Sexy, Schlocky ‘The Catch’ Feels Right at Home in Shondaland

A brand is a terrible thing to waste, and in the case of über-producer Shonda Rhimes, ABC clearly has no intention of doing so.

Over more than a decade — the amount of time Grey’s Anatomy has been on the air, because eventually we will all crumble into dust — Rhimes has made an entire weeknight’s worth of primetime programming on a major broadcast network into her personal domain, complete with catchy hashtag. And as Rhimes’ influence has grown, viewers’ expectations for Thursday nights have solidified, earning perhaps the ultimate expression of membership in the pop-cultural canon: a loving, devastatingly accurate parody from Billy Eichner. Diverse casting (“Gays and blacks and everyone!”); campy sexuality (“F*ck that nurse!”); glaring plot holes (“You’re gonna look at your laptop screen, say ‘This is gonna take 12 hours,’ then you’re gonna tap some buttons and say ‘I’m in!'”). It’s all there waiting for us, and How to Get Away with Murder‘s second season aside, it’s proven the closest thing to a reliable ratings formula that 2016 network television gets.

Sophomore slump aside, How to Get Away with Murder has given ABC little reason to doubt Rhimes’ Midas touch. (An Emmy-winning performance and a tidy Netflix business tend to have that effect.) So with its finale last week, it’s time for a new star in the Shondaland constellation to take its place at the 10pm time slot — and take advantage of the Scandal lead-in it provides. Enter The Catch, a series that only tweaks the TGIT formula enough to keep it fresh.

Like How to Get Away with Murder, The Catch isn’t directly a product of Rhimes herself. She’s a producer, but the show itself was co-created by Helen Gregory and Hannibal alum Jennifer Schuur and based on a treatment by novelist Kate Atkinson. Still, even a brief synopsis of the plot demonstrates why The Catch fits in perfectly with Rhimes’ growing empire. The protagonist, Alice Vaughn (Mireille Enos), is a highly skilled professional in an industry that can get ethically dicey — she’s a private investigator for corporate clients, a line of work that seems to involve a mix of new-school cybersecurity and old-school espionage. She has shellacked TV hair, a gorgeous house in the Hollywood Hills, and a workplace ensemble of eager and able sidekicks destined to become real characters some day, just not in the pilot: the lawyer, the tech guy, and the supportive best friend/business partner.

The hook that both sets The Catch apart and puts it right in line with Scandal is Alice’s very own white whale: “Mr. X,” a mysterious con man targeting her firm’s clients… who also, in a twist that might count as a spoiler if it weren’t the basic premise of the show, turns out to be her fiancé Christopher (Peter Krause, in a role originally played by the lesser-known actor Damon Dayoub before post-pilot recasting added a dose of Six Feet Under nostalgia). By premiere’s end, Christopher’s bailed to the tune of $1.4 million and the investigator has taken on her own case. Game on.

The Catch loves jargon about high finance and intellectual property as much as the next hollow procedural, but this show exists to fuel the push and pull between a woman scorned (and robbed, and humiliated) and the man who scorned her, whatever gaping inconsistencies it takes. Consequently, it doesn’t even take a full episode for an FBI agent named Jules Dao (Jacky Ido) to tell Alice he’s somehow been able to track the man she knew as “Christopher” across Europe for years… yet has no idea how he’s connected to Alice’s firm, despite the two of them being engaged. All’s fair in the name of love and extended plot arcs!

But the attraction-repulsion between Enos and Krause is more than enough to smooth over concerns like these — and, more importantly, propel the entire show. The Catch doesn’t exactly feature HBO- or even Scandal-level sex; those of us nostalgic for the olden days of four-blurry-shots-of-skin-and-fade-to-black will find plenty to giggle at here. Yet its central relationship is certainly sexy, with chemistry immediately enhanced by distance and the added charge of Christopher’s, née Benjamin’s, betrayal. And The Catch wisely places its opponents on more equal footing by giving Benjamin an elite squad of his own, including a British mastermind and a wisecracking partner.

Above all, however, The Catch is fun because it’s fast. There are enough split screens in the pilot alone to put the entire second season of Fargo to shame, and a delightful cold open in which Alice takes down an art thief promises plenty of diverting criminals-of-the-week along the way to catching her ex. Shondaland shows never slow down long enough to let us reflect on the realism, or total absence thereof, of what’s in front of us, an observation that sounds like a backhanded complement until one considers TV’s current abundance of two-hour pilots, bloated seasons, and agonizing self-seriousness. Shonda Rhimes knows exactly what viewers want, and with The Catch, she continues to give it to them in one expertly concentrated dose at a time.

The Catch premieres Thursday, March 24 at 10pm on ABC.