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.

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Just about the only thing wrong with this episode is the title, ‘The Princess and the I.P.’, which tries a little too hard. Otherwise, I thought this was the best episode so far. In the Case of the Week, Alice and her team are consulted by the owner of military contractors Olympic Edge. Star developer Gwen has gone missing together with her laptop, which contains the manufacturing specs for ThruSight, a tool which allows the user to see through walls; it was intended for locating survivors at disaster sites, but clearly has a military application. It’s claimed that Gwen has the only copy of ThruSight, but as anyone who’s watched TV in the past ten years will confirm the seeing-through-walls technology (“How many hostiles?”) is everywhere. Anyway, Gwen turns up dead, the laptop’s gone, and it looks as if someone’s trying to sell the technology to terrorists. I kind of guessed who the baddie was, but there was at least one twist I did not see coming, and a clever ending. It isn’t quite enough, though, to distract Smooth Male Associate from his crush on Slightly Geeky But Still Attractive Female Associate, who is now being wooed by Shawn, a ten-foot-tall – yet clever and sensitive! – brick outhouse of a security consultant, who I don’t think we’ve seen before.

Meantime, in the chase for Ben, Alice has dramatically raised her game. Ben and Margot still need lots of money to keep their mysterious benefactor from killing them, although Margot manages to, uh, divert the attention of the woman sent to obtain repayment. Ben has managed to persuade the Princess to spend $15m on a charity to highlight the cause of the rights of women and girls around the world; this, of course, is money which he intends to devote instead to the cause of Ben not getting killed. It’s brilliantly engineered: everything works, from Ben’s meeting with the head of the chosen charity through to the scene at the end, which managed to be both exciting and romantic. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that the writers have clearly appreciated – correctly, in my view, although time will tell – than Ben and Alice need to be kept apart and they need to be in scenes together. Hence the simultaneously public, yet deliciously clandestine, nature of their last exchange. The Catch continues to be superior entertainment, and looks as if it’s hitting its stride.

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In ‘The Trial’, the third episode, the Case of the Week – because this show still has Cases of the Week – involves Val’s sister-in-law Susan, and thus Val’s estranged husband Gordon, who visibly still wants Val back. And since they’re not actually divorced yet it clearly can’t be ruled out. Anyway Susan, who has MS, enrolled in a clinical trial which resulted in 16 people going to the ICU, and thinks that the Big Pharma company behind the trial knew that its drug had harmful side-effects. Alice investigates by going undercover as a new patient.

She’s also on the trail of Ben – now calling himself Michael, but I’m not going to change his name every time I review the show – whose new identity, and new credit cards, she’s monitoring. Ben meantime is ramping up the con of Princess Hottie and her body man, now revealed as having his own hand in the royal till. I’m still not quite feeling this storyline, but it undoubtedly comes to life when Alice catches up with Ben in a restaurant where Margot has just shot someone in his defence. Admittedly, having this happen at the precise moment when the bad drugs Alice was given by Big Pharma are affecting her, so that she can’t approach Ben, is stretching credulity a lot, as is her finally collapsing just as the annoying Agent Dao appears to catch her. But I’m not looking for realism, I suppose, and the whole sequence is pulled off quite beautifully.

In due course the Case is solved, Ben is still all over Princess Hottie, there’s a whisper of a workplace romance between Smooth Male Associate and Slightly Geeky But Still Attractive Female Associate, and Dao’s motivations are revealed. But the best scene happens at the end, when Ben and Alice talk by phone. He’s still in love with her, you see, and she can’t quite shake him off either, no matter how much she knows she should. What the hell; I could quite easily ship Balice. The pilot remains the best episode to date, but this show is better than people give it credit for.

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For those of us who have been, uh, equivocal about recent seasons of Scandal, The Catch so far has been a breath of fresh Shonda air: Cases of the Week rather than tedious season-long arcs about B-613; dialogue instead of monologues. The Case in this second episode, ‘The Real Killer’, could hardly be said to be making TV history, mind you: a good-looking younger man, Jeffrey Bloom, is acquitted on a technicality of the murder of Edith, his rich and much older wife. He thus inherits her $40m estate, which he can share with his new wife Rebecca, a journalist who met and fell in love with him while he was in prison awaiting trial. Jeffrey maintains that he’s innocent, and asks Alice’s company to clear his name, which leads them to Edith’s embittered son Peyton, whose alibi for the night of the murder turns out to be shaky.

Not in any way an original set-up, but I found myself pointing the finger at each of the suspects in turn as the story unfolded. It could be said that the episode 1 themes were hammered home with little subtlety, but there was nonetheless a fair amount of enjoyment to be had in watching the rhythms of a successful con – getting the mark to think that s/he is coming up with the ideas that the conman/woman has successfully introduced. For Alice it’s personal, in the way that just about any case would be personal at the moment: she needs to prove herself after being the victim last week; in addition, there’s no chance of missing the heavy-handed way Alice is compared to this week’s victims, also duped by someone they loved.

Meantime, Ben and his colleagues have started work on the deception of a Saudi princess. Interestingly, it feels to me as if the other team members are better-defined at the moment than the elusive Ben, although he’s had more screen-time: Reggie, recognising the dangers that Ben’s love for Alice have introduced; and Margot, who I would not allow to give me a wet shave were I having evident difficulty tearing myself away from another woman. Brrr. It may, of course, also be that Peter Krause isn’t quite right for the part. I’m not sure yet.

Anyway, my verdict of last week still stands. I’m not going to claim that this is great TV, and it isn’t going to change your life. But it’s early days, the supporting cast on both sides has promise – I’d like to know what Dao’s deal is as well – and it’s fun. Also, Mireille Enos gets to wear some great clothes, in particular that 60s mini dress.