The greatest binge-watch of the summer isn't on Netflix; it's on Amazon Prime. Available for streaming as of June 19, Catastrophe originally premiered on the UK's Channel 4 in January.
Rob Norris (Rob Delaney), an advertising exec from Boston, and Sharon Morris (Sharon Horgan), a teacher from Ireland, enjoy a weeklong fling while he's in London for business. A month later, she discovers she's pregnant. This unlikely rom-com sitcom (rom-sit-com?) isn't a "will they, won't they," but a "they did, so they're going to."
Sharon decides to keep the baby; Rob flies back across the ocean. They commit to raising the child together, he moves in with her, and the two near-strangers embark on the sometimes thrilling, sometimes awkward process of actually getting to know each other.
The writing is exuberantly dark, like the deadpan, vulgar grandchild of a Preston Sturges movie. When Rob proposes marriage in the second episode, something that I don't want to spoil — something truly, wonderfully disgusting — happens to the ring first. On Catastrophe, what passes for a grand, romantic gesture is Rob asking Sharon, "Can you, for a second, accept the fact that I like you and want to be with you, you fucking idiot?" And honestly, in context, it is romantic.
These two characters really, genuinely like each other, and their chemistry — which emerges from a foundation of acerbic banter, gleeful horniness, brutal honesty, and unconditional support — is a lovely thing to behold.
The first season consists of six episodes, each under 30 minutes. If binge-watching all 13-plus hours of Orange Is the New Black's ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ third season is a marathon, Catastrophe is a sprint.
Horgan was the co-writer and star of the BBC Three's absurdly good Pulling, a nihilistic Sex and the City about three single female friends living in London. Delaney is a stand-up comedian who rose to fame thanks to his incomparably hilarious and filthy Twitter account (that's also how he and Horgan first met). Together, they're even funnier than the sum of their parts, to the point that the supporting cast — particularly Rob's manic friend Dave (Daniel Lapaine) — can feel like an unwelcome distraction. That's true even of objectively delightful talents like Carrie Fisher as Rob's vicious mother, and Ashley Jenson, known for Extras and Ugly Betty, as Sharon's frenemy Fran.
Calling this series a "rom-com" feels diminishing, because the reason why it's so good is how unlike a traditional rom-com it is. Catastrophe consciously subverts the tropes of the genre, especially the bullshit obstacles contrived to keep star-crossed lovers apart. Instead of treacle, the show traffics in real problems. As they struggle with Sharon's medical issues, Rob's career, and generally not murdering each other, the couple's fear, pain, and shame at their own fear and pain have serious emotional heft.
The "no hugging, no learning" school of anti-sentimental television popularized by Larry David and the Seinfeld writers has taken us far, and is still practiced today by the repulsively lovable sociopaths of FX's It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. But the refreshingly fucked-up, grounded romance of Catastrophe — along with the toxic pair at the center of You're the Worst, also on FX — proves that black comedy and heart can not only coexist, but mutually enrich one another.
Molly Fitzpatrick is senior editor of Fusion's Pop & Culture section. Her interests include movies about movies, TV shows about TV shows, and movies about TV shows, but not so much TV shows about movies.