Normally, you’d only call a relationship counsellor after you’ve met your partner, become irritated by their once-endearing foibles and then rowed with them about whose turn it is to wash up. But who do you call if you’ve got doubts about your relationship and you haven’t even met the other person yet? This gap in the market has been filled by Nev and Max, who then spew it out of the screen as Catfish (MTV, Viva). Their clients’ relationships spawned on Facebook or a dating website, and then floundered when the other half started making excuses why they can’t meet or videochat. The show follows Nev and Max angling for the truth behind the online persona of each client’s budding beau. When they’ve hooked something fishy, Nev and Max arrange for their client to finally meet the online lover. Will their tale be watertight, and are they really a prime catch? Instead, the net snares a ‘catfish’, someone who uses a fake persona, compensating for failings or problems in their life. Their desperation, and the upset they cause, is drowned in strummy guitar songs, also advertised by annoying pop-ups on the screen. There’s even an off-the-scale bizarre reunion spin-off, where the catfish and their victim are paraded in front of a wailing studio audience and quizzed about their humiliating ‘relationship’.
Appropriately for a show about deception, the programme makers themselves dupe the viewer. Usually, it’s the catfish who first contacts Nev and Max (for some unfathomable reason), but the editing gives the impression that the sceptical catfishee approached them.
There’s nothing new about basing a relationship on porky-pies; cynics would say that it’s common, deep down. What is new is the extent to which we can create and investigate our online personas, and TV’s thirst for turning this into a spectacle like Catfish. You can see the same trend in mind-polluting programmes like the paedo-entrapment equivalent To Catch A Predator and trashfest Cheaters. Catfish and its ilk plumb new depths to regurgitate alienation into entertainment. Fin.