“Catastrophe” Wants To Prove That Pregnancy Is Really NBD

Television does many things well, but it fails miserably in delivering a romantic comedy that isn’t a treacly, one-dimensional, unwatchable mess. If they go hard for comedy, the characters are one-note caricatures of real humans. If the aim is to make you feel really anything other than the desire to throw your remote at the television, few shows ever actually succeed. But “Catastrophe” — premiering on Amazon Prime today — delivers.

In “Catastrophe”, Rob and Sharon meet in London, endure a one night stand that stretches to six or so, and ends when Rob leaves for New York. When Sharon finds out that she’s pregnant, Rob does the right thing and moves back to London to live with her and raise the child. What follows is a charming, complex and very funny look at pregnancy, modern relationships and the act of just getting on with your life in the face of unexpected twists. It sounds like a more acerbic “Knocked Up”, but I assure you — it is so much better than that.

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney spoke to me sitting on the made bed of a hotel room above Bryant Park one sunny Friday. Much like their characters on the show, they were kind, funny and very honest. Here’s how it went down.

Q: How did this show come about? What made you two want to work together and what was the process?

Sharon: I think we wanted to work together because we liked what each other did. I’d seen Rob’s standup and I loved the way he approached talking about his relationship. That was the main thing that drew me in. We felt we could blend our styles together and make something that we’d both maybe want to watch.

I wanted to talk a little bit about the way that pregnancy is treated on the show. What I really liked is that it was treated with less reverence than it usually gets in pop culture, so why that choice instead of the other way?

R:  My wife has been pregnant so many times in the last couple of years — we’ve had three kids in just over four years — so, I have been around so much pregnancy. Sharon has two young kids as well, so we are both schooled in pregnancy or being close to pregnancy in real recent memory. It’s just intense. We kind of wanted it to be a love letter to pregnant women. While we don’t treat the subject with reverence, we give it the necessary importance and weight, because it is huge. There are aspects of it that are great, and there are other times when you’re like, “Wow, this is a nightmare”. One of my wife’s three pregnancies was scary — touch and go — and we wanted to show that’s how it is.

S: I think that when I was pregnant, I just got on with it. I didn’t feel like I wanted to walk around talking about it all the time. I feel like a lot of women feel the same way, and it was the same way when my kids came along. I didn’t just want to be talking about babies. I wanted to have my children because I wanted to have children and just get on with my life. You know terrible things happened to me in both my pregnancies, and that’s just real life.

The one thing we wanted the show to be was honest, and we felt that we could do it because we felt we had both been through it. It felt like we could talk about it, and it could be funny, but it had to be true. We didn’t want to do a pregnancy show. It really scared us, because it’s easy to be cutesy, and we desperately didn’t want to be cutesy.

That was really refreshing. I have one friend who has a kid, and all she talks about was that.

S: Oh now! So you’re kind of disproving what I’m saying. I know that some women do, but a lot of women don’t.

Oh! Its just the one friend, and everyone else I know who’s pregnant is very chill about it. It was nice to see someone who has a point of view that’s so rarely expressed. I found that really refreshing.

S: That’s great. You’re welcome!

What do you think the differences are between raising a kid in the U.K. versus parenting here? How do you think the show will be received?

S: Christ, I don’t know!

R: I will say that in the U.K, the town or city you live in cares that you have a kid. In the U.K, the midwife comes to your house after you have the baby a few times. Parks for kids have fences around them. In the US, they’ll build them next to a highway. You feel more supported by the community. The U.K says “children welcome!”

It’s been interesting for me to have two kids born here and another one born in the United Kingdom. I’ve loved growing up in the United States, and there are so many amazing aspects of it, but the U.K. definitely says “Welcome kids. We’re glad you’re here. Let;’s help you out.”

As far as parenting goes — I moved from Santa Monica to London. In Santa Monica, they have those pain in the ass helicopter parents who are ruining their kids’ lives. They have those in London, too. And they have the ones that are like, “Go play in the woods.” Raising a kid who can function in the world. There’s good parents and bad parents in both places.

So it’s not necessarily an issue of geography, then.

S: I don’t think so. I would think that certainly New Yorkers would just do it and get on with it and go back to work. That’s the kind of attitude that our show needs when its being viewed, because we don’t cushion anything. We just tell the full horror of everything. I hope that people won’t be offended, but I also hope that they’ll be just a tiny bit offended.

I think a tiny bit offended is good. 

R: Well there’s the market of people that feel like they need to be offended to feel like something happened to them that day. There are people who need to be offended. We want to help them. They’re people, too. They deserve their daily hit of offense, and we’re happy to deliver.

S: As it was going out in the U.K., it was scary, because we weren’t sure how people would respond to our honesty. We realized that everyone likes you to be as honest as long as it comes from a good place, and there has to be a good message. Everything we said that we were scared of talking about was the most well received.

What examples? Like the cancer scare in the first couple of episodes, when you’re seemingly more scared of dealing with possible cervical cancer than the fact that you’re pregnant by a dude you just met?

S: There was the making light of cancer, but talking about cancer in a comedy show, some people are offended by that, and some are not. In the fourth episode, because I’m a slightly older mother, we get the news that our baby has a high chance of having Downs Syndrome.

We have a comedy episode about the trials and tribulations of thinking that you might be carrying a disabled child. We wanted to talk about that because I went through it and I felt like I had an honest, real opinion on it, and so did Rob. It was very nerve-wracking, a comedy episode where you dealt with Downs Syndrome, but that was our best received episode. Everyone could see where its heart was and everyone could see what we were trying to say.

R: A lot of parents of kids with Downs Syndrome wrote to us, and that was so wonderful. It was death threats but….[laughs]no, they were very grateful, and we were grateful to them.

Fantastic. One last question, which I think is important for all creative people. Is this something that you both want to watch?

S: I hope so! I think it would be sad to make something you don’t want to watch.

Rob: It was a pleasure, generally, to watch it. We’d both seen it a bunch, and it still makes me laugh.