Sharon and Rob were never likeable. We may have been laughing too much through that first season to notice it, but between them, they covered pretty much every distasteful trait you can find in a person (but mostly deceit and selfishness). You could look at the way their children remained on the show’s periphery as a sign of how hard it was for either of them to see past themselves and put another human being first, even a human being that they created together.
Catastrophe worked brilliantly in that first run as a British version of You’re The Worst, a comedy series based around awful people finding other awful people who loved them despite their inherent awfulness. The trouble with that is the initial macabre joy of watching these people bounce off each other in the initial awkward stages of a relationship turns to something hollow when it softens into genuine affection and lasting love.
That’s where Catastrophe ran aground. Watching Sharon and Rob fumble with pregnancy and an attempted relationship was comedy gold; believing they actually loved each other was straining at the limits of credibility. All couples enjoy a bit of banter, but I’ve known too many where the barbs are covering up genuine hostility to buy into Sharon and Rob’s marriage.
Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney are exceptional comedy writers, that’s been evident throughout. Whenever the series leans into this, it becomes something truly special. The problem was that season three and a lot of this final season plays to their weaknesses as writers: the more dramatic elements.The more unlikeable Rob and Sharon became, the harder it was to care about them or wish for any kind of happy resolution.
Take the finale, for example. Rob and Sharon head to his homeland for a holiday, only to find out, on arrival, that Rob’s mother (Carrie Fisher), has died. Putting aside the weirdness of using Tunbridge Wells and Whitstable as unconvincing stand-ins for Boston, the episode flounders on the sudden marriage-threatening arguments that arise from Sharon’s lack of grief and Rob’s spontaneous decision to take up a job offer in the US.
Like all of Catastrophe’s dramatic moments, it all feels unearned. Rob and Sharon go from squabbling to the brink of divorce in a heartbeat. And then, in another heartbeat, it’s fixed. Sharon swims away from the shore. Rob spots a sign warning of deadly rip tides and follows her into the water. Their kids are asleep in the car, again not even an afterthought to these two paragons of selfishness. Are they swimming to their doom? Is he swimming out to save her? At the end of the day, Catastrophe’s inability to land a genuine emotional beat leaves us with a different question: who cares?