Why This Weekend’s Real Must-See Series Is Not True Detective

Catastrophe is the premiere truly worth watching

Headshot of Jason Lynch

After 15 months and thousands of memes, True Detective Season 2 finally premieres on Sunday. It would be nearly impossible for any show to live up to that level of hype and anticipation—and True Detective doesn't, at least not in the new season's early going.

Instead, in true David vs. Goliath fashion, the weekend's must-see TV premiere isn't True Detective at all—it's Catastrophe, a marvelous British romantic comedy that debuts on Amazon Prime starting today. You've probably heard very little about the show, which is arriving with little fanfare—though Amazon did offer the first episode on Facebook for 48 hours earlier this week—and that is a shame because unaware viewers will be missing out on Amazon's best series since Transparent.

Written by and starring Rob Delaney (whom you should follow on Twitter immediately) and Sharon Horgan, Catastrophe is about American ad man, Rob (Delaney), who has a one-week stand with an Irish schoolteacher, Sharon (Horgan), during a London business trip. When Sharon discovers she is pregnant, Rob decides to move to London so the couple can give a relationship a try and he can be the father he never had. 

While so many shows—including True Detective and most of this fall's new series—are saddled with elaborate, overcomplicated setups and backstories, sometimes simpler is better. And Catastrophe's arc is as simple as they come: Can Rob and Sharon make things work as parents and partners?

Not only is Catastrophe incredibly funny, but it's the rare show in which the characters act and talk like real people would in similar situations. While most pregnancy-themed series and movies focus on tropes like ultrasound visits and food cravings, Catastrophe instead finds comedy (and drama) in everything else parents-to-be grapple with: conflicting hormones, picking the child's godparents and the perils of a "geriatric pregnancy." (Sharon is 41.)

In movies, the romantic comedy genre has devolved into nothing but meet-cutes, pratfalls, contrived fights and the pursuit of "having it all." But Catastrophe—like last summer's brilliant You're the Worst, which is also funny yet filthy and involves an unconventional couple obviously perfect for one another—proves that stories about people falling in love can offer so much more. 

The series, which first aired on the U.K.'s Channel 4, also makes a strong argument for Amazon rethinking its usual bake-off strategy in which the company puts all of its pilots online and allows Amazon customers to vote on the ones they like the best. The company takes that feedback into consideration when deciding which pilots to pick up.

Yet while that process has yielded one great show (Transparent) and a few other solid ones (Bosch and Mozart in the Jungle), it might not be the best process for a tiny show like Catastrophe, which Amazon acquired after its U.K. success. (Woody Allen's Amazon series, if it ever actually comes to fruition, will also bypass the pilot process.) Some shows are worth taking a leap of faith on no matter what their pilot scores might be.

Best of all, with just six episodes, you can binge-watch the entire season of Catastrophe in just two and a half hours and then immediately start pining for Season 2.

At the opposite end of the hype spectrum, True Detective arrives for its second season that isn't able to disguise the Carcosa-sized elephant in the room—the glaring absence of last year's three MVPs: stars Matthew McConaughey and Woody Harrelson, and Cary Fukunaga, who directed the entire first season. Together, the trio helped turn the buddy-detective genre on its head; without them, the show seems right-side-up again. 

Had there never been a Season 1, this year's take—which stars Colin Farrell as a corrupt detective, Vince Vaughn as a career criminal trying to get legit, Rachel McAdams as a hard-nosed detective and Taylor Kitsch as a war vet turned highway patrol officer—might seem less conventional. While Nic Pizzolatto, who is back, still weaves a compelling tale, and Farrell and McAdams have their moments, none of the characters is remotely as riveting as McConaughey's Rust Cohle. 

Granted, there is still plenty of time for the season to rebound and prove itself worthy of the True Detective moniker. But until that happens, stick with this weekend's sure thing, Catastrophe, which is anything but.

@jasonlynch jason.lynch@adweek.com Jason Lynch is TV Editor at Adweek, overseeing trends, technology, personalities and programming across broadcast, cable and streaming video.