Television Review: ‘Catfish: The TV Show,’ With Nev Schulman, Exposes Deceit

November 12th, 2012

When the documentary “Catfish” was released in 2010, its depiction of a relationship built on Internet trickery drew critical praise as well as questions about authenticity and exploitation. The film’s successor, a series called “Catfish: The TV Show” beginning Monday on MTV, generates the same questions but with easier answers. The series is both more obviously real and more routinely, prosaically exploitative than the film. It’s the reality-TV dividend.

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“Catfish: The TV Show” features Nev Schulman, the seemingly na?ve, New York protagonist of the film. He and a partner, the filmmaker Max Joseph, approach people who are in Mr. Schulman’s “Catfish” situation — wondering why an intimate and long-term online friend doesn’t want to meet face to face — and arrange a meeting.

The resulting encounters, with their tense moments in arriving cars and awkward hellos, are echoes of the film’s “reveal.” The subsequent denouements, as the couples sort out their real-world feelings, also follow the pattern of the film. What’s missing is the film’s mystery and humor; where “Catfish” was a clever riff on a found-footage thriller, “Catfish: The TV Show” is a standard reality series mixing elements of the dating and rehab-therapy genres.

The directors of the film, Ariel Schulman (Nev Schulman’s brother) and Henry Joost, are among the 12 executive producers of the TV show, but the show is primarily a product of RelativityReal, best known for “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition.”

That’s not to say that there aren’t interesting people and genuine emotion on screen, just that they’re presented in predictable and stereotyped ways. Based on the first two episodes, online identity is entirely about physical appearance — specifically weight — and sad stories of long-distance deception take place in the television hinterlands, between Georgia and Mississippi or Michigan and Washington State. The sight of Nev Schulman and Mr. Joseph, like two wiry film-school thugs, in their tight jeans and sunglasses, heading out to play matchmaker for the masses, can get irritating pretty quickly.

The biggest drop-off from the film is the lack of an Angela, the artist and Internet fabulist whom Mr. Schulman found at the end of his own journey. The subjects in the series are sympathetic and engaging in the preapproved, I-want-to-be-on-TV manner. But Angelas don’t grow on trees, even in farm country.

Watching both the film and the TV show, with their sentimental and somewhat moralistic suppositions, a question may come to mind: What are the rights of the Internet liar? Just because you profess to love someone a thousand miles away, does that mean you’re required to post an actual, current photo of yourself and be willing to meet in person? I imagine there are plenty of people who don’t think so, but they’ll have to remain the silent majority.

Catfish: The TV Show

MTV, Monday nights at 11, Eastern and Pacific times; 10, Central time.

Produced by RelativityReal and Catfish Picture Company LLC for MTV. Tom Forman, Brad Bishop, Julie Link Steffens, David Metzler, Ariel Schulman, Henry Joost, Nev Schulman, Andrew Jarecki and Mark Smerling, executive producers; Jonathan Karshis, co-executive producer. For MTV: Marshall Eisen, Nomi Ernst Leidner and Dave Sirulnick, executive producers; Kelly Ostreicher, supervising producer; Jonathan Mussman, executive in charge.

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One Response to “Television Review: ‘Catfish: The TV Show,’ With Nev Schulman, Exposes Deceit”

  1. Hailey Says:

    The whole aspect of online dating has always been weird to me, but the fact people are out there supposedly in love, but don’t want to meet face to face is very strange. Why would you want to be in a relationship and never see said person? I don’t think I’ll ever understand, but maybe it’s something the Catfish TV show and movie will explain to me. I haven’t seen either, but I have heard a lot of interesting things about them from some of the girls I work with at DISH. I did notice the movie is available to rent with my Blockbuster @Home package through DISH, so I’ll be adding Catfish to the top of my rental queue, and setup a timer for the show to record on my DVR. It’s always nice coming across movies to watch that I haven’t heard of before without having to go spend an insane amount of money to watch it! 🙂

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