by ALEX CARNEVALE
creators Sharon Horgan & Rob Delaney
Rob Delaney is a recovering alcoholic who lives in London with his wife Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and their two kids, Frankie and Miren. He sees his wife drinking when they are at dinner, when he comes home from work at a pharmaceutical company, when they are out at parties. He thinks about maybe drinking at some point down the road, when his children are grown up, and he can employ a bodyguard and a driver to protect him from exactly how inebriated he wishes to be.
He works in a cubicle across from an attractive woman who flirts with him constantly, both of the desire to tweak his modest, sober nature, and possibly because she harbors a genuine attraction for a man ten years her senior. He finds himself masturbating in the company bathroom in the new season of the BBC series Catastrophe, which he recognizes as both an important necessity and an all-time low. What working woman doesn’t want to stroll up to her cubicle mate and utter those fateful words: “Can I suck your cock?”
Things are clearly very different in England. They once had a female prime minister, but now they just have an American expat who is forced to marry the mother of his son. He pretends to love her, of course, but there is the creeping feeling on Catastrophe that maybe they aren’t all that suited to each other. Sharon and Rob fight a lot: sometimes it is the sort of play-fighting that many couples use as a transition to sex and intimacy, but other times the debates are reflective of a deeper resentment.
The subject that Rob and Sharon fight about most often is sex. This is exacerbated by the stress of Sharon’s latest pregnancy, but it is a difficulty that haunted their partnership before they were even married. The two were brought together by a rampant, exhausting physical chemistry: Sharon was obviously attracted to the massive amount of hair featured on Rob’s body, and Rob likewise by the possibility of a human woman finding that appealing.
Their close friends have reached no better acclimation with their lives as they approach true middle age. Close friends Chris and Fiona stopped having sex and decided to get a divorce, with the husband hiding under the covers. Sex is not only the foundation of every single relationship on Catastrophe, is it something like a canary in coal mine.
Alcohol has a varying effect on human sexual performance. It can loosen the inhibitions of a shy or modest individual, causing greater pleasure. Drinking also has the possibility of dimming the penis’ primary function. Deprived of the possibility of inebriation, Rob always seems overly pent-up, and as the co-writer of Catastrophe, he does little to mitigate the idea that his straight self might not entirely be his best self — and he constantly apologizing to Sharon and the world for that.
This second season of Catastrophe is even darker than the first. Sometimes Rob and Sharon come to a grudging happiness at the end of their trials, but most often the results are far sadder. In one scene, Sharon and Rob run into a couple at the movies who have actively defriended Sharon. Rob calls the woman “a cold sore,” and Sharon is immensely pleased by this. They have passed on some aspect of their unhappiness to others, and lightened the load.
What is finally so unrealistic about the laugh-out-loud hysterics of Catastrophe‘s situations is that Sharon and Rob seem to exist in a world that is completely without empathy. They have no ability to feel for others, and ask nothing of the other people in their lives, even those that they depend on. This is a harrowing way to live, but there is a disturbing element of truth in it. Like that woman said of Kramer’s painting, “He’s a disgusting, offensive brute, but I can’t look away.”
Alex Carnevale is the editor of This Recording.
“Firestone” – Kygo ft. Conrad (mp3)