Catfish was already beginning to show signs of wear and tear in its third season. It remained entertaining throughout, but it was clear that the catfish were different, more self-aware, and perhaps even catfishing purely for the purpose of appearing on the show. It’s the problem that most reality shows face after a few seasons: How do you continue to stay real — or even “real” — if participants know the rules and can easily fit themselves to the mold? Catfish hasn’t figured that out quite yet, but it has found one way to shake things up this season. Because Max is off filming a movie, Nev has a string of celebrity guest hosts to fill Max’s void. It’s just too bad that this change doesn’t really add anything, making the Season 4 premiere disappointingly boring.
Maybe Catfish is finally losing its steam — I’m sure many viewers would argue that this happened last season, but there were a couple of insane moments that helped keep my interest. Or maybe the season premiere is just a misstep. Either way, it was less like the Catfish I enjoy — ridiculous, crazy, and filled with the false promise of love — and mostly just a dull hour of reality TV.
The guest host this week is Charlamagne Tha God, of MTV2’s Charlamagne and Friends. He’s been a fan of Catfish from the beginning and is obviously enthusiastic about guest hosting, but his enthusiasm is just about all that he brings — and even that seems to falter a bit as the episode goes on. The catfishee-of-the-week is a 26-year-old woman named Miracle who lives in Milwaukee and believes she found the man of her dreams (don’t they all?) but, because she hasn’t met him, worries that he might be misleading her. Enter Nev and Charlamagne, who plays the Max role with less snark and shoddy camerawork.
They pull the usual Catfish stunts: googling his name, reverse image search, finding his address (why don’t any of these subjects just use Google themselves?), and then report their findings back to Miracle. The man she loves isn’t who he says he is, and this isn’t a spoiler, because it’s how about 98 percent of Catfish episodes turn out. What separates the numerous catfish from each other are the smaller details in their individual stories: why they catfish, how and why they chose their victim, how they react to being found out, and whether they plan to continue doing this in the future. It would be a spoiler to explain exactly what the motivations were in the Season 4 premiere, so I won’t go into detail, but suffice to say it is weird yet not weird enough.
But maybe that’s telling; maybe the problem with Catfish now is that all of this weirdness is the norm. Catfishing was a thing long before the show (or the movie) existed, and people will continue to catfish each other as long as the Internet exists (and if the Internet suddenly explodes, people will still find a way to fake who they are in order to gain love, attention, or both). Watching Catfish is less of a, “Holy shit, I can’t believe that person has crafted such a convoluted long-con just for revenge!” experience these days than an exercise in appreciating small variations on the same storyline.
Season 4 has a chance to make Catfish feel new again, but I suspect that task will largely fall to the five guest hosts who have the opportunity to provide us with a fresh set of eyes, new insight, and most importantly, an antidote to Max and Nev’s jaded approach. Charlamagne wasn’t particularly memorable (the shrug-worthy catfish didn’t help matters), but in coming weeks, it’s possible Angel Haze or Tyler Oakley will have what it takes to liven up the sleepy series.