Thursday, March 24, 2016

REVIEW: 'The Catch' - Alice Gets Conned by Her Fiancé and Decides to Push Back in 'The Pilot'

ABC's The Catch - Episode 1.01 "The Pilot"

When Los Angeles' top private investigator, Alice Vaughan, is conned out of millions by her fiancé, she goes on a private mission for payback - and will stop at nothing to catch her man.

The Shondaland shows have done great business for ABC over the years. So much so, that the network gave an entire night to Shonda Rhimes programming. That's very impressive. Yes, the ratings have been down for the night over the last month or so. But it's still a fantastic three hour block of programming. And now, The Catch makes its series debut replacing How to Get Away With Murder in the 10/9c. time slot. Probably the most distinctive part of the series compared to the other Shondaland shows is its tone. The story still resides in deeply murky and complicated emotional material. But there's a lightness and quirk to the proceedings as well. Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder have both struggled and excelled with embracing darker and darker narrative twists. So, it's a breathe of fresh air to watch The Catch and just being able to have fun with it. The narrative will probably get more complex the deeper into the cat-and-mouse game the season goes. But this premiere is trying something different. That effort should always be applauded in this medium.

With that being said though, this premiere has some really clunky and problematic moments. The Catch has had a very troublesome path to the air. The original pilot that ABC picked up to series was quickly scrapped with the male lead needing to be recast. After Peter Krause and Sonya Walger joined the series, series creator Jennifer Schuur and Shonda Rhimes struggled with defining what a second episode and the rest of the season looked like. That led to Schuur leaving and Allan Heinberg - from the Scandal writer's room - taking over as showrunner. That produced the final end product that aired tonight. Knowing all of that, it's no surprise that the premiere is a mess and trying to do a bit too much at once while also being extremely broad and cliche-driven. But there's still enough potential present in this first episode to make it intriguing to see where the story can go next.

How the show follows up this premiere is very uncertain. This first episode does a solid job introducing the very straightforward premise. Alice is a private investigator in Los Angeles who runs a successful firm with her best friend, Valerie. She is pursing an elusive conman who just so happens to also be the man she is engaged to, Christopher. He's manipulating her in order to get her client files and make a hefty payday. He gets what he has come for and disappears. That leaves Alice to deal with the realization that she has just been conned. It's an interesting premise. Again, it's very simple. But it's also engaging because the premiere allows both Alice and Christopher to be the cat in this game they have between each other. Christopher takes something from Alice. And later on, Alice takes something from Christopher. It shows that both sides of this situation are very skilled at what they do. How that remains relevant and engaging over a long period of time is uncertain. This premiere doesn't do a great job at telling the audience what the second episode looks like. But I wanna see what it ultimately does too.

The hour also goes through the motions of showing just how Alice fell into this con with Christopher. As she looks back on her relationship with him, she is able to easily see it as the textbook con that it was. Flashbacks even accompany those realizations as Alice notes just how much of a pro Christopher really is. But again, these moments do feel formulaic. Alice is narrating them to the audience with the knowledge that all of it was being done in order to manipulate her emotions. And yet, it's also being suggested that Christopher developed some real feelings towards his mark. That really doesn't come across at all in these actions. Alice is choosing to remember the past as the manipulation it clearly was. Meanwhile, Christopher keeps being told by his fellow conman Reggie that he is acting differently now because he got too attached to Alice. It's a lot of talking about things but not enough showing of them. Too much of Christopher feels conflicted right now. It's hard to latch onto anything that is genuinely real. It's compelling to watch him out in the field tricking his mark into giving him exactly what he wants. But it's still a little too mysterious regarding who the man really is deep inside.

Of course, the show will have the time to explore that issue too. Alice doesn't just sit around acting like a victim because everything has been stolen from her. Christopher entered her life on a mission and completed it. He became close and likes the thrill of the chase. But now, Alice is pursuing him with much more passion than before. She is able to put the pieces together with Christopher also being her mysterious Mr. X. Now, she has a much better understanding of what he's after than before. That allows her to actually track him down before he can completely finish the job. It's great to see her being an active character. That makes her a compelling presence to watch as the episode builds. Of course, it doesn't lead to a whole lot. The game is just getting started between these two. Christopher stole her money and client information. Alice hit back by taking away all the money Christopher and his partners had accumulated. Now, both sides have been ruined by the other. So, things will only be getting messier as the narrative moves forward. And that should be exciting to watch.

Some more thoughts:
  • "The Pilot" was directed by Julie Anne Robinson with story by Kate Atkinson & Helen Gregory and teleplay by Jennifer Schuur.
  • An FBI agent is also in the mix of this back-and-forth between Alice and Christopher. He's basically a non-presence in this first episode. He shows up in Alice's life thinking that she is just another victim of Christopher's. But it's still unclear just what purpose he will serve in the narrative this season.
  • The Alice-Valerie friendship is already very strong. That's because the show takes the time to show the two talking as friends and building up that dynamic before the story takes over and changes their lives. That was important and really sells that bond in a genuine way.
  • Reggie keeps mentioning how ruthless and deadly Margot really is. But again, it's a lot of talk and no action. He promises that she'll have Christopher and Alice killed should they continue to compromise their business. But it's a threat that doesn't really land well because Margot doesn't exist as her own character yet.
  • It was also annoying that the show ramped up the soundtrack in order to try livening up some plot moments that would have dragged without it. It just didn't work all the time.
  • The scene where Alice writes information out on the board about this case in front of her trusted team was very reminiscent of Scandal with Olivia and the gladiators introducing the various cases-of-the-week.
  • Despite some awkward and perfunctory character beats, Mireille Enos and Peter Krause really do have solid chemistry. Also, it's amusing that these characters are very different than their most recent TV work - Enos on AMC's The Killing and Krause on NBC's Parenthood.