Shonda Rhimes has built her career on fascinating female characters whose fatal flaws always seem to center around a man. In “Grey’s Anatomy, ” Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo) kicked off her time at Seattle Grace by drunkenly hooking up with a man who turned out to be her boss. In “Scandal,” Olivia Pope (Kerry Washington) started an affair with her former boss — the President of the United States — that she can’t quite escape. In “How to Get Away With Murder,” Annalise Keating teaches a class sporting the same title as the show; a class that ends up focusing on two murders involving her husband.
In other words, each lead’s biggest problem usually has to do with their sex life, implying the only obstacle in the way of successful women is men. While one might describe their precise flaws differently — denial, overconfidence, pride, respectively — an argument could be made that each trait also applies to the other characters. So it should come as no surprise that the latest heroine in Shondaland is a confidant private investigator whose brash actions expose her firm to all sorts of dangers, all because of a man who may or may not have actually loved her.
In the pilot of “The Catch,” which premiered Thursday night on ABC as a replacement for “How To Get Away With Murder” following “Scandal,” Alice Vaughan (Mireille Enos from “The Killing”) is living the life of her dreams. She’s a partner at a high-scale security firm, offering her services as a private investigator who isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty. And that’s exactly what she does to kick things off: falling for the timid seduction of a con man, before turning the tables on him and catching him as he attempts to abscond with a priceless painting.
Yet the predictable irony here is that she’s being played the whole time. No, not by that nameless amateur, but by Christopher Hall (Peter Krause from “Six Feet Under” and “Parenthood”), an artist only known as “Mr. X” to Alice’s coworkers, but who she calls “her fiance.” Of course, she has no idea Chris and Mr. X are the same guy; not until it’s too late for her firm to stop him and for her heart to remain intact.
One can quickly surmise why ABC would chase “The Catch” as a perfect addition to the growing Shondaland lineup (and it’s important to note Rhimes is only an executive producer on this project, just like “How To Get Away With Murder”). It sports a female protagonist, complex love story, consistent action and twists that run from beginning to end. And really, it is the ideal addition, even if it’s marred by almost as many flaws as its predecessor in timeslot. (In case you didn’t know, I’m no fan of “HTGAWM.”) But what’s kind of remarkable after watching the first hour is that you are (or at least I am) eager to see where this goes, and when considering why, I’ve only got two answers: Enos and Krause.
Before we delve into the unpredictable allure of a couple that could collapse after just a few more episodes, let’s run through the reasons “The Catch” can, at best, be considered a guilty pleasure. First of all, it puts itself into paradox multiple times over. Alice’s firm is supposedly one of the best in the business, but their complete lack of competency extends beyond what “Mr. X” is doing to them. First off, they did get conned and conned good, but moreover these private eyes think smiling and staring at someone from across the room is inconspicuous and, when they set up a trap at the end of the episode, completely lose lockdown on a single room because the lights go out (though, in fairness, this does leave open the intriguing possibility that Peter Krause is Batman).
Perhaps the team’s mishaps have something to do with the fact most office conversations focus on Alice’s love life. We’re first introduced to the company when multiple co-workers offer her wedding cake samples, and there’s a scene about midway through when she bluntly blurts out, in the middle of a meeting, “He asked me to elope!” I, too, would’ve suggested she go and get it over with, if only so the rest of the team could get back to work. Worse, though, is how preposterous Alice is as a person. She spits out lines first about not wanting to get married and later that she would prefer to skip the wedding and just be married. While there’s painful irony in the last statement — since we know she’ll never get to have either — neither fit with the doe-eyed, giddy behavior Alice displays whenever she’s hanging out with her booooooooyfrieeeeeend.
Yet some may be able to set these disconcerting gender hurdles aside because a) we’re only one episode into the series, and it has plenty of time to better define its lead, but also b) the dynamic between Alice and not-Christopher Hall is so damn juicy at its core you want to forgive “The Catch” for all its flaws. Aided considerably by the immense talents of Enos and Krause, you believe the forbidden love between these two is real despite all of the evidence — intended and otherwise — pointing against it. A woman out for vengeance on the man who ruined her life who still, somehow, against all odds, has feelings for him? That’s a tough trick to pull off, and the writers will have to earn it — most likely via relationship-defining flashbacks — as Alice tries to catch up to her ex-fiance. But the two actors are doing their part from the get-go, making this another unlikely coupledom we can’t wait to see get together.
Perhaps it’s simply my affinity for Enos, an actress who never takes a role for granted, or my surprise that the “Parenthood” and “Six Feet Under” veteran Krause could convince me he’s a con artist. But there’s something about watching this house of cards being held together by commanding chemistry alone that makes it all the more appealing. Maybe it will crash and burn in a few weeks. Maybe it will find its foundation. As it stands, “The Catch” may have kicked things off with more issues to overcome than Rhimes’ other offerings, but installing two top-tier actors, rather than one, allows for this soap to wash most of the sins away.
“The Catch” airs Thursdays at 10pm on ABC.