By Will Ferrer
Queen of the ABC Thursday night block, executive producer Shonda Rhimes backs a very specific breed of television. Stuffed with dramatic reveals, sexual intrigue and Sorkin-speed dialogue delivered by a parade of hot 20-somethings, Rhimes’ series are often exercises in diet prestige or, perhaps more aptly, “serious” soap opera. “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Scandal,” “How to Get Away with Murder” (HTGAWM): Her shows are far from challenging, yet they never fail to entertain. And “The Catch,” the latest from television’s most powerful EP, is no exception. Deliriously fun and terrifyingly slick, it’s a prime-time juggernaut in the making.
Yet “The Catch” also has the potential to be something more, to transcend the limitations of its forebears. Without all the faux-seriousness of “Grey’s,” “Scandal” and HTGAWM (which tackle medicine, politics and law respectively), “The Catch” could evolve into something altogether unique: an indulgent pop-fantasy that makes no apologies for its curb-appeal.
Starring the wonderful Mereille Enos (“The Killing”), “The Catch” is yet another Rhimes series about professionals who are really damn good at their jobs (and who frequently mention this fact, often when their “instincts” are questioned). Enos, immersed in the “Oceans” world of heists and cons, plays Alice Vaughan, a forensics accountant who commands a task-force of do-gooders (think “Scandal,” but minus that one “gladiator in a suit” who asks too many questions). Art thieves and white-collar crooks: They bring ’em all down. Save, of course, for series big bad Mr. X, a.k.a. Vaughan’s fiancé Christopher (Peter Krause). His greatest con? Liquidating Alice’s bank accounts and stealing her super-secret client list. And so begins a wondrous game of cat-and-mouse between jilt and jilted.
It’s pulpy, it’s trashy and, on paper, it sounds like something I wouldn’t dare touch with two 10-foot poles tied end-to-end, but somehow, “The Catch” is also violently good. Constructed in a way that bears comparison to HTGAWM (the flashbacks, the trippy camerawork) more than it does “Scandal” (with those awful camera shutter transitions), the whole charade is electrifying. In one scene — a flashy proof of concept — Alice and her gang converge on a plaza to catch Mr. X. Split screen, slow-mo and Pitbull’s dreadful “Fireball”: Flashy and loud, it’s the television equivalent of spring break in Cabo. Yet it works (brilliantly, I might add). “The Catch” may not be self-aware or challenging, but it doesn’t aim to have anything but a good time. This shit is (admittedly) infectious.
Also infectious? Enos. Like Julianne Moore’s soft-spoken cousin, Enos nails each line of dialogue, demonstrating striking range and physical finesse. Her facial expressions are the series’ strongest asset — her emotion-ridden eyes demonstrating many more layers of interiority than the underwritten and a-little-too-obvious script. (Though even Enos can’t render Alice’s detached affluence accessible). She’s a first-rate performer, and it (consistently) shows.
But, as is common with Rhimes’ leads, Enos often feels like she’s acting in a better series, while the supporting cast struggles to stay afloat. Krause (the worst thing about the otherwise-perfect “Six Feet Under”), for instance, is way out of his league, doing little, if anything to become Vaughan’s conniving fiancé (if someone at ABC could get him a haircut that doesn’t make him look like a toddler, that’d be great). And the others, though better groomed, don’t fare much better (Elvy Yost is perhaps the lone exception).
Regardless, “Pilot” is a promising start for a more-than-promising series: Instead of surrendering to melodrama and desperate theatrics (see: “Song Beneath the Song”) seasons into the program, “The Catch” revels in the magnificence of garbage from the get-go. It embraces its essence without waffling, without halfhearted attempts to prove itself “prestigious.” It’s low art, but it’s also it’s own breed of damn fine television.
“The Catch” premieres Thursday Mar. 24 at 10:00 p.m. on ABC.
Contact Will Ferrer at wferrer ‘at’ stanford.edu.