Catastrophe might be a comedy, but the Amazon import tackles some very serious topics in its third season: cheating, a parent's illness, alcoholism relapse. But that just means creators Sharon Horgan and Rob Delaney worked even harder to make sure the heavy moments were balanced out with plenty of humor.
"We're so overly paranoid about it being funny," Horgan tells The Hollywood Reporter ahead of Friday's season premiere. "It's an obsession, almost more than story, we're so desperate for laughs. We're very needy like that," she joked.
But the Irish writer and actress (who, along with Delaney, created, writes and stars in the series) doesn't think the third season is significantly darker than any of the seasons before.
"It's heavily loaded in the last episode and a half, and I think that's what stays with people," she says. "Whereas in season one and season two, when I sort of think back on it, I think we dealt with heavy issues all the way, but they were spaced out."
Plus, she and Delaney had used the second season to introduce a whole host of obstacles for their characters: Irish schoolteacher Sharon and American adman Rob, now married with two kids after their weeklong London tryst resulted in pregnancy.
"In season two, we set up a load of stuff that we had to pay off," says Horgan. "We set up that my dad was ill, and with that kind of an issue, it's only ever going to get worse, and we set up that Rob falls off the wagon and also that he loses his job. So we had to deal with all those things, rather than just pretend they didn't exist. We knew it was overall going to have a weightier feel to it, in terms of the stuff we were talking about, but it really did make us work even harder to try and find the gags and the jokes and the stupid moments in and around them."
That went double for the season finale. "The last episode is slightly heavier," says Horgan, "but I hope there's still enough funny in there for it to feel like you can laugh one minute, cry the next kind of thing, rather than just a miserable overall 'life is hard' kind of feeling."
Of course, that doesn't mean every episode needs to be packed with jokes. "We usually know what we're going to build towards, and it's usually a cliff-hanger of sorts, and yes, beyond that it is really spending a lot of time thinking about what we can find funny within even the most messed-up, saddest moments. But we always allow ourselves little scenes here and there where we don't feel like we have to find the gag, and I think that's OK. I think when they're sort of scattered here and there, we let ourselves off the hook."
Humor is a coping mechanism for many people, especially the main characters. "Their relationship is based on their gallows humor. So it makes sense that that's how they deal with things, but also in real life even the most terrible and tragic situations, usually someone messes up and says the wrong thing that's by accident funny, or silly real-life human error creeps in, and it's funny for the wrong reasons and the right reasons. When something is pure, pure drama, I don't know - I don't know if life is like that. I don't know if life is ever just pure, pure drama."
The first issue Sharon and Rob will tackle in season three is the fact that, after a bender with her childhood BFF, Sharon hooked up with a young musician (while Rob relapsed on a bender of his own). The extent of the hookup, however, is still unknown, so Sharon will have to piece together exactly what happened that night before she comes clean.
"We tried to place ourselves in the characters' shoes and think what they would do, rather than what we would do, and it seemed to us to be, once we'd figured that out, a good feature for the series as a whole - which is that when you're in a marriage, long-term relationship or have kids, terrible things happen, and you suck them up. You just deal with them," says Horgan. "You're probably going to be awful to each other for a while, it'll rear its ugly head at various points along the relationship, but really you suck it up, and you move on. We thought that that's the point that they've got to, that they know terrible things will happen, but they are going to stay together."
Season three, like the ones before it, also ends in a cliff-hanger. (The show has already been renewed for a fourth installment.) The end also features emotional scenes between Carrie Fisher, who played Rob's mother, Mia, and Delaney, which the actress finished filming shortly before her death in December. Horgan says that she and Delaney haven't even begun to think about how they'll address Fisher's death in the series.
"It was such a shock to lose her and so unexpected and so awful, that all we had was her performance in episode six to think about and spending time working on that and finding the best way to showcase what we thought was a really beautiful and funny and heartfelt performance from her," she says. "So, that's what we concentrated on: making that episode a dedication to her, I guess, and beyond that, no, because it's hard watching her onscreen so alive and yet no longer with us."
Catastrophe season three premieres Friday on Amazon.