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The Catch comes at a perfect time for Shondaland. How To Get Away With Murder started dark and only got darker in its uneven but occasionally stellar second season. Grey’s Anatomy has been quite the downer all season, with one particular death leaving a sizable scar. And then there’s Scandal, which has buried so deeply into its increasingly confusing political machinations that it has become a distorted, muddied version of itself. Here comes The Catch, with its simple but thrilling premise, its bright red hues, its zippy energy, its magnetic cast. As the closer for the powerhouse TGIT lineup, The Catch provides a final act that’s considerably less dismal than the rest of Shondaland right now. As a side effect, it’s also considerably less potent.

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Given how heavily promoted the show has been, most viewers will probably know The Catch’s premise going into the pilot. Private investigator Alice (Mireille Enos) specializes in tracking down and stopping con artists, but she unknowingly falls in love with the enemy, a con man named Ben (Peter Krause) who vanishes in the days leading up to their wedding, stealing her firm’s client list as well as her life’s savings. Like Olivia Pope, Alice has a team of gladiators by her side: her partner Valerie (Rose Rollins), Danny (Jay Hayden), and former Anonymous hacker-lawyer Sophie (Elvy Yost). But Ben, too, has his own gladiators, a team of suave and menacing con artists: his lover Margot (Sonya Walger), who runs the operation, and Reggie (Alimi Ballard), whose talents seem to include just about everything a crime crew might require.

Even as it spends most of its time setting up the straightforward premise, the pilot never once feels tedious. The plot unfolds smoothly, though mostly according to expectations, dressed up with some flashy stylization that also makes me think of Scandal, though there are thankfully no annoying shutter sounds here. But again, predictable as it might be, The Catch excites, with Enos and Krause doing a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to the pilot’s success. Both give terrific performances, easily the best part of the show right now. Enos and Krause bring a hint of instability to their otherwise polished characters. Enos keeps Alice grounded while still conveying the immense psychological toll the betrayal brings her, and Krause gives Ben just the right amount of hesitation to make the character’s internal struggle discernible but not overwrought. A sudsy drama like The Catch usually doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for subtext, and yet both actors seem to be working with more than just what’s on the page.

That’s a very good thing, because as written, the relationship is built on flimsy foundation. As Alice explains how Ben managed to be the perfect con man, we flash back to little vignettes of the two in a supposedly perfect relationship. But those scenes are more mechanic than romantic, with Alice and Ben going through the motions of a relationship as if they’re, well, just going through the motions. They seem like a robotically perfect couple instead of the real deal, which would be fine if that was the point. But The Catch seems to be desperately clinging to the idea that these two are still romantically pulled to one another, that they could still come back to each other. If The Catch ends up being more of a love story than a revenge story, the show will crumble.

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Even though the flashbacks aren’t all that convincing, I found myself captivated by how captivated the characters are with each other once the truth comes out. That has a lot to do with the effortless chemistry between Enos and Krause, but it also reveals the little glimmers of complexity just under the surface of the story. At its base, the concept of a con artist catcher getting conned by the man she loves is extremely dumb. But The Catch isn’t really a cat-and-mouse tale—or rather, it plays with that device—with Alice and Ben each taking turns being the cat and the mouse as the story unfolds. The con man cons, but he gets conned, too. By the end of the pilot, the two are on equal ground, and that makes the game worth playing. Still, The Catch will have to bring some of those complexities to the surface to give the story stakes and make the premise sustainable.

Since I’ve already mentioned Scandal parallels twice, it seems safe to conclude that The Catch is most closely related to that particular Shondaland sister. Indeed, when Alice, Valerie, and their associates gather around to build their investigation case against Mr. X/Christopher Hall/Ben, it looks a lot like Olivia Pope and her gladiators gathering around to pool information about their latest problem that needs fixing. Only, instead of attaching photos and printouts to a dim, menacing slanted wall with windows that look out to nothing, the team here throws their information up on a dry-erase wall in colorful markers, their office shining with white walls and bright lights. The Catch is a much livelier rendition of Scandal’s format in its tone and aesthetics and doesn’t get bogged down by thorny, tangled plot developments (at least, not yet). The pilot spins an attractive web, albeit one where it’s pretty easy to see where all the threads go.

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When Alice comes bursting back into Ben’s life, her hair and lips and dress all looking perfect, Ben raises his glass of champagne. As Reggie later observes, he looked like he was about to ask her to dance. Reggie’s right. The moment oozes with over-the-top soapiness, as fizzy as that glass of champagne. I did think they were about to share a Mr. & Mrs. Smith-esque tango, as they do in one of the promos, and I wouldn’t have batted an eye if they had. There’s something very old-school spy movie about The Catch, which flaunts tech gadgets like a device that filters dirty salt water into drinkable water and a very sexy cast in perfectly tailored clothing. That makes it fun to watch, but it’s also a cause for concern. The bright colors and unapologetically showy elements of The Catch make it considerably perkier than its Shondaland companions, but flashiness isn’t enough to run on for a whole season. Old-school spy movies can be delightful to watch, but they’re also often trite and lavish, barebones when it comes to character development, and far from progressive. The Catch has set up a very fun game, but it will need to further develop the players—especially the ones who aren’t Alice or Ben—to sustain itself. The Catch doesn’t takes itself too seriously, embracing its fluffiness in a way that keeps it from feeling labored. If it can hang onto its effervescent voice while giving more depth to its story, it’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the Shondaland kingdom. For now, it’s all play, not enough work.

Stray observations

  • Hello, it’s me again! After How To Get Away With Murder wrapped up, I briefly thought I was out of the TGIT reviewing game until next television season. But I’m back in the 10 p.m. TGIT slot and ready for whatever thrills Shondaland hurls my way!
  • Coincidentally, I am in the midst of a Parenthood rewatch with my girlfriend, and having to switch between Family Man Peter Krause and Con Man Peter Krause is very disorienting, but I think it speaks to Krause’s abilities that he has to tap into an entirely different set of performance tools for this role.
  • In addition to some of the Shondaland parallels, at times, the pilot reminds me of me of Revenge, when Revenge was actually good (season one).
  • If you know me, then you know I already ship Alice and Valerie. On that note, Rollins was always one of my favorites on The L Word.
  • In all seriousness, Alice and Valerie have a great vibe in the pilot, and I hope we learn more about their relationship moving forward. One of my favorite understated scenes of the episode is the one where they’re just chatting about weddings and wedding hookups. It’s very natural and shows how close and comfortable they are with each other.

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