There had to come a point, surely, where we finally reached Peak Shondaland. The recently launched The Family came very close, but its compelling subplot regarding a sex offender (played by 80s golden boy Andrew McCarthy) who was wrongly imprisoned for the disappearance of a young boy has grounded it in a surprising way. So instead we broach the problem fully with The Catch, which came into the midseason premiere schedule with some behind-the-scenes drama of its own, including casting changes, creative differences, and more.
The Catch’s pilot — the only episode available for review — doesn’t bear any evidence of that strife, but it also doesn’t solidify itself as must-see TV. The series was created by Jennifer Schuur (who left after the aforementioned creative differences), and was then developed by Allan Heinburg, all under the executive producing banner of Shonda Rhimes. And true to form, The Catch is glossy, fast-paced, prone to flashbacks, and preoccupied with sex. It’s poised on ABC’s schedule to take over from How to Get Away with Murder, but these days, is that really a mantel to strive for?
The series stars Mireille Enos (in a 180 from her characters in The Killing and Big Love) as Alice Vaughan, a private investigator who runs some kind of large, nebulous security firm in L.A. with her business partner Valerie Anderson (Rose Rollins). They’ve been facing a threat to their clients in the form of a mysterious Mr. X type, and after a tense pursuit of a handoff from of their disgruntled employees to X, he has slipped through their grasp once again. When Alice returns home, we see what she hasn’t been able to: that her fiancé (Peter Krause) is in fact the mysterious X.
In typical Shondaland fashion, these reveals are dispensed of quickly and before one can give them too much thought. Krause’s Ben (alias: Christopher Hall) has been playing a long-con on Alice, and now it’s time for him to pack up and take off. As Alice puts together the pieces to realize, finally, the connection, The Catch takes on a kind of “hell hath no fury” vibe, as Alice hunts after her former lover, who still seems to actually be in love with her.
So it goes. While the specifics of how this cat-and-mouse game might play out have barely been set up in the pilot, the generalities feel like well-trod territory. Filling out Alice and Valerie’s firm is a multilingual-lawyer-hacker type (yes, that’s just one character) and a handsome young man who is probably going to end up romantically entangled with several of his co-workers. Sure. Yawn.
If that was all The Catch had to offer, it would feel like one of those breezy USA popcorn series (pre-Mr. Robot, anyway), but one that features a largely diverse and female cast, which is in its favor. But in The Catch’s pilot, there’s something more insidious at work. Ben’s con on Alice, and the way it plays out (playing on her vulnerability, putting a point on her age, allowing her desire for him blind her instincts as an investigator) feels even more retro than the show’s 70s-style heist sequences. Near the end of the pilot, a male FBI agent arrives on the scene to help Alice fill in the blanks on the case, but she turns him away, ashamed of how Ben played her. And yet, this FBI agent seemingly comes to the rescue again in the end to help Alice figure everything out. You don’t cast Enos in a series and then let her get moved around like a pawn in somebody else’s game, show.
And that’s the biggest problem with The Catch so far. Granted, pilots are pilots are pilots, and there are plenty of ways for the show to grow, change, and become something different (and better) as it continues. The show’s cast is great, and they work hard to elevate subpar material. But whether the series can catch viewers with what has become an overused formula (and one that — as has happened with Grey’s Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder — can flame out very quickly) remains to be seen.
Rating: ★★ Fair — Only for the Shonda Serious
The Catch premieres Thursday, March 24th at 10 p.m. on ABC.