‘Sharon And Rob Are Still Idiots At Times’ – Sharon Horgan On What We Can Expect From The Final Season Of Catastrophe

TV's Queen of comedy talks about loving and leaving behind her hit series Catastrophe

Sharon Horgan

by Hattie Crisell |
Updated on

‘Weirdly, I don’t think it’s going to hit me for a while that it’s over,’ Sharon Horgan says. ‘This thing that we spent such a huge chunk of every year doing, for the last five years.’ She pauses, then adds, ‘I’m sure it will hit me when I’m sitting on the toilet on a plane.’ It’s a fittingly Horgan-esque take on a poignant situation.

Catastrophe – that thing Horgan has been working on with co-writer and co-star Rob Delaney all these years – is now in its fourth and final series on Channel 4. Much-loved and critically acclaimed not only in the UK but also the States (The New York Times called it ‘sweet and filthy’), the show, which launched in 2015, focuses on the lives of ‘Rob’ and ‘Sharon’, a fictional couple who negotiate their way from accidental pregnancy through ailing parents to a secret drink problem and beyond.

It’s a sitcom that portrays real love rather than the usual TV version; jokes can be mean, and sex (even between two good-looking actors with great chemistry) can be unsexy. A scene in the new series shows Sharon insisting that they do it from behind, as she can’t get into it when looking at Rob in his post-car-accident neck brace. There are moments that could make you cry, but just as many that puncture the emotion with a laugh.

Is it hard to walk that line? ‘Yes!’ says Horgan. ‘It really is, because we do want to talk about stuff that’s tricky – we feel it’s our responsibility now, because people have responded in such an amazing way to those storylines that discuss the real-life shit that happens to all of us. But at the same time, it’s not a documentary and it’s not a hard-hitting drama, and we also feel this enormous responsibility to make it funny. I’m lucky that I write with one of the funniest men on the planet, so it’s less hard because of that.’

Rob and Sharon, Catastrophe

However difficult Sharon and Rob’s lives may have been over the four series, the show’s plots pale in comparison to what Delaney has been through in real life. Aged nine months, his son Henry was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumour. He died a year ago, aged two and a half. In a Sunday Times interview earlier this month, Delaney said that the bereavement has left him ‘barely surviving’, but he has continued to go to work. ‘[Grief] has introduced a new mood or feeling I never knew before, and is profound,’ he said. ‘But jokes are still funny, things that piss me off can still make me angry, sad can be sad, exciting can be exciting.’

Horgan, who wrote this final series with him in the aftermath of Henry’s death, doesn’t comment on it. ‘For me to talk about it from my perspective... My perspective doesn’t matter,’ she says. But she is full of admiration for Delaney. ‘He is an incredible, strong, wonderful person... I feel really lucky that I met him – I mean, genuinely, incredibly lucky. And he brought something out of me as a writer that I’ll always thank him for. I think we have a very easy time writing together; for some reason, it was never really a struggle.’

Look at Horgan’s CV and you’ll see more soaring successes than struggles. In addition to Catastrophe, she’s written the BBC’s Pulling and Motherland, and HBO’s Divorce, which stars Sarah Jessica Parker. In a few years she’s gone from being a respected part of the British comedy world to, arguably, its reigning queen.‘ It’s lovely when people respond well to your stuff – it’s the greatest feeling ever,’ she says. ‘But you definitely do feel pressure. Sometimes I think, “Oh, I’d love to put that out anonymously.” But it keeps you on your toes as well and that’s a good thing. It never feels like there’s a sense of phoning it in, because I just wouldn’t get away with that.’

Several of Horgan’s projects have circled around romantic life – dating and casual sex (Pulling), love (Catastrophe), and the dismantling of a marriage (Divorce). The 48-year-old has been married to the property developer Jeremy Rainbird since 2005, and they have two children. Has all of that reflection on relationships made her better at her own? ‘I think what it does do is make you realise how much easier it is to write about something than to actually do it, you know?’ she says. ‘I mean, all sorts of great wisdom comes out of us when we’re writing Rob and Sharon. It’s like giving advice to a friend – it’s so easy to have perspective on someone else’s situation.We’re the puppet-masters of those characters’ relationships and it’s much harder to do that with your own.’

Sarah Jessica Parker, Sharon Horgan

For the characters you’ve grown attached to in Catastrophe, what you can expect in this final season is a respectful send-off. ‘Not just for Rob and Sharon, but with the other characters we wanted to make sure that we paid homage to their stories, that we didn’t gloss over things,’ she says. ‘It was hard because we wanted to find different ways of ending their stories – some optimistic, some really tricky and difficult. But with Rob and Sharon, they’ve had two kids, and their lives have changed beyond recognition, and so they’re not the same people that they were at the start. But they’re still idiots at times. Even when you’re feeling at your most grown-up, something ridiculous that you think is very teenage behaviour happens, and you surprise yourself.’

If there’s one calling card of Horgan’s work, it’s that it’s always observed with painful accuracy. She is forever listening out for anecdotes she can use, she confirms, although it gets a bit tiring. ‘I definitely said to myself, this year I have to step back a bit. I mean, I would love just to hear one story from a friend without filing it in the back of my brain and sneaking off to write it down.’

'Catastrophe’ is on Tuesdays, 10pm, Channel 4.

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