes clear during a shouting match with Mia.
Turns out Sharon’s sour attitude and little comments throughout the party — like whether she should pop over to Ikea while Rob handles a fussy Muireann — might suggest more than her typical boorish behavior. “This is the first time since I’ve got here you haven’t slept until eleven!” Mia screams. “You treat Rob like a hired hand!” Because it’s Mia doing the screaming, Sharon lashes back, calling her mother-in-law a “hemorrhoid.” But later on, back in bed with Rob, the truth comes out: She hasn’t bonded with Muireann, and Rob wonders whether she has a touch of the ol’ postpartum depression. His suspicion is essentially confirmed when Sharon tells him she thinks their infant child “seems manipulative, like she’s plotting something.”
What’s interesting about this conversation is how calmly and rationally both Sharon and Rob process the revelation. (She still loves Muireann, of course — more than Rob, even — but doesn’t feel an attachment to her.) Were they first-time parents and newlyweds, this could have been the sort of conversation that breaks them. But now that they’re experienced (and maybe even a little jaded), it doesn’t seem like a world-ending thing. It’s just yet another truth told, yet another problem to handle. Sharon and Rob have always been blunt with each other, but at this point in their relationship, there’s a sense that they’ve been through so damn much, and this is just the latest damn thing. They can handle it, and they can make each other laugh along the way. If this episode is any indication, Catastrophe will have us laughing along with them.