First off, 'likable' is one of the most subjective of criteria, but one that comes up a lot in the discussion of fictional characters. Subjectivity aside, the characters in romantic comedies, particularly those on television, generally conform to what mainstream society considers as 'likeable' individuals and certainly very likable as a couple. The normal tropes might call for them to argue or get involved in mix-ups, but both partners are often the most approachable and ‘likeable’ of the characters in the show.
Catastrophe is not a traditional romantic comedy. It is more “romantic” than “Romantic.” Throughout the first season, the relationship between Sharon (Sharon Horgan) and Rob (Rob Delaney) focuses on more than romance. Horgan and Delaney’s talent for honest and real dialogue come through in every scene. A dry and wicked sense of humor permeates the entire first season.
It is only after the surprise pregnancy brings Rob back to London that the characters even learn each other’s last names. They are Morris and Norris. Instead of laughing it off as cute--or too cute which it could be--the writers handle it in a perfect, adult, and absurdist way. Sharon says, simply, “Well, at least that’s fucking ridiculous.”
The likability factor does not increase when the universe expands out to the supporting cast. Rob’s friend Dave is a horrible American businessman with a taste for drugs and strippers, and not in a charming way, if that were a thing that is possible. Sharon for her part has a difficult brother and a bitter co-worker.
Perhaps the best of the rest is Sharon’s frenemy Fran, played by Ashley Jensen. Romantic comedies almost always deliver on that best gal-pal, the one who is loyal and supportive and models a stable relationship for the lead. That is not at all Fran. First, off Fran and Sharon are hardly friends, trading jabs and passive aggressive digs. Even so, they do rely on each other. Second, Fran isn’t likeable, either to Sharon or to her husband, but, even so, she shows up for Sharon and Rob when other people don’t.
So why create characters, in a romantic comedy, that aren’t traditionally likable? Because that is how relationships and people are in the real world. Catastrophe’s real approach to life and to humor is more than just sex jokes and culture clashes. Horgan and Delaney have worked hard to bring an authentic approach to a comedic set-up.