It has taken a while, but my wife and I have now finally got to the stage where we are able to put our son to bed and then head downstairs to wolf down dinner, collapse on the sofa and catch up on the TV series that everyone without kids was talking about 18-36 months ago. We’ve been through Veep, Breaking Bad, the last three series of Take Me Out (don’t even think about judging us) and Narcos, and now we’re tucking into Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan’s excellent sitcom Catastrophe.
If you’ve yet to get with this Channel 4 programme, start downloading it the second you finish this article. If you’re already all over it, then you’ll know why it has won so many awards. It’s because it’s funny. It’s well written. It’s well acted. And, although it has the odd random sub-plot, for the most part it’s very, very realistic, especially when it comes to the pressures of trying to maintain a good job and happy marriage while bringing up a family in 21st Century Britain.
What’s that? You want examples. Fine, I’ll give you examples. No, seriously, I will. Here are half a dozen occasions when Catastrophe nailed the reality of modern parenting.
1. The labour scene
I’m not saying that a lot of films and TV programmes portray a diluted and overly romanticised view of the birthing process. But if any soon-to-be mums or dads want a real insight into the panting, sweating, swearing, pleading, puking and pooing that goes on during labour they should check out the opening episode of Catastrophe’s second series.
2. The bum in the air
If you think all babies sleep on their sides or backs, think again. Each night, our little man runs through a variety of weird and wonderful positions, including ‘the bum in the air’, where he plants his head at the top of the cot and burrows his knees up until his backside is a significant distance from the mattress. Why am I telling you this? I’m telling you this because, early in series two, Sharon and Rob have the following exchange.
“Did you check in on Frankie, is his little bum still up in the air?” asks Sharon.
“Way up there, I gave it a little polish,” replies Rob.
“God, his little bum is too much,” responds Sharon. “Even his penis is cute. Oh, his little penis.”
Take away the penis chat and the polish joke and my wife and I have this conversation about 10 times a month. Freaky, huh?
3. The ‘romantic’ trip to Paris
Midway through series two, Rob and Sharon attempt to recharge their love batteries with a trip to Paris. In theory, it’s a one-way ticket to some baby-free, bedroom-based debauchery. In reality, the getaway quickly turns into a car crash of tiredness, frustration, lactation and long-held bitterness about something or other. But wait. Could there be some light at the end of the tunnel? Yes, there is. On the final afternoon, the storm clouds are replaced by a sunny cocktail of smiles, “remember when we did this” stories and ‘you’re actually alright, you are’ hugs. All of which leaves them just enough time to have a quickie before picking up the kids. Now, I’m far too much of a gentleman to tell you whether or not this emotional arc is reminiscent of the date nights and weekend breaks my wife and I have been on since the bubster entered the building. So all I’ll say is: What the? It’s like someone scripted my life and put it on the telly.
4. The jealousy of other people’s lives
I’ve already written about being envious of my single mates, but in truth my jealousy extends to anyone with the freedom to wake up in the morning and do something other than follow the baby’s ‘routine’. Catastrophe‘s writers capture this feeling perfectly when, early in season three, Sharon reveals she’s “a little bit jealous” of her brother’s proposed move to Spain. Does she want to live there? Not really. Can she speak Spanish? Not at all. Could she get a job there? No way. But that’s not the point. The point is that, like a lot of new parents, she feels trapped and can’t help but dream of a way out.
5. The nicknames
How do you tell one pleasant and smiley Bugaboo-wielding parent from another? You could attempt to learn everyone’s names, but what’s the point in doing that when you can come up with a memorable moniker like “stern blonde in the Range Rover”, “big glasses, yellow jacket”, “Ugg boots and an ugly dog” or, in Sharon’s case, “cross-eyed Christian mum”?
6. The pram smile
Boy the first few weeks of parenting were an unrelenting slog of giving a lot and getting nothing in return. Combine this with the sleepless nights and regular milk regurgitation and I began to wonder what we’d got ourselves into. Then, about three months in, our son grinned and made a kind of contented sound while we were pushing him around in his pram. In retrospect, this might have been due to wind, but at the time we didn’t care. We were so happy with this interactive breakthrough that we came home and cracked open a celebratory bottle of Pinot Grigio. In Catastrophe, Sharon does almost exactly the same when she bonds with her daughter for the first time. Why only almost exactly the same? Because in the show she pops open some Champagne. Show off.