Public Service Announcement 10 of 2017: The Catch

CJ offered to cover the return of The Catch in her PSA the other day, but I declined because I thought she’d be mean about it. (And I was right. She would have been mean about it.) It’s strange that I kind of feel the need to be a little protective of this multi-million-dollar drama series, produced by the most successful network TV auteur of her day (Shonda), and starring some very well known actors (Enos, Krause, Walger, Simm). But it seems to me that The Catch hasn’t quite found its audience, and I think that’s a shame: it’s a breezy, engaging procedural/heist/caper drama with some good plots, great clothes, and a ship or two. Most importantly, it doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s looking at the moment as if this second season might be the last, although that might not be a bad thing, as The Catch is very much a show which shouldn’t outstay its welcome. I reviewed all of season 1; little chance of that this time round, given how much else Unpopcult has on its plate, but it’s a show which is definitely worth a look (tonight, 10pm, Sky Living).

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We start with Alice in a towel – OK, writers, if you insist – and Rhys pointing a gun at her. This leads into a dazzling sequence: Rhys, smiling all the while, politely abducts Alice, who is equally pleasant about the whole thing, right up to the point where she turns the tables. And Rhys’s reaction shot when Alice pointed a gun at his lower half, and made a very specific threat, was worth watching the episode for in itself. I really hope that Mireille Enos and John Simm were enjoying themselves as much as they appeared to be: this was an absolute delight.

With that out of the way, we’re all set for the season’s last big showpiece, as everyone gathers for the society wedding and Sybil’s big con. Just about everyone in the cast gets to go undercover, from Rhys and Ben as wedding planners (and a couple) through to Sophie-the-singer providing the entertainment, while an enraptured Danny-the-waiter looks on. I never quite bought them as a couple – I kind of felt that she could do a little better? – but their post-song and pre-kiss dialogue had an appealingly caperish/noirish tinge, in keeping with the general feel of the show.

I was a little surprised, mind you, that the world’s greatest conman apparently managed to forget that he was supposed to be (a) undercover and (b) gay, and started nuzzling his girlfriend in full view of everyone else at the wedding. I was about to say that it stretched credulity, but that might imply that everything else in The Catch didn’t.

But I don’t regard that as a criticism: as an entertainment I thought the whole of this first season succeeded handsomely, in large measure precisely because it didn’t take itself too seriously. Frivolous but well-made entertainment for adults is always welcome as far as I’m concerned. In fact, given the generally lukewarm critical reception the show has had I was surprised by just how much I enjoyed it. And assuming that the lightness of touch is maintained for season 2 – by no means a guarantee in Shondaland, it should be said – I’ll happily continue to watch.

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So Ben has chosen a side: Alice, obvs. (He’s giving that impression, at least; the possibility of him pulling the rug away can’t be entirely discounted.) But just in case things are getting too cosy, enter Sybil (played by Lesley Nicol, Mrs Patmore from Downton Abbey), the de facto boss of the Kensington firm and the matriarch of the Bishop family, who combines homely, maternal charm, and the distinct likelihood of ruthless violence as and when required.

Sybil’s first piece of business is getting Leah, last week’s counterfeiter, back from Margot, who is still pretending to be Alice’s therapist. Alice, though, has worked out what is going on, and intends to help Ben and Dao by planting a tracker on Margot. She blows it, though, when she spends an entire therapy session dissing Margot. To her face. (Having Leah, emotionally detached from everything, spot this immediately is a nice touch.) Meantime, in a hugely entertaining storyline, Sybil’s job for Ben and Rhys is to get themselves invited to a wedding, for reasons we don’t yet know but which will presumably be the subject of the finale. Whether it’s entirely necessary to have them pose as a romantically-involved couple is debatable, but it’s great fun, as are their attempts to influence the about-to-be-wed Morgan and Stephanie.

It’s another slick, fast, and engaging episode. Most importantly, though, once again it feels as if the people involved in making it have put in sufficient effort to ensure that it’s all of these things.

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A little bit of unfinished business from before our break. And, once again, The Catch falls down slightly on its Case of the Week. This time, it’s would-be pop star Kelsey – a friend of, and former musical collaborator with, Slightly Geeky But Attractive Female Associate – whose record company won’t release the album she made with mega-producer Nathan. When the reasons for this are revealed it feels as if the show is trying to make some pertinent points about the cynicism of modern celeb culture and the treatment of female musicians, but I don’t think the storyline can bear that weight. And Smooth Male Associate needs to man up stat and, perhaps, ask SGBAFA out, rather than gazing lovingly at her old music videos.

Meantime, in the Con of the Week, Rhys has roped Ben and Reggie into “stealing” a “package”: i.e. abducting a master counterfeiter named Leah Wells (Nia Vardelos) from under the eyes of US Marshals, who are guarding her because she’s about to testify against some LA crime kingpin or other. There are some nice touches – Paul McCartney for one; and, like Ben, I was expecting Leah to be pathetically grateful rather than high-maintenance – but by the standards of previous weeks it, too, feels undernourished.

I suspect this is because, with only two episodes to go, the personalities are being moved centre stage: Margot, posing as a therapist, is systematically interrogating Alice about her relationship with Ben; he, meantime, is trying to form an alliance with Rhys, in the hope that Margot will be sent to New York and Rhys will return to London, leaving him to play happy families in LA with Alice. But Margot has plans of her own. This part of the episode worked best – the scenes in which John Simm, Sonya Walger, and Peter Krause are struggling for supremacy have a real spark and energy to them, and Mireille Enos continues to be affecting as a woman in conflict about the grifter who might, or might not, be the love of her life. One also has to wonder about the final scene, in which Ben apparently makes his choice: is he, this time, to be trusted?

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‘The Ringer’ opens on an unusually domestic scene: Ben’s still there, in Alice’s bed, in the morning. She, of course, tells him that they can’t do this any more, a pill which is sugared considerably by the gorgeous dress she’s wearing. And the fact she doesn’t mean a word of it, which means that she isn’t wearing the dress for too much longer.

Anyway, she has a Case of the Week, but like last week’s it’s nothing special: the son of video games zillionaire Vincent Singh (Vik Sahay, Lester out of Chuck and, more specifically, Jeffster!) has run away from home because he doesn’t want to live with his father any more. Vincent got sole custody after divorcing from his bipolar wife Karen (Unpopcult favourite Annie Wersching), who he successfully portrayed as a danger to their son. It starts to look as if the boy was kidnapped, and it’s reasonably obvious who’s behind it; what’s less obvious is why Alice should pivot so smoothly to blackmailing her client.

The Con of the Week, though, is much more fun, and perhaps one of the best of the season. Rich young gambling addict Teddy Seavers is “a bit of an idiot”, according to Margot (Sonya Walger having her best episode so far), and a whale who needs to be landed. So she sets up a high-stakes game of poker with the intent of using Ben, Rhys, and the returning Reggie to take a chunk of Teddy’s spare change. What Margot and Ben don’t know, though, is that Rhys is now aware that Ben and Alice are still in contact, and has a much bigger agenda of his own to advance. The episode’s last twist is beautiful, and rounds off yet another smart, fast-moving episode.

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After last week’s excellent episode, I thought this one was a bit of a letdown. Partly, I suspect, this was because the Case of the Week started promisingly but fizzled out a bit. Shawn – who’s now been out a couple of times with Slightly Geeky But Attractive Female Associate – brings a client in: Nia (Samira Wiley, Poussey in OITNB), the first female Army Ranger, who’s getting death threats. There are a number of possibilities as to the identity of the perp, but the conclusion – although it allows for some pertinent points to be made about the role of women in the army – is a bit underwhelming. Unless you’re Smooth Male Associate, of course, who beds Nia.

There’s much more fun to be had in the ongoing saga of Alice and Ben. This week, we’re finally joined by the mysterious Benefactor, who turns out to be Margot’s brother Rhys, played by John Simm. Rhys wants the bracelet from last week, and he also wants Felicity, who has of course been mattress-dancing with Margot. In fact, just about everyone hits the sack this week, in an almost Updike-esque parade of rotating sex partners. SMA and Nia. SGBAFA and Shawn (possibly). Alice and Ben. Dao and Val. Felicity and Rhys. Felicity and Margot. For one horrible moment – and I suspect the writers knew what they were doing here – I even thought Rhys and Margot had taken the theme to its inevitable, if unpleasant, conclusion. But no; not yet, anyway.

In the middle of all this, though, there was a rattling good story about the bracelet being stolen by one of last week’s rival crime syndicates, and Alice and Ben trying to recover it. Alice is working with Dao, while Ben is working with Rhys. Of course, Alicia and Ben are also co-operating, but no-one can be allowed to find that out. So lots of romps, of the bedroom and non-bedroom kind. There’s an ending which would have been more shocking had the show not telegraphed it, but – together with what we’d seen earlier – it confirms Rhys as an extremely loose cannon.

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I thought the last episode was the best so far. ‘The Larágon Gambit’ is better. In the Case of the Week, Alice is consulted by school worker William Etheridge, who suspects that his wife Renee, a district attorney, is having an affair. There’s a slight problem – Alice and Val ran Renee’s election campaign, so she’s a client too – but no-one’s going to allow that to get in the way of the investigation, at the end of which Alice’s firm has made a powerful enemy, who I’m sure we’ll see again.

The real fun this week, though, is with Ben and Margot. Their benefactor wants them to pull off a jewellery heist, and for that purpose they’re effectively joined by Felicity, who we first saw last week as The Benefactor’s hired gun and Margot’s FWB. “I’m a killer, not a thief!” she protests to no avail. The target is a priceless bracelet which never leaves the wrist of its owner, who will be wearing it at a reception at a consulate. However, two other criminal syndicates are there as well, all planning to try the same thing. What Ben doesn’t know is that Alice has tracked him there, after some more phone flirtation, during which Alice found out that Dao has been bugging her apartment. But what Dao doesn’t know that Alice knows about that too. The amazing conclusion which Alice kind of arrives at is that Ben might actually be the more trustworthy of the two. More bedworthy, anyway. The heist sequence is a joy to watch, the aftermath is convincingly sexy, and the final twist – shifting the power balance again – is a delight.

It’s a packed episode, but it never becomes overloaded or confusing, and it’s as entertaining as all hell. I’m becoming more and more surprised at the lukewarm critical reception which this show has attracted. I think it’s great.