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diminishing returns

Why Has This Season of Catfish Gone So Wrong?

Desperation creates drama. The need to be accepted, seen, loved — that need pushes people, in fiction and in life, to behave in unusual, interesting, maybe dangerous ways. That's part of what was so engrossing about Catfish early on. Not just the deceptive desperation on the part of the catfishers, but the overwhelming denial that characterized many of the catfishees. People just want to be loved, you know? Even terrible people. But this season of Catfish has lost a lot of that wild urgency, with fewer episodes about the truly lovelorn and more about the odd sociopaths and the people without any real skin in the game. Bring back the lunacy of the early seasons, guys!

So far, this season of Catfish has been extremely low on passion. There was Antoinette, who posts racy pictures of herself on Instagram, and T-Lights, her Boca Raton–based musician paramour — and they're both who they say they are: passionless shells of human beings. There were Solana and Elijah, the emo-haired dopes who, again, were exactly who they said they were and decided to be pals. For some reason, actress Tracie Thoms decided to "confront" a woman who made fake Twitter profiles — though that woman had already stopped, and mostly the episode seemed to be part of some kind of Tracie Thoms Awareness Tour rather than an actual episode of Catfish. The group of people who hang out in an anxiety chat-room where one evil mastermind plies them for information about each other? Eeeh. The vaguely evil girl who scammed a whole clique of friends for their naked photos? No real emotion behind it. The actual criminal who grifted naïve people for thousands of dollars worth of services while claiming to be a musician? No actual emotions. The only good episode this season was with Antwane and his cousin Carmen, who had been catfishing him for years as revenge for once calling her fat. This is the human drama I crave.

A good episode of Catfish has a good response to the question, "Why did you do this?" Some of those responses can include "Because I'm lonely," or "Because I'm ashamed of my body," or "Because I wanted to feel connected to someone." But when the answer is "Because I don't care" or "Because I was bored," that's not much of a story. Give us tales of revenge, lust, passion, devotion — not of an actress who's mad at one of her fans and would also like you to know that she can siiiiiiing.

The fakeness of Catfish doesn't usually bother me; it's a TV show, not a deposition, and the construction of it is so transparently artificial that it barely seems like a lie at all. (See: All of Nev and Max's "investigating." Oh, brother.) But if the show is going to be kind of phony-baloney, it's obligated to use those lies in the service of crafting a better saga. Fudge the details, but do so to create higher stakes, more emotions, more strongly held convictions, or more interesting and compelling participants. I don't mind being lied to. I mind being bored.

Photo: MTV