As sudden as Catastrophe’s seasons can feel — from each arresting start to emotionally jolting finale 6 half-hours later — one never feels fully settled into its world until composer Oli Julian’s soaring theme song kicks in. It’s at that point that the waves of turmoil and humor and brutally honest storylines for the show’s past seasons begin to wash over you, engulfing you even in a journey that always ends too soon.
The final season of the U.K.’s Channel 4 series, which airs in the U.S. on Amazon Prime, is not bittersweet so much as a frustrating farewell to a show that could have run and run. There are small notes to the series’ beginnings in this final spate of episodes, including the fact that Rob Norris (Rob Delaney) still has his wife Sharon (Sharon Horgan) listed in his phone as “Sharon London Sex,” a nod to the chaotic beginning that led to the two being a couple.
That coupledom, which began more or less as a “why the hell not?” after Irish schoolteacher Sharon finds herself unexpectedly pregnant with her American fling’s baby, is always one step away from completely falling apart. There is a very real and resounding love between the two, but it plays out in very different ways than most TV couples — both characters are often mean, selfish, and can be found trying to sabotage the tenuous connection they have built. And yet, the actors imbue both the laughs and conflicts with such raw emotion that it is never short of solid, compelling, and real.
The show’s earlier starts are far more of a “drop you in the middle of a scene and leave you wondering if you missed a season in between” than its fourth season premiere, which picks up in the aftermath of Rob’s alcoholic relapse and drunken wreck. Season 3 was a particularly hard one on the Norrises, but Season 4 shows us once again how this bizarre couple actually work. The things that bring them together are typically not heartwarming moments so much as bonding after Rob’s sister vomits post-fight with her ex-husband (highlighting the horrors of divorce) or the acknowledgement that they have both turned into criminals of a sort (and deserve one another fully). Their comments to each other are always unexpected, like Sharon being upset over Rob coming home late because “now I have to watch Game of Thrones by myself like a pervert.”
From Fergal’s (Jonathan Forbes) disastrous 40th birthday party to Rob becoming a Quaker for one hot minute, the show continues to keep things messy and real as the Norrises are forced at almost every step to acknowledge their foibles. In a particularly interesting episode that has tinges of “Times Up,” the duo resign themselves to practicalities after a stand against the behavior of vile men. “We just can’t afford to be idealistic, what with our mortgage and credit card debt, and you said you wanted to get your teeth whitened,” Sharon tells Rob. Afterwards, they sit together on the bus holding hands but looking outwards — they know they’re hypocrites, but they could use the money that Rob’s promotion over a female co-worker would give them. And so they sit with that.
For the most part, though, the season races through a number of plotlines that could have stood some more examination, if only because I so dearly love Mark Bonnar as Rob’s friend Chris, and Ashley Jensen as his distraught ex who is more or less Sharon’s frenemy. They get some kind of resolution for their stories, as does good ole Dave (Daniel Lapaine), who embodies a kid of scathing commentary on the isolationist tendencies of the overprivileged. The series also pays a lovely and fitting tribute to Carrie Fisher, who portrayed Rob’s foul-mouthed and plain-talking mother Mia.
But the heart and soul of every interaction in the series come of course from Horgan and Delaney, and their unique pairing has been more joyously successful than any of the other couples who have populated Horgan’s subsequent work (like the HBO series Divorce). It is a very particular alchemy that the two share that works when by all rights it shouldn’t, and works so well even that there are few things more devastating than hearing those final wails of Julian’s theme song marking the end of a season.
Catastrophe’s series finale is powerful, but one that could have used several more episodes of full exploration. Instead, it’s distilled down to the most emotional whiplash-inducing narrative moments, culminating in an accord between Rob and Sharon that seems to be pointing towards a future while never losing sight of their unsteady beginnings. Or as F. Scott Fitzgerald would put it, they “beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” They are as they are, and their merciless candor will be missed.
Catastrophe returns for its final season on Friday, March 15th on Amazon Prime.