“You wanna play? Let’s play.”
Private detective Alice Vaughan (Mireille Enos) says that at the end of the pilot of ABC’s The Catch, and it’s a nicely understated summary of the virtues of this caper show. The Catch has been the victim of poor advance reviews and a fair bit of gossip. There’s been talk that executive producer Shonda Rhimes might have ended her prime-time winning streak with this one, as well as implications that behind-the-scenes drama made it creatively compromised or rudderless (it was developed by Jennifer Schuur, who left due to creative differences with Rhimes, and was taken over by Allan Heinburg, being substantially recast in the process). I have no idea if any of that is true, but I can tell you that there’s no indication onscreen of anything except professional actors and filmmakers having a great time making eye (and ear) candy. It’s the most enjoyable network series I’ve seen in a while, thanks to its commitment to giving the audience sensory pleasure at every second, but in a relaxed, playful way. Watching it is like being flirted with by somebody who’s so ridiculously good-looking and charming that you don’t care if they’re bad for you or not, or even if there’s going to be any follow-through.
What’s the show about? I don’t want to lie to you. I could tell you it’s about how Enos’s character, who runs a glamorous Moonlighting-style security agency in Los Angeles with her partner Valerie Anderson (Rose Collins), keeps trying to catch a mysterious Mr. X who’s causing big trouble for her clients, while having no clue that X is secretly her fiancé (Peter Krause), a master con artist and thief who’s known variously as Christopher Hall and “Ben” and is playing a long con that will leave Alice denuded of $1.2 million and fighting mad over getting duped. Or I could tell you that it’s about how appearances are deceiving, and the faces we present to the world may actually be masks, or masks atop masks, whether we realize this or not. But all that would only be partly true or partly illuminating. The Catch is really about glamour, sexiness, mystery, cool. Also fashion, architecture, hot cars, and gorgeous scenery.
Who could have imagined that the original The Thomas Crown Affair, starring Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway, would birth an entire style? That movie, its Pierce Brosnan-Rene Russo remake, every heist movie Steven Soderbergh has ever directed, and USA’s legal drama Suits all borrow one or more elements that it perfected: the promiscuous use of split screens to show you simultaneous action in multiple locations, or from multiple angles; the prowling camerawork that seems to be caressing the actors’ bodies; the sprightly cutting, often timed to imaginatively chosen pop, rock, soul, and jazz; the visualization of a world in which every single person is not only gorgeous but immaculately groomed and coiffed and stylishly attired.
The Catch is another project in that laid-back hepcat mode; maybe it’s played out to some people, but not to me, because cinematic worlds like these show adults living out collective fantasies without turning into pouty, overgrown children. These characters are grown up. They have sex. They have relationships. They have reputations to protect. They pay mortgages and (maybe) taxes. But, damn, do they live large. Enos is great in this, very Faye Dunaway. Peter Krause is a sexy mofo, and he’s at peak sexy here; he pitches his voice a half-octave lower than usual, and he does this odd thing with his mouth where you think he’s smirking but you wouldn’t call him on it because it’s just subtle enough that he might tell you it’s your imagination and you’d have to believe him. Everybody in the cast looks and acts as if they’re the lead in a Hollywood film and that they’re so certain of this that they don’t need to prove it. The actors glide across the frame like they’re on invisible roller skates.
I have no idea what happened in the first or second hour. Something involving data and a painting and blackmail or a double-fakeout that might be a triple-fakeout. But it does not matter. Trust me on this. If anybody asks me to describe the plot I’ll tell them it’s about how Mireille Enos smiled at a guy in the opening museum sequence and my TV actually flashed a message that read, “Warning: This woman is so attractive and is having so much fun that if you continue watching this program, your monitor may explode.”