First thing’s first: Catfish is not the realest. I am fully aware of this, and do not care. I enjoy the show, despite all of the TV machinations that go into making it a compelling television show.
For the past two-plus years, I have made Catfish my indulgence in schlock, and not for its realism. For one thing, I just find the idea entertaining, and usually find the guests/Catfish on the show as compellingly insane as anything else in the reality genre. That said, it’s the show’s commitment to trying to find something likable about these people, and the hosts who continue to hammer away at pretending as such, that has kept Catfish on my DVR every week.
Nev Schulman and Max Joseph are awful detectives and barely passable television presenters, but their relationship and their mostly positive, inquisitive nature makes them wonderful TV characters. In a crowded cable landscape of bad boy antiheroes and murderers, it’s a refreshing change of pace to see two guys who genuinely like both each other and most of the people they come into contact with. They provide a window into the show for the viewers, who are just as bad at solving easily digestible clues as they are.
What’s given the most recent season of Catfish (currently airing Wednesdays at 10 p.m. ET on MTV, and streaming at MTV.com) a twist is how the show has kind of turned on them. There’s been an increasingly more focused lens on just how incompetent Schulman and Joseph really are at this stuff. Not just that, but producers have allowed them to become downright unlikable in a couple of episodes, something that never would’ve happened in the first two seasons.
Two of the last three episodes have featured this. One episode in which a particularly sociopathic guest Catfished her best friend spent long stretches with Nev and Max being calmed down and told to behave by their crew and producers. While there was a defined villain in the episode, the show made a choice to show that, for a while, Nev and Max were totally in the wrong as well.
Then there was last week’s (May 28) episode, the first of the show to completely move away from phony relationships. Lucille, a young college student, was being tricked out of money and a job opportunity by phony rapper Kidd Cole. During their interrogation of Cole (real name: Jerez Coleman), Schulman became so incensed that he threw the supposed antagonist’s phone into the Potomac River.
Now, to be fair, that kid was acting like a total jerk and being completely evasive and unresponsive. But Nev, what the hell? It’s so strange to see his naiveté and optimism — even as someone who went through this himself (supposedly) in the movie the show spun off from — drain throughout the three seasons of the show.
Has that made Catfish a particularly good television show? Not really. But it has avoided most of the reality pitfalls (sameness in the formats, increasingly ridiculous plots) by making sure that the core of the show is Nev and Max as television characters. They remain the worst detectives on earth, but really, the best friends TV has to offer.