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Amazon comedy Catastrophe features one of TV’s most realistic depictions of alcoholism

The show tackles the stark reality of the disease with straightforward candor.

Chris (Mark Bonnar) helps Rob (Rob Delaney) face some facts

Spoilers follow for Catastrophe season three.

In its third season, Catastrophe lives up to its own name in a more urgent way than ever — and pulls off telling a deceptively tricky story while it’s at it.

Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney’s comedy has always told its love story between two aggressively pragmatic people with equal parts acid, passion, and reluctant sweetness. The show never shies away from the messiness that can unfold when two people try to meld their lives together, nor the complicated dual panic and joy of trying to start and commit to a family — especially after an accidental pregnancy like the one that kicked off Catastrophe.

Sharon and Rob (played by Horgan and Delaney) are flawed, almost painfully real people. They love each other enough to stick it out through the challenges of parenthood and put in the hard work of being a couple, all the while knowing everything could fall apart if one of them fucks things up just enough. (And to be fair, they’ve both come close.)

But in Catastrophe’s six-episode third season — which Amazon released in its entirety on April 28 — they face their toughest trial yet, even if Sharon doesn’t know it until the literal final minute of the finale. While she’s been dealing with her father’s deteriorating health, Rob — who introduced himself as an alcoholic the minute they met in a London bar in Catastrophe’s very first episode — has been drinking again.

His first messy relapse happened at the end of season two when he thought Sharon was cheating on him (it’s complicated), but his drinking in season three isn’t about Rob having splashy drunken breakdowns. Instead, Rob just keeps sliding into random benders, having five too many happy hour beers and veering into dark bars on the way home like he can’t help himself — which, of course, he can’t.

Alcoholic characters aren’t exactly new on TV or otherwise. The way Catastrophe deals with Rob, however, is much smarter — not to mention more realistic — than most.

It’s rare to see alcoholic characters endure the daily grind of struggling with alcoholism like Catastrophe’s Rob

Terrified to tell Sharon the truth, Rob keeps masking his beer breath and dismissing his bloating body as just another shitty byproduct of getting older. But he can’t hide it from everyone. Two of season three’s most memorable scenes are the ones in which his best friend Chris and his mother Mia (the late Carrie Fisher, predictably wonderful in the last role she filmed before she died) find out what’s happening and respond with empathy, but also some startling real talk.

“You never could drink,” Mia tells Rob in the season finale, reminding him of his past. “Why is it going to be any different now?”

And just in case he hasn’t fully processed her message, she informs him that the reason she left Rob’s father was that he got drunk and punched her in the face. “If you ever hit Sharon, I’ll fucking kill you,” she seethes.

“I’m not going to hit her,” Rob insists, horrified.

“Oh, please,” Mia scoffs. “Your being drunk and her being annoying as she is? You’re gonna hit her.”

Carrie Fisher as Rob’s mom, Mia.

Not only is this is interaction the exact combination of wry and vaguely cruel that Catastrophe’s comedy thrives on, it’s an incredibly stark acknowledgement of how terrifying alcoholism is, for both the person suffering through it and the people surrounding them.

There’s no doubt that Catastrophe’s ability to talk about alcoholism in a way that actually makes sense stems from Delaney himself, a recovering alcoholic who knows exactly what it’s like to free fall. (And not for nothing, it’s particularly fitting to have Fisher, who famously struggled with addiction herself, be the one to present Rob with that final harsh dose of truth.) In fact, the moment when Delaney committed himself to getting sober looks like it’ll also be Rob’s, since — spoiler alert — the season finale ends on a cliffhanger, with Rob getting into a drunken car accident just like Delaney once did.

Though many a cartoonish TV drunk has suggested otherwise, the stark reality of alcoholism is far from a series of booze-soaked disasters, which makes it deceptively hard to depict. As with depression, the crushing everyday reality of the disease is much more mundane than the sporadically explosive moments that tend to keep people’s attention. It’s a constant, grueling struggle to keep from going over the brink and smashing yourself to pieces. Catastrophe not only understands that better than most, but true to form, puts in the work to keep from fucking things up.

Catastrophe’s first three seasons are currently available to stream on Amazon Prime.

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