One episode was provided prior to broadcast.
Shonda Rhimes’ glitzy Shondaland production company is slowly taking over ABC, and the network probably couldn’t be happier. After deciding to wedge three of its killer appointment television juggernauts into one night and slap on a hashtag, the producer has yet to allow a new series admission into the twisted theme park (besides a “special preview” for The Family, but that hardly counts). As it stands, Shondaland is currently guarded over by the mile-high drop of Scandal, a somewhat amusing, always disorienting house of mirrors in How To Get Away With Murder, and the repetitive merry-go-round everyone’s getting a little sick of, also known as Grey’s Anatomy.
Taking over for that aforementioned house of mirrors in its down-season is The Catch, a show that Rhimes herself didn’t create (which is apt, she also didn’t create HTGAWM; Peter Nowalk did), but for which she serves as the usual executive producer. Creation duties here go to Helen Gregory and Jennifer Shuur (the latter actually left the show due to creative differences a few months ago, replaced by Allan Heinberg), though there is an undeniable air of familiarity when Rhimes’ shtick comes into full force. But for the most part, the writers brilliantly craft a series that excites and enthralls – even when it’s essentially cribbing its best material from its classmates.
Continuing tradition, The Catch focuses on a badass woman in specified field, this time the world of privately owned private investigation firms. Alice Vaughan (Mireille Enos) is the best agent for one such organization, run by Valerie Anderson (Rose Rollins) and where newbie Sophie (Elvy Yost) and jaded vet-of-the-industry Danny (Jay Hayden) round out Alice’s crack team. Just to make sure you’re keeping up, some stiff pilot-y lines wrap everything up in a nice bow: “We are private investigators,” Alice explains early on. “Clients only come here when the cops won’t help them.” The show’s trippy opening sequence provides all the backstory information we need – and even sets up a nifty recurring call-back gag – so it’s disappointing when the writers let the trappings of a pilot get the better of them.
Despite that, Yost and Hayden are the source of The Catch‘s most awkward stumbling out of the gates. They’re just far too similar to the exact same archetypes both Scandal and How To Get Away With Murder introduced in their respective pilots. Sophie is the Quinn/Wes who stumbles into a world they weren’t expecting but boasts – surprise, surprise – a mysterious background that has them totally prepared for. Danny is the Harrison/Frank who’s been around the block a few times and serves as the lead’s platonic right-hand-man. Hayden and Yost do their duties respectively, but in the emerging genre that is Shonda Rhimes, these particular dynamics are getting old.
Thankfully, the central thrust of The Catch is something largely novel: Alice discovers early on in the pilot that her supposedly loving fiancé (Peter Krause) is actually a devious interloper who’s been siphoning money out of the accounts of her clients for over a year. His final target? Alice, of course, and a hefty $1.4 million deposit for a spacious piece of Los Angeles real estate the two were meant to share in marital bliss.
The delivery of the pilot’s twist is blunt and over-simplified, but it fits into the brain-off functionality of TGIT. ABC didn’t help matters with the show’s over-revealing advertisements, but nonetheless some secondary reveals occur far too late in the game to shock. In this kind of show, there’s a weird moment of “um… duh” when a character – who gets paid for this sort of thing – has an epiphany ten minutes after you figured it out. That generates another unfortunate recurring theme of nascent Rhimes shows: there’s just not much depth yet. Emotions are high but underpinned by production company’s showy facade (especially an egregious musical score) and the series’ glitzy set dressings in a way that ultimately makes them feel vacuous. You’ll care about its characters but, at this point in the game, The Catch is only skimming the surface of its potential.
And yet it’s a minor feat of subtle nuance when The Catch builds up an entire premise set around the obfuscation of its central character without ever for a second characterizing her as someone inferior or slow-witted. On the contrary, Enos’ Alice is everything you come to expect from a Shondaland female lead: an always-on, uncompromising, alluring personality who ratchets up endearing qualities in spite of (or because of?) a deluge of questionable decisions. Coming off the divisive AMC crime drama The Killing, she’s also essentially unrecognizable. Enos sheds the world-weary skin of Detective Linden (and Seattle’s dreariness) to embody a new inner complexity: instead of seeking the truth for the betterment of someone else, she’s doing it for her own personal chance at justice. She’s a miracle of utter watchability either way.
Despite one or two predictable turns, The Catch doesn’t stop messing with you until the dizzy ending. Krause’s Benjamin Jones is no mustache-twirling villain with a diabolical goal seeking the destruction of Alice’s agency; he might not even be fully willing to see the job through to the end. But, as these things go, once they get started, Alice and Ben kick off a chain of back-stabbing treachery that makes it hard for one side to live a day in the other’s shoes. An alumnus of the amiable, frustrating, reliably devastating Parenthood, Krause matches Enos in terms of sheer entertainment value and the added joy of watching an actor shed a well-known past role. Here, in one slick, sleight-of-hand scene that transitions from a broad daylight ruse to the couple’s mundane home life, he morphs from awkward soccer dad to macho con artist without missing a step.
The pair crackle on screen, but The Catch doesn’t lose any momentum once the two are off plotting in their various corners. The long-term question for the 13-episode first season? How annoying will Alice’s just-missing Ben become the further we get into the weeds? Although only one episode was sent for review, it’s hard to mistake the vague outline of a structure for the show moving forward: Alice discovers a connection Ben has to some client intel, it leads to a glamorous party where he wants some odd, bordering-on-sci-fi tech, and he gets away. A show whose ultimate endgame is in its very title has a tricky line to walk in making the chase as satisfying as the catch, and that’s where Shondaland’s newest series has the biggest chance to stumble, more so than any before.
All the same, it’s hard to harshly judge the show for such minor criticisms when it’s this propulsive. The Catch is sort of Shondaland’s roller-coaster in that sense – it moves so fast, gearing up and careening down, shooting left and right, and its effusive energy makes it easy to forgive the familiarity of some of its themes. Traps are set, cons are carried out, plot is eaten up with gluttonous abandon, silly musical scores underpin obvious themes, and Shondaland keeps on spinning with fizzy clarity. Get your tickets now.
Shondaland's newest ride has all the twists and loops and stomach-churning drops required of the roller coaster milieu that is TGIT, with equivalent depth.