I have a simple litmus test for female-centric shows and movies that almost never steers me wrong. It sounds petty, but it’s very revealing: Does the main character wear impractical footwear in situations that would render any normal person completely unable to function? On this score, ABC’s "The Catch," premiering Thursday at 10 p.m., is a failure. Witness its heroine sneaking into a parking garage to break into an SUV with a crowbar and extract evidence… in stilettos. Although I enjoyed certain aspects of the new show — mainly the fundamental charm of its two leading actors — I think the heels test is, once again, a good indicator of where its central problems lie.
The nutshell: Mireille Enos ("The Killing") is a high-end private investigator whose fiancé (Peter Krause) turns out to be the con man she’s been trying to catch for ages. This is not a spoiler, it’s revealed in the trailers and within the first 20 minutes of the pilot. He disappears without a trace with her life savings and the chase is on.
I liked the noirish premise of "The Catch" when I first read about it in some long-ago TV preview. Since then, it has been overhauled in several significant ways. It’s still a Shondaland production, but its female showrunner, Jennifer Schuur, left in August of last year due to "creative differences." Her position was taken over by Allan Heinberg, who’d previously worked on "Scandal" and "Grey’s Anatomy." Its male lead was recast, ousting Damon Dayoub ("Stitchers") for Krause.
The tone of the show was also significantly changed, as was revealed in a New York Times profile of Enos earlier this month that extolled the actress’ taking "a break from the bleak" to play an apparently less complicated version of what her character previously was: "Instead of being what Mr. Heinberg called ‘a very guarded, lacquered ’50s-era Hitchcock presence,’ Alice is peppier, a life-lover with mascaraed lashes and a closet filled with Bond girl minidresses." Um. OK. But what, exactly, is wrong with ’50s-era Hitchcock? And is "peppy" really the word anyone looks for in a private investigator? (I have a feeling Jessica Jones would have a few choice words about this, and none of them would be printable.)
As a matter of fact, the whole Times article is a useful parallel for what my problems with this show are. Both the profile and the series itself seem determined to prove that Enos doesn’t have to be like, a total downer! This despite the fact that the character she’s playing is someone who fell in love with a man who turned out to have lied about every single piece of information he told her, and who subsequently robbed her blind and disappeared without a trace right before they were supposed to get married. Not exactly wacky hijinks, when you think about it, no matter how many split-screens or plucky scores they insert.
Anyway, the Times article goes to great lengths to assure you that although Enos is known for doing a really good job in a tough, serious role like on "The Killing," she’s not like that when the cameras are off — she knows how to smile, honest! "As bleak as Linden could be… Ms. Enos was never a grim set presence. ‘She’d be so convincing as this sad character who doesn’t show joy, then every single time the director yelled, "Cut!" Mireille would smile. That’s just her nature. She’s vivacious.’" Is this really the most important thing to know about this actress? Is this something we’d have a problem with in a male actor — whether he did or didn’t smile when the director yelled, "Cut"?
What happened when "The Catch" was turned into a lighthearted heist romp was that it just ended up being not that interesting or original. And it’s not funny enough — per the "Ocean’s Eleven" model — to adequately compensate for its dialing down of the drama. Sure, Enos has a fabulous wardrobe — the significance of which is explicitly referenced: "I rarely get asked to play The Dress-Up Girl," she told the Times. "With Sarah, there was absolutely no beauty requirement; I never thought about what my face or my body was doing. If it was ugly, that was great. With this, though, along with ‘What’s the scene?’ I have to think, ‘Am I serving the wardrobe?’"
Again, I’ll cite my heels test. If one of your main concerns on a show is whether YOU are serving the CLOTHING — and that show is not "Project Runway" — then perhaps somewhere along the line your show’s priorities have become compromised. Yes, Enos looks fabulous in her sleek monochromatic ensembles and Bond girl minidresses. But the stuff I’m hoping for more of is psychological, not sartorial. I like the fact that she’s tough and that she enjoys the chase. But how did such an apparently intelligent sleuth fall for a con like this? What sort of self-recrimination did she undergo when she discovered it? The show is so busy being slick and stylish it doesn’t ever linger long enough on any of its characters to let us in — and that includes Krause, who shows promise in his reflective moments as a conflicted con man, but blink and you’ll miss them. Maybe the show will pick up as it finds its rhythm, but I tend to think this is one I can file away in the "Pointless Heels" category.