Catastrophe — the terrific comedy now in its third season on Amazon Prime — had just completed filming when Carrie Fisher died this past December at the age of 60. This means her appearance, in the season’s final episode, is one of the last opportunities to see Fisher’s craft on full display. In terms of time onscreen, it’s not a huge role, but in terms of the humanity, humor, and vigor onscreen, it’s nothing less than a treasure trove.
Catastrophe is about an American, Rob (Rob Delaney), married to an Irish woman, Sharon (Sharon Horgan); they live in England. Fisher played Mia, Rob’s prickly, garrulous mother. In previous seasons, it was established how blunt and chatty Mia is, and anyone who’s ever seen Carrie Fisher in an interview setting — which I assume includes almost every citizen of these United States — would know that Mia’s persona is not that far removed from Fisher’s. Which is not to say that Fisher was merely “playing herself,” or that what she did on Catastrophe was easy. Quite the opposite: She used aspects of herself to inform and fill out the lines that Delaney and Horgan — who write every episode of this show they co-created — gave her.
In the final episode, there’s a moment when Rob, a recovering alcoholic, confesses to Mia that he has started drinking again, saying, “I need help.” Fisher has Mia fix her son with a baleful stare, and then she slaps his shoulder and says through gritted teeth, “F***ing drinking again? You can’t drink!” She tells him a story about his childhood that I will not spoil here, other than to say it allows the scene to connect up with the real-life battles the sober Fisher conducted with her own alcoholic and drug-related demons. Fisher has Mia pull out an old Alcoholics Anonymous phrase when she tells Rob firmly, “You better put the plug in the jug, mister.” It’s tough love as only Fisher could offer it.
Later in the episode, there’s a scene of Mia watching TV as Sharon tries to ignore her babble. Mia is yakking about watching her favorite reality show, called My Children Are Schizophrenic. The thing is, it’s great babble: The scene has an improvisational feel to it — you begin to think Fisher is winging it, gloriously. When she concludes by saying, “It’s great TV,” you come away thinking that’s exactly what you just watched.
Horgan said in a recent interview that Fisher had a “renewed excitement” about her acting career and “had massive plans to do more of that.” I think it’s entirely likely that after seeing her in this season’s Catastrophe, one network or another might have offered Fisher her own show; it would have been the next act of her tremendous career. It’s terrible that such a thing will never happen now, but it’s great that Fisher was able to give us one last superb performance with which to remember her.
Catastrophe is streaming now on Amazon Prime.
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