TV Review - Catfish: The TV Show

Max Joseph (left) and
Nev Shulman in "Catfish: The TV Show"
If you're going to watch Catfish: The TV Show, it should be because you've seen Catfish, the movie that caused a bit of controversy out of the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. If you haven't seen the documentary, the opening credit sequence to this TV series re-caps what happens, but that recap doesn't do the story justice. Nor does it convey the emotion of the experience that Nev Shulman had. It's not that I think it should. When I first saw that opening credit sequence, I knew that it essentially spoiled what goes down in the movie and what occurs to Nev.

What does occur to Nev isn't anything new or groundbreaking, but it was indicative of how social media has affected culture. Catfish was the better Facebook movie, as well as was more defining of this generation than The Social Network. If anything, this MTV program is proof of that. According to Nev, since the movie was released and became a success, he has been bombarded with emails from people who went through or are possibly experiencing what he did. He was getting so much that he decided he could turn it into a reality show where he travels the country and share all these people's stories.

The problem is that instead of being like Morgan Spurlock who also turned his documentary into a TV series, Nev comes off more like Maury Povich. After the first episode, it becomes apparent that every episode is going to be a condensed version of the movie, and there's not going to be much of any variation. The mystery, the surprise and the sense of discovery that the movie had is all gone. We know the ending every time. People lie on their online profiles.

What Maury Povich does is expose people who lie, often about the paternity of children. Nev exposes those people who lie about their online profiles. Thankfully, it's never in a mean way. He's not out to shame people or portray them as villains. He's very compassionate and very understanding. He never makes judgments. He allows the liars to tell their side, which often time is just as heartbreaking as the stories from those who are the victims of the liars.

The question is always why. Why do these people lie? Various issues pop out like homophobia, but at the core of the first few episodes is a lack of self-esteem on the part of the liars. It's either that or a lack of confidence. No one who has lied online so far has done so for purely nefarious reasons or purely as a prank. I wonder if Nev did encounter such a liar, that he would give that person screen time. What's obvious is that each liar does have genuine feelings or else why would they put up a charade for as long as they do with their victims.

Victims is perhaps not the right word to use in these examples, but I use it for lack of a better term. Most of the "victims" email Nev because they suspect their online relationship are liars. Nev visits the victim in whatever state. He investigates the liar and simply arranges for the two people to meet face-to-face. If none of the so-called liars agree to meet, then I guess there is no show or no episode that week. The so-called victims have to have strong feelings or else why bother?

The hope is that Nev ends each episode as Chuck Woolery or Bob Eubanks, but, strangely most victims don't appreciate the lies and often love is not found. Usually, they don't end like Maury Povich or Jerry Springer with people throwing chairs at one another. It's all civil and peaceful. If nothing else, Nev is able to facilitate good conversations. Outside of the first episode though, which is arguably the best, there's nothing more compelling here.

I found it interesting that all of the so-called victims have been women. Nev himself has been the only guy to have this happen. Nev has been the only male to be on the receiving end of online or even over-the-phone lies. He might be the exception that proves the rule, but the lack of other men in his position actually makes things a bit boring. What helps is that each episode is not slickly produced. Often, it's just Nev and his friend Max Joseph with his tiny handheld camera in a car with someone. Blue video or video that hasn't been properly color-balanced or color-corrected makes it into the show because Max has to get the shot fast.

It gives the show an authenticity that makes it feel like all of this isn't staged, which went to a little of the controversy of the movie back at Sundance. Whereas I didn't want the movie to be staged, ironically I do in small part wish the TV show were.

Three Stars out of Five.
Rated TV-PG.
Running Time: 1 hr.
Mondays at 11PM on MTV.


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