Sharon Horgan is speaking in a hushed voice. “I need to be a little bit quiet, because they’re filming downstairs,” she breathes into the phone. Channel 4, the British public TV broadcaster that has helped cultivate Horgan’s acting, writing, and producing talents, is in the process of shooting a new pilot of hers. “So I’m not my usual exuberant self,” she says.
Her wit and innate warmth come through anyway. The English-born, Irish-bred multihyphenate has brought her charming sense of humor to a growing list of series that includes “Pulling,” “The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret,” and “Dead Boss,” and she’s currently writing and executive producing the upcoming HBO series “Divorce,” starring Sarah Jessica Parker. It’s “Catastrophe,” though, that has captured the hearts of viewers and critics across the pond; the Channel 4 show launched Horgan and Rob Delaney, her co-creator and co-star, into the upper echelons of streaming comedy when it first premiered on Amazon Prime in 2015.
The unconventional genesis of the show—Horgan and Delaney initially met via Twitter, and tossed around project ideas for years—is a testament to one of Horgan’s greatest skills: finding artistic soulmates. “We started talking because we felt like we had things to say,” she explains. “We’re both married and both have kids; we thought it made sense to go down that route with relationships, but thought we should embrace him being American and me being an Irish woman.” Before long they had created Sharon Morris and Rob Norris, two single adults whose passionate one-weekend stand results in a rapid-fire series of life events usually spaced out over years: pregnancy, meeting friends and family, building a home life, and marriage.
What makes the series so immediately accessible is the rapport between characters Sharon and Rob; swapping jokes and getting to know each other’s cynical worldviews, they manage to infuse the most scathing remarks with true affection. Horgan and Delaney began the process of sharpening their characters’ dialogue by having real-life discussions with each other and then simply transcribing them. “Our writing style is very conversation-based,” she says. “Obviously everything else—structure, character, tone, all that—is important. But the way we write is to sort of sit down and talk.”
The topics of those initial conversations provided the series’ comedic fodder. “We would talk about difficulties that have sprung up in both our relationships and families and see how we can turn those into situations that you can wrap a sitcom episode around,” says Horgan. “It was an easy writing process, one of the easiest things I’ve done, for that reason.” When you’re as shrewd and naturally funny as Horgan and Delaney, perhaps situational comedy writes itself.
Despite the series’ spontaneous performances (supporting actors include Ashley Jensen, Mark Bonnar, and Carrie Fisher), there is no room for improvisation on set; every word, exchange, and pause is “tightly scripted,” according to Horgan. “We hone it and over-rehearse it and read it aloud. The reason it sounds improvised is we keep rewriting and rereading until it sounds as much like conversation as possible.”
The show’s sophomore season, which arrives April 8, is “more along the lines of what we thought Season 1 would be,” she says. The difficulties associated with what Horgan calls “the geriatric pregnancy” ended up dominating the first set of six episodes more than expected. “We really wanted to get into the stuff we set out to talk about, which is trying to cope and keep your relationship on track when you’ve got children.” After Sharon went into labor in the Season 1 finale, the focus shifts to “work issues, having to make money to support a family, making choices that are not your first choice but are the only choice you can make—we wanted to heave all those impactful situations on top of Rob and Sharon’s relationship,” says Horgan.
And don’t forget the romance. “We weren’t prepared for the response people had to the romantic side of the comedy,” she adds. “We were, like, ‘Shit!’ We had to find ways to trickle in their love. That was a good thing to keep in our minds.”
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