Hey Trashcats! You fishin’ for some love tonight? Good, because I got plenty for you right here.
You know, you kids may not be aware, but we didn’t always have this bright pasture of the net where we garbage TV watchers could convene, free from judgment and ridicule. The World Wide Web, as we called it, was a dark and scary place, full of strange alleyways and obscene whispers we called chat rooms, where strangers met to entertain their deepest desires and wildest dreams. And all you needed to get in were three magic strokes on your keyboard:
If you were a lonely, overweight middle seventh grader, it was a terrifying but exhilarating world rife with the sort of freedom that would scare the everloving shit out of your parents.
Nowadays, though, we’ve charted the lawless frontier of the Internet at least well enough to separate the good from the bad. We have a clear enough infrastructure that brings 12-year-old boys to manga boards, your crazy racist neighbor to Trump’s campaign page, and you, dear reader, here. But there are still highway robbers afoot, lurking in broad daylight to ensnare their next victim. And that’s why a little program called Catfish exists.
Catfish is hardly a new show; it’s been on since 2012 and even though I wasn’t a tune-in-every-week-and-set-your-DVR kind of fan, it quietly returned last week and I realized in a stunning blast of clarity that it’s probably one of the most recappable, fascinating freak shows on television. It’s not quantitative: each episode takes on a separate case, and it’s easy to watch this show either to kill an hour of laundry folding or to weather a terrible hangover as you masturbate and hate yourself.
Because trust me, you will never hate yourself (or masturbate, probably) as the people on Catfish do.
Like To Catch a Predator before it, Catfish is built on a foundation of delicious, endless schadenfreude: the relentless pursuit of an anonymous troll addicted to fantasy and escapism. A dogged chase for an evasive (often sick) manipulator, led by a carelessly dimpled, effortlessly cool, obnoxiously confident investigator who will never understand the troubles of the targets he pursues.
Obviously, one of those shows targeted ACTUAL CRIMINALS so we can’t feel too bad for the “Predators,” but what’s mildly unfortunate for the “Catfish” is that they’re forced to face their most paralyzing fear in the most extreme way: exposing themselves, and all their pathetic habits – all their terrible wrongdoings – to the object of their obsession. On national television.
Now’s a good time to pause and beg the question of logistics: how in this fucking universe does Nev manage to do this? At this point, if you’re some fat gay agoraphobic scamming someone from your mother’s tool shed (as the Catfish usually are), why would you ever take a call from Nev, allow him to drive up to your podunk junkyard, and wave you in front of MTV’s cameras for all the world’s gawky amusement?
I have to assume modest gratuities are handed out here and put this mystery to bed, but if anyone else wants to play detective – as Nev so loves to do – and leave some tips in the comments I’d be grateful.
So anyway, enough of my bullshit armchair analysis. That’s what Catfish is supposed to do. Onto the recap!
Last week’s premiere dealt with a “Catfish First”: two people writing into the Catfish casting department (which this show is willing to admit it has at this point) ostensibly to pursue the same Catfish. Two gay black men, who were pretty close in age, had almost literally the same history with a kid named Josiah – another black gay man who not only had a child with a woman, but had been in a two-year relationship with another man “in real life.” He agreed to meet his two victims at one of their homes in Charlotte, acted like a complete bag of itchy dicks, and ended the episode with cold ambivalence. It was actually fun because these guys had great one-liners. “I wasted seven years on this man and he’s just been playin’ me. This ain’t fuckin Nintendo!” GIRL. Borrowing that forever.
This week we got a “Mom Episode.” I can’t decide if I want to guffaw with mirth or moan because this is going to be sooooooo borrrrrinnnnnnggggggguh because grownups on MTV are automatically square.
So, OK, background: Shuntay, who sounds like a word RuPaul would make up, wrote Nev and Max to explain that her mom Jeanette, with whom she lives, is head over heels for this guy named Derick, a person she met on Plenty of Fish seven months ago.
Commence de rigeur Catfish epilogue about two people falling madly in love, sharing intimate fears and desires, swapping Crockpot recipes etc. via email and one of them refusing to show their face or knowing how to use a webcam or never being able to come down from the volcano where they live and have no service. All of this, of course, is narrated to the sounds of a chipper indie girl band and a happy little montage of promising PING! DING! SWOOSH! text notifications.
Nev and Max Facetime Shuntay to get more details, which is basically to hear the same tired laundry list of why this obviously fake person can’t meet Jeanette in real life. And then Shuntay drops the baby bomb: Derick is super supportive of the fact that Shuntay has a baby and is anxious for “them all” to be “one big happy family.”
Derick definitely wants to fuck Shuntay, right? And vice-versa? Yes? Like, this has nothing to do with Jeanette. OK, cool. Glad we’re all on the same page. Let’s just continue.
This small hiccup doesn’t seem to catch traction with our oh-so astute internet savants, so they look at each other and shrug in that scruffy Vice-esque way like “Let’s go to Orlando!” (cliff note: no one on this show lives in a B-list city or better) and then they do that stupid doofy travel shenanigans thing this show loves so much. Because look! Candidness.
What goofy fun guys! Hahahahahahahuhhhhhhh.
When they get to Jeanette’s house, Nev and Max pull that old “are you sure this isn’t your sister?!” line that old men use at bars to hit on MILFs.
It earns the trust of Jeanette, who, at 40 years old, is BFF with her 21-year-old daughter. Shuntay is super protective of her mom and super suspicious of Derick, which is why she introduced her mom to the show Catfish and decided this would be like, a fun thing to do with her one weekend.
I mean I get it. My mom and I used to watch Gilmore Girls together and that was pretty fun too because she was like such a Lorelai and I was like such a Rory. So yeah, same!
Jeanette’s over the moon about this Derick kid, but she also… doesn’t seem to know where the moon is.
I know my job is to snark, but trust me when I say – in the kindest way I can manage – Jeanette’s a few pennies short of a couch bank. And I don’t like saying that because I think this is an honest, sweet woman who was robbed of a real adulthood. But it must be acknowledged.
From the sounds of it at least, Derick’s being honest about his job and his background: he lost his mom, he drives a forklift and he likes stalking around Zales for engagement rings. What doesn’t sound credible (and which Max, this show’s gentle realist points out) is that he’s a 27-year-old who looks like a more attractive version of Tyga. Predictably, he can never take a weekend off to meet her and doesn’t have a functional webcam. Jeanette supposes that he probably has a girlfriend or a wife, because bless her heart.
In the car, Nev and Max (by contract, I’m assuming) acknowledge what a GREAT PLACE Orlando is. It’s like highways connecting one amusement park after another (a “child’s fantasy of what a city should be”). Nev and Max enjoy pillow fights and running indoors and filming themselves on planes, so yes, I get how they’d love a place built for kids. But you guys: Orlando.
Also by typical contractual obligation, they meet at a nameless “coffee shop” which is “so cool! so great!” but doesn’t seem to serve coffee and only has like four tables and some exposed brick with Christmas lights.
It’s either a bar or a place up for lease or a set where they shoot porn but probably all of the above.
It’s there that they meet Shuntay, and the admittedly robust amount of information Jeanette’s provided. Clearly Jeanette has seen Catfish before and knows exactly what sort of substantiation she needs. She’s offered seven of Derick’s selfies, his phone number and Facebook profile.
Right away Nev and Max notice that several of his Facebook friends are women, and that his most recent post was a Snapchat taken through a front-facing camera lens (proving his ability to video chat). They also reverse-image search one of his many photos, finding links to both a Tumblr and Instagram account owned by a high school senior that – as of this writing – hasn’t even graduated. So yay, maybe this is another Catfish First! #jailbait The gang determines that this isn’t Derick, but a minor by some sort of “Jeremale” handle that they can’t even film. Triple-checking their assumptions on Twitter, they decide to move on to what is real: the phone number.
It’s registered to someone in Georgia named Derica, which means it could be a woman. Time to acknowledge the unfathomably common occurrence wherein people on the show somehow believe an 18-year-old girl, on the phone, is Christian Bale Batman.
When the group return to Jeanette’s house and share their findings, she’s understandably upset. They don’t even get to “Derica” before she retires to the garage to hyperventilate over the fact that she was talking to a “baby.” She understands that it wasn’t really the high schooler she’s communicating with, but is pissed that the person she’s been talking to for seven months has been lying. And I’m just sitting over here like, um, yeah, and also maybe flirting with the concept of child pornography? Like, how did MTV even get the rights to show this kid’s face?
When Jeanette returns to the table, expressing a cautious but obligatory declaration that she didn’t want to be reaching out to a high schooler, Nev and Max muster up the halfhearted authority they need to assure her she wasn’t, but share the whole Derica thing. Jeanette swears that the voice she heard on the phone was definitely male, but Catfish history tells us that means nothing since it could have been a neighbor or a girl with a deep voice or an octopus or that old awesome recording device from Home Alone 2.
So Nev offers to call Derick himself, because in the Catfish universe, of course this problem will be solved when the host of Catfish and his camera crew call you on your personal line and force a release form down your throat. A bored, irritated voice answers the phone, sounding as if it expected the call. “I mean, I love her…” it sludges, sounding like one of those people that, like I said, was most likely tempted with a paltry sum f money and some weed to play along with this bullshit. The voice admits that it is not a) named “Derick” or b) 27 (he’s 31). Nev manages to pull the voice on the line far enough along to allow the crew to meet him at home. Jeanette dispassionately agrees to go along with the plan. Whatever, we’re here; you’re here. Fuck it.