It’s safe to say that Shonda Rhimes has changed the primetime television game. Not many television executives can say they own a night of the week like Rhimes, whose programs are known collectively as “ShondaLand.” She has been able to capture Thursday nights with ABC’s “Thank God It’s Thursday” (TGIT) program, which lines up a marathon of “ShondaLand” shows and has allowed the ABC network to compete for broadcasting ratings with Fox and CBS. Rhimes’ power is undeniable, and her name has become a symbol of television prestige. Every show that she touches becomes a hit with both viewers and critics. Yet with her new series, “The Catch,” Rhimes seems to have lost her magic touch.
Rhimes’ rise to success came with the premiere of “Grey’s Anatomy,” which is currently in its 12th season and continues to increase its viewership with each episode. “Grey’s Anatomy” controls the 8 p.m. slot in ABC’s Thursday lineup, with “Scandal” airing at 9 p.m. and “How To Get Away With Murder” in the last slot at 10 p.m.“How To Get Away With Murder” recently surrendered this last slot, however, to “The Catch” after the conclusion of its second season on March 17th.
“The Catch” stars Mireille Enos as Alica Vaughan, a private investigator who falls victim to a fraud scheme conducted by her fiancé, Benjamin Jones (Peter Krause), and becomes determined to bring him to justice. The show centers on this cat-and-mouse game between Jones and Vaughan, incorporating fits of love and passion into its rollercoaster plot.
The show bears obvious resemblance to past television dramas such as “White Collar,” “Leverage,” and even “Scandal,” and as a result, it must find its “it factor” to distinguish itself from the aforementioned series. Unfortunately, “The Catch” has failed to establish itself as a standout, as its low viewer and critic ratings reflect.
Before the show aired, I was skeptical of its merit due to its bland premise. It lacks the depth and breadth to expand far past a first season, a major downside to any show but especially one that airs on the same night as “Grey’s Anatomy,” which aims to be the longest-running television show to date. The “chase” trope can only be taken so far before it loses the little excitement it possesses to begin with. Shows relying on this trope, such as “Pretty Little Liars” and “Gossip Girl,” maintain an air of mystery and suspense for a short period of time before becoming outlandish and unnecessarily drawn out. It seems as though “The Catch” will ultimately peter out in the same way and thus will have a shorter run than other ShondaLand shows.
One feature of all ShondaLand shows is the presence of a strong leading lady who commands the screen and challenges stereotypes. ShondaLand women are awkward, dark, twisted, and damaged. The characters played by Ellen Pompeo (“Grey’s Anatomy”), Kerry Washington (“Scandal”), and Viola Davis (“How To Get Away With Murder”) all subvert the norms of women on television and carry their respective shows to the next level. Enos will have to work hard to rise to the level of these accomplished actresses. Judging from these two episodes, Enos is ready and willing to do so; her acting is the highlight of the show. She is able to embody with heartfelt expression even the most cringeworthy lines, which only proves her superb capability as an actress.
I was surprised by Enos’ performance, given that she was not the actress intended for the role. As with many television shows, the pilot episode was reshot and both its main characters recast. Originally, Bethany Joy Lenz of “One Tree Hill” was set to play Alice and Damon Dayoub was to play Benjamin. It’s unclear whether the latter switch was a successful one, but many fans were disappointed not to see Dayoub in the role.
The series premier of “The Catch” captured a lackluster 5.5 million viewers. (For comparison’s sake, the pilot of “How To Get Away With Murder” had an audience of 12 million.) Viewers may have been put off by the weakness of the casting and direction, which have earned mixed critical reviews.
Another possible explanation for the low viewer count is that Krause’s target audience does not align with that of the show. Most known for his roles on “Parenthood” and “Six Feet Under,” he’s previously appeared on shows with significantly older target audiences or that aired on premium networks without a large viewership. “Six Feet Under’s” highest viewership was 5.6 million during its four-year run on HBO, which is considered very low compared to TGIT’s standards. Another issue with Krause’s casting is that the show suffers when Krause and Enos share flashbacks; the lack of chemistry is telling, and the storyline loses energy as well.
The show was developed by Jennifer Schuur, but following the mass recasting, Schuur stepped down as the showrunner. She publicly acknowledged creative differences and discussed the way her initial concept of the show differed greatly from the finished project. Personally, I find Schuur’s vision more appealing, although admittedly quite a departure from the other ShondaLand shows. Unfortunately, the public is instead left with a show that mirrors “Scandal” and “Catch Me If You Can” but fails to imitate their flair.
“The Catch” lacks a hook to make it unique amongst other modern television dramas. The latest episode, which explored the “cheating wife-killer” storyline, borrows this trope from “Scandal,” “The Good Wife,” “Castle,” and “How To Get Away With Murder.” It’s disappointing that the second episode of this new series relied on this cliché without elevating it with inventiveness or novelty. Unless “The Catch” avoids tropes like this one for the remainder of the season, it will likely end sooner than Rhimes presumably anticipates.