In a second season episode of Catastrophe, the show's main characters get into yet another loud and graphic argument about sex – in this case, about whether anyone still does the 69 position with their partner anymore, and whether there's any value to it.
“You can't give and receive pleasure at the same time,” insists Sharon (Irish actress Sharon Horgan). “You're just gonna do them both badly!”
I won't get into it with Sharon on that score or any other, since no argument with either her or her baby daddy Rob (American comedian Rob Delaney) ever seems to end well. (Though occasionally if it's just the two of them involved, they may jump to sex just as an excuse to stop fighting.) But whether or not pleasure can be given and received at the same time, Catastrophe – which returns to Amazon tomorrow with six great new episodes (I've seen them all) – demonstrates how well its stars can perform at least two other activities at the same time.
It's not just that Delaney and Horgan created the series and write every episode together, drawing heavily on embarrassing details of their lives with their respective non-fictional spouses. It's that in almost every moment, Catastrophe is both a jaw-droppingly filthy about two immature strangers making one bad mistake after another in becoming parents together – “I think it may have been irresponsible of us to procreate,” Sharon admits at one point in the new season – and a sweet, thoughtful, genuinely romantic comedy about two people who fell ass-backwards into a lifelong commitment to their perfectly imperfect match.
The first season ended with Sharon going into labor shortly after her quickie wedding to Rob, and it's not spoiling much – particularly if you're one of Delaney's 1.24 million Twitter followers, with whom he's already discussed the season in detail when it first aired in the UK last fall – to say there's a time jump early in season 2. Rob is now further entrenched in his life in London, both of them have found many things to be annoyed about with their in-laws (Carrie Fisher returns, hilariously, as Rob's mother, whose loathing of Sharon is mutual), and neither have them has grown up all that much since becoming parents. Even when children are present, their conversations are so sexually explicit, Kevin Smith might ask them to take it down a notch (discussing their baby's anatomy, Rob suggests, “You want your son's penis to inspire respect, and a tiny bit of fear”). When we see Rob get a call from Sharon, his contact info for her still reads “SHARON LONDON SEX,” where the kindest way she can describe him to her therapist is, “Just imagine a nice enough guy taking a shit and reading about Hitler, and that's my husband.”
The presence of kids only gives the Delaney and Horgan more subjects to get gross with, like an episode where Sharon forgets to pack her breast pump on a Parisian getaway and tries desperately to find a way to relieve the pressure. But it also allows them to take both of their characters to deeper and darker places. Rob is a recovering alcoholic, and is tempted to fall off the wagon by stress over work, marriage, parenting, and the friendship of his fellow American drunk Dave (Daniel Lapaine). Sharon, for the moment a stay-at-home mom, struggles to build a maternal bond and find mommy friends who aren't horrified by her cynicism and blunt sense of humor. And though the two of them clearly belong with no one so much as each other, there are still fights, and miscommunications, and outside temptations.
Conventional wisdom in American TV comedy is terrified of both happy couples and babies, but Catastrophe is actually even better this year than it was last year. The contrasts are bigger, the breaches of decorum more of an amusing relief, and Delaney and Horgan – like the characters they play – have a keen sense of when to shut the hell up and attempt some ridiculous sex.
Again and again, the show toggles between shock humor and sentiment like the two are the most natural fit in the world. Tonally, the show's a miracle, on top of just being balls-out funny.
After one of their rougher fights of the season, Rob gives Sharon a long list of reasons for why they should make up already, including one that neatly sums up most of what Catastrophe is about, and why it's so special:
“As I look at you,” he tells her, “all the reasons I fell in love with you have come flooding back so much that I think I might throw up.”
Alan Sepinwall may be reached at email@example.com