News, Culture & Society

JACI STEPHEN: You missed it? Now that’s a Catastrophe!

JACI STEPHEN: You missed it? Now that’s a Catastrophe!


Tuesday, Channel 4 



Sunday, ITV 


Cold Feet

Monday, ITV


Sometimes I think broadcasters have it in for me. Why do they pull the shows I really love – most heinous of all, BBC3 cancelling Sharon Horgan’s Pulling (they clearly took pulling literally)? First broadcast in 2006, it was one of the funniest sitcoms in years (it still feels original and fresh), and Horgan has again excelled herself in the multi-award-winning Catastrophe. 

I recommend binge-watching the first three series before hitting the fourth (now two episodes in). Co-written by co-star Rob Delaney, there is a rhythm to the show that is unlike anything else in comedy: a natural, leisurely pace punctured with brilliant, hysterical one-liners but also dark moments that really have the ‘ouch!’ factor. Sharon and Rob (the characters have the actors’ first names) feel like a married couple we are watching in real time, with only the incidental music there to remind us that this is TV. 

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney in Catastrophe. There is a rhythm to the show that is unlike anything else in comedy

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney in Catastrophe. There is a rhythm to the show that is unlike anything else in comedy

In series three, Rob (Delaney) lapsed back into alcoholism and managed to keep it secret until he crashed his car; Sharon (Horgan) drunkenly fondled a student when the couple had temporarily separated. Rob’s ongoing internal battles, and Sharon trying to keep up with them, in addition to being a mother of two and a teacher, are central to the drama of the pair’s relationship. Initially thrown together following a one-night stand, the learning curve is ongoing, in no small part helped by the fact that she is Irish and he American. 

‘He’s working on himself – which is great,’ Sharon explained to Rob’s Quaker sister (Michaela Watkins), visiting from the States, ‘but also… selfish.’ Sharon was unimpressed by Rob’s latest foray into self-development when he attended a Quaker meeting. ‘And what about me? Will I have to wear a bonnet?’ Sharon, too, seeks self-improvement, and the humour lies in it nearly always being misconstrued or misdirected. Dealing with a boy in her class who wet himself, she tried to turn it to her advantage: ‘I hate that he’s wetting himself, but at the same time this is where I can really… I don’t know… shine.’ 

The power of ellipsis in speech is all part of Horgan’s exquisite comic timing: words, like the actions, feel as if they are operating in real time. Sentences are left hanging as the character struggles to find the right word – and when the perfect one lands, it’s so satisfying; you wait for it, knowing that when it comes it will not disappoint. It’s truly great. If you watch nothing else this week, enjoy Catastrophe. 

Anyone in TV murder mysteries wishing to avoid stumbling on a corpse knows there are places to avoid at all costs: taking your dog for a walk by a river, stopping at a telephone box and taking a job at a landfill site. As Vera returned for its ninth series, you knew when the camera zoomed in on the whirring metal claws of a machine at a tip, a dead body would not be far behind. Sure enough, there she was: a young stab victim called Joanne who, it transpired, had been making enemies by trying to clear the name of a suicide victim wrongly jailed for murder. 

Joanne’s mother took the news rather well and within minutes was chatting with Vera and not a tear in sight. This was surprising, given Vera’s rather indelicate way of breaking bad news. ‘I’m afraid she’s dead, love.’ Blimey. She could have softened the blow with a doughnut or something. Brenda Blethyn is magnificent as the macintosh-and-hat-clad detective, and the character manages to stay on top of the plots better than I ever manage. So many names, so many spurious connections – and a lot of accents that really should not be consuming the airwaves without subtitles. I have nothing against Geordies but there were times when I thought I’d dropped in on Cheryl Tweedy’s Christmas party. 

Cold Feet (series eight) returned with Adam (James Nesbitt) bemoaning his love life (again), and his son Matt (Cel Spellman) getting it on with a barista Adam was chasing – well, until Adam revealed that Matt was 17, not 22 as he’d claimed. To me he looked about 12, so the woman was either deranged or should’ve gone to Specsavers. 

Pete (John Thomson) saved a young man who was trying to commit suicide; Karen (Hermione Norris) and David (Robert Bathurst) were handling their university dropout son; and Jen (Fay Ripley) was dealing with the possibility that she might have breast cancer. It wasn’t what you’d call a happy week. 

The mission for the series was spelled out at the end, as Karen admonished Adam for chasing younger women: ‘Find someone you can grow old with… that’s your quest.’ Mission impossible, if past experience is anything to go by. Catastrophe would be my bet.





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