Film and TV

Reality Bites: Catfish: The TV Show

There are a million reality shows on the naked television. We're going to watch them all, one at a time.

Man, am I glad I'm not single.

It was bad enough back in the Dark Ages (i.e. the 1990s), when you had to put on pants and physically drag yourself out to a public place in the hopes of meeting someone who a) didn't find you physically or philosophically repugnant, b) was tolerable to you as well, and c) would give you an actual, working phone number.

But today? With your OKCupids and Skyping and selfies and dick pics? I'm pretty sure I'd just cower in the dark playing The Last of Us while inhaling Funyuns and muttering to myself how much better off the world was without the continuation of my family line. For everyone else, I suppose you can rely on MTV's Catfish to help keep you on the path to true -- meaning "foresically verifiable" -- love.

Momentous things are afoot in The Episode I Watched, as hosts Nev Schulman and Max Joseph are thrilled to learn that Merriam-Webster has added a new definition to the word "catfish:"

A person who sets up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes.

Nev is probably more thrilled, considering it was his "is this fake or isn't it?" (hint: it is) documentary of the same name that caused such a stir at Sundance in 2010. But there's no time to rest on dubious accolades, for their are internet frauds to expose, and possibly fabricated scenes of tense confrontation to enjoy.

The sad sack subject this week is Jeff, a Navy sail-person currently stationed in Jacksonville, FL and pining for the online equivalent of fjords; namely, a blond, blue-eyed (Max: "Aren't they all?") registered nurse from Texas named Megan whom he's been communicating with online and by phone for over a year. Jeff even went so far as to travel to Texas to meet her and she flaked (honestly, that's more California than Texas). The big question: should he reenlist or chuck it all for his dream (possibly literally) woman?

The economy must be doing all right, if a guy is willing to abandon a fairly secure career in the military for a woman he's never even Skyped with. Maybe this is twue wuv after all.

Jeff seems like a nice enough dude, even if he is a bit of a schlub. Then again, who wouldn't look dowdy when posed next to Nev's three-day stubble and skinny jeans? What's unclear is why he'd be targeted for ... whatever a person with a deceptive social media profile targets you for. Clearly I'm underestimating the lengths to which some will go to in order to fuck with people on the internet.

Regardless, Nev and Max are On The Case. They discover that "Megan's" profile (address, phone #, birthday, images posted, etc) appears identical to someone else on Facebook named "Brandy." This news is passed along to Jeff with appropriately mopey Ed Sheeran (or whoever) songs playing in the background. Because MTV.

Thing is, nothing Nev and Max did (aside from the phone number lookup, and even that can be accomplished for a price) was anything Jeff couldn't have accomplished on his own using basic internet sleuthing. This is stuff you learn when you first start stalking your high school exes.

So I hear.

Nev calls "Megan," who unsurprisingly gives him the brush-off. What's the next logical course of action? Why, sending Max to Ft. Worth to try and cajole her into flying halfway across the country with a film crew to meet someone she's (allegedly) been deceiving for months. Max, to his credit. expresses some trepidation about "knocking on a random person's door." He should definitely do some research on "stand your ground laws" before traipsing up to someone's domicile unannounced in the state of Texas.

For some reason, Megan/Brandy agrees to meet the MTV weirdo lurking outside her apartment complex. Unsurprisingly, she's not quite the "Dallas Cowboys cheerleader type" whose photos adorn her FB page. But hey, everything else was true, "except for my job and the pictures of me." She claims she started the faux profile after an abusive past relationship, though still considers Jeff to be a hoopy frood and would like to sass him, or something.

Leaving aside what's sure to be an awkward commiseration between Jeff and Not Megan, I'm not sure who had it worse: Max, who had to convince a stranger to board a plane to Florida with him, or Nev, who had to make awkward small talk with Jeff for two days. I mean, Siberian huskies aren't *that* interesting.

Side note: who owns a husky in *Florida*? Maybe Jeff's nice guy demeanor is merely a facade hiding the type of person who owns climate-inappropriate pets and disparages his opponents in Skylanders.

The ultimate confrontation is about what you'd expect between two not-very exciting individuals without actual hurtful agendas: boring. Especially by MTV's normal lofty standards. I don't know how the rest of the show usually operates, but all of Megan/Brandy's "deception" seems pretty benign. Fine, the pictures aren't of her, but are fake photos that much worse than selectively combing through dozens of selfies to find the most favorable (i.e. probably least realistic one)? Does everybody really list their place of work on Facebook, right next to the status updates about how much you hate said job and links to "big booty gifs?"

I guess what I'm saying is, call me when someone famous shows up on the show. My money's on Ryan Lochte.

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Peter Vonder Haar writes movie reviews for the Houston Press and the occasional book. The first three novels in the "Clarke & Clarke Mysteries" - Lucky Town, Point Blank, and Empty Sky - are out now.
Contact: Pete Vonder Haar