Wednesday 13 December 2017

Television: Sharon and Rob return to banter and bicker but can it really last?

That's gotta hurt: There are some biting one-liners between Sharon and Rob in Catastrophe, but can it last for another full season?
That's gotta hurt: There are some biting one-liners between Sharon and Rob in Catastrophe, but can it last for another full season?

John Boland

When Catastrophe first aired on Channel 4 in January 2015, it won immediate success as a bracingly rude and funny take on the consequences of casual relationships.

The set-up was simple. London-based Irish woman Sharon (Sharon Horgan) has a one-night stand with visiting American Rob (Rob Delaney), discovers she's pregnant and the two of them try to make a go of this unplanned and unwelcome development in their lives.

What made it so winning was not just the raunchily amusing script by Horgan and Delaney (Lena Dunham's Girls had already pioneered in-your-face sexual talk) but also the basic affection with which they regarded their characters' foibles as they struggled to keep their relationship together.

The second season, rushed through to capitalise on the first, was essentially more of the same, though with a slightly more rancid air as Sharon and Rob revealed less attractive aspects of their personalities, but it had a notable addition in the acerbic character of Rob's mother, played with panache by Carrie Fisher.

Fisher, who died just before the demise of her mother Debbie Reynolds last December, is also in the third season of Catastrophe, though she didn't feature in Tuesday night's opening episode, which found Sharon and Rob still in crisis mode about their relationship - Sharon having to confess to a suspicious Rob that she drunkenly fondled the penis of a young rock singer the previous night.

There were good moments here, especially a casualty ward scene where they continue their bickering while a nurse is attending to their injured son, and there were some biting one-liners, too; but already I'm beginning to wonder if enough isn't enough and if this by-now familiar relationship can sustain comic scrutiny for five more episodes. We'll know in a few weeks.

But at least it kept me riveted for two seasons, whereas You Me Her (Netflix), which started very brightly, began to lose me midway through its second episode.

The premise was arresting. The sexual relationship of suburban Portland couple Jack and Emma has gone dead, so Jack has a hotel-room encounter with student escort Izzy. They get on very well, yet even though no sex takes place he confesses all to Emma, who then recruits Izzy as her own escort. Sex does happen here (well, a footjob anyway) and soon all three are yearning for each other.

However, despite good playing from the principals, especially Priscilla Faia as Izzy, there's a somewhat listless air to this ménage-à-trois set-up, as if the makers were so pleased with their whimsical conceit that they forgot to give it a much-needed comic edge. You may think otherwise and, if so, you can binge-watch all 10 episodes.

Or you can strain your ears trying to decipher what's being muttered in SS-GB (BBC1). Irate viewers complained about this after last week's first episode, but audibility has remained an issue - not least regarding lead actor Sam Riley, whose laryngitic delivery is that of the ultimate hoarse whisperer. Indeed, there were scenes this week between himself and the sultry American journalist played by Kate Bosworth where I hadn't a clue what they were saying.

Based on Len Deighton's 1978 novel about a Nazi takeover of Britain, the series is atmospherically striking, and there's fine playing by such veteran character actors as James Cosmo, Nicholas Farrell and Rainer Bock, but Lars Eidiner's flamboyant turn as sneering SS villain Dr Huth kept reminding me of Herr Flick in 'Allo 'Allo: Vee haf ways of making you talk...

I think I'll stick with the sixth season of Homeland (RTÉ2/Channel 4), even though Quinn has become increasingly deranged with every episode and is frankly turning into a bit of a pain.

But Carrie's in fine form, alternating between bewilderment and outrage as events become ever more sinister, while reluctant FBI ally Ray featured in this week's best scene - the infiltration of a secret organisation that had echoes of the creepy corporation which undercover reporter Warren Beatty joined in Alan Pakula's disturbing 1974 political thriller The Parallax View.

That didn't end well for Warren, as it didn't this week for the unfortunate Ray - though at least Ray was spared the indignity of opening the wrong Best Picture envelope at this week's Academy Awards fiasco.

Also creepy in this week's Homeland was the house arrest of president-elect Elizabeth after a supposed terrorist attack in Manhattan. Was the liberal Elizabeth being trumped by the right-wing outgoing president? Certainly she thought so, declaring afterwards, "We don't need a police state in this country to fight terrorism". Who could she be talking about?

If you're a successful career woman, don't get pregnant. That seems to be the message behind the three-part BBC1 drama The Replacement, in which Glasgow architect Ellen (Morven Christie) takes maternity leave and is substituted by personable Vicky, who may or may not have ulterior designs not just on her job but on her life as well.

Think Jennifer Jason Leigh in Single White Female. Or maybe Vicky's as nice as she seems and it's all in Ellen's fevered imaginings, but I wouldn't bet on it.

Irish Rugby: Four Days in November (RTÉ2) looked at last winter's games against New Zealand, Canada and Australia and featured interviews with some of the players, especially newcomers Joey Carbery, Ultan Dillane, Garry Ringrose and Tadhg Furlong.

Alan Gilsenan's film was engrossing for fans such as myself, though it amounted to nothing more than the chronicling of four matches.

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