A seven-car pileup worthy of the most irksome rubbernecking has nothing on Catfish: The TV Show, MTV’s latest reality series. You can’t-won’t-mustn’t watch the tragic, horrific occurrence taking place on your television screen, but you find yourself unable to turn away.
A demented romance thriller of sorts, the show spins off of the 2010 Catfish documentary that documented 28-year-old Nev Schulman’s budding romantic relationship with a young woman on Facebook. In short, Schulman’s relationship turned out to be founded on a heap of fantastic lies fabricated by a married older woman. As the host and executive producer of the MTV series, Schulman now introduces couples that are in his previous predicament and, almost always, in for a shocking discovery every time they eventually meet.
Reservations of whether this so-called reality series is, in fact, scripted are guaranteed to bubble up when watching an episode for the first or second time. In today’s search-engine savvy society, the fact that none of these individuals seeking their virtual lover took a moment to conduct a simple investigation on Google strips them of most, if not all, of the empathy that a viewer might’ve had.
Still, perhaps the thing that keeps viewers hooked is not a matter of who, but instead why. Scripted or not, the astounding storylines revealed by the online perpetrators are the real sources of consequence in Catfish. Take the story of Atlanteans Jasmine, Mhissy and “Mike” for instance.
This recent episode had Twitter abuzzing on Monday, when viewers discovered that “Mike,” single mother Jasmine’s virtual man of two years, ended up being none other than her ex-fling’s girlfriend Mhissy. (You might need a minute to process this—essentially, Mhissy was torturing Jasmine for sleeping with her boyfriend, Josh, who had simultaneously double-timed them.)
During Nev Schulman’s standard one-on-one mediation with Mhissy, his attempt to elicit some type of remorse from the satisfied young girl fell flat. On Twitter, ratchet was the word of the hour, given the ridiculous nature of the situation, as well as the unusual spelling of Mhissy’s name and her around-the-way appearance and demeanor.
In this particular episode, Nev was unable to bring about the apology or closure that he’d referred in the first two episodes. But the “Jasmine & Mike” episode actually rang more true to life. Unlike Real Housewives, Basketball Wives or any of the glamour-filled reality series out there, Catfish forgoes accessing the otherwise inaccessible lifestyles of the rich and famous and opts for capturing the everyday, dramatic tragedies of the mundane.
The folks at MTV have clearly decided to go all-in on Middle America programming (see Teen Moms, Jersey Shore and the upcoming Buckwild.) Whether the network sustains this guilty-pleasure momentum has yet to be seen. Nonetheless, I am here for Catfish’s twisted endings—as are a majority of viewers, evidently—so, I won’t be deleting this series from my DVR just yet.
Patrice Peck explores the complex intersection of culture, entertainment, race and gender as a multimedia journalist. Follow her latest work on Twitter @SpeakPatrice and visit her website for more writing and video.