In the 2010 movie “Catfish,” a young man who developed an online relationship with a child-prodigy artist and her family got a rude awakening when they finally met. The movie gave its name to an Internet phenomenon: people who pretend to be someone or something they aren’t.
Yaniv (known as Nev) Schulman, the protagonist of the movie, was living in New York, working as a bar mitzvah videographer, when “Catfish” — made by his brother, Ariel, and their friend Henry Joost — became a film festival sensation. Fascinating and controversial, “Catfish” raised the eyebrows of people who wondered how much of it was true and how much was an elaborate, “Catfish”-like fake-out.
Many moviegoers, though, were less skeptical, because they’d lived out similar fish stories. Hundreds of people contacted Nev Schulman after seeing the film to tell him about their own Internet relationships gone wrong or, sometimes, right.
“It felt like everyone I met wanted to tell me about their bizarre online romance,” Schulman says in the setup for “Catfish: The TV Show,” which takes some of those stories and runs with them.
In the series, making its debut at 10 p.m. Monday on MTV, Schulman and Max Joseph, another young filmmaker, go on the road with a film crew to meet people who have volunteered their social-media stories and help them make contact with men and women they think they know, but might not know at all.
“‘Catfish’ was my story,” Schulman says. “Catfish the TV show is yours.”
The series perfectly captures the casual look and unsettling tone of the movie. Schulman and Joseph, charming and completely nonthreatening, become wingmen for their subjects, vowing that “no matter what happens, we’re here to help solve the mystery.”
The first protagonist is Jarrod, a divorced musician from Georgia who has been involved for years with a beautiful blonde named Abby. They connected on Facebook and have talked frequently on the phone, but have never met face-to-face.
“I love Abby,” Jarrod says openly. “She accepts me for the musician single dad I am.” He’s proposed, and she has promised to move to be with him. Once, she was going to visit, but the plan fell apart at the last minute.
As red flags go up, Jarrod bares his insecurities, hurts and hopes, and our hearts break for him. Nev (pronounced nEEve) and Max play detective, and a meeting is arranged.
Like “Catfish” the movie, “Catfish: The TV Show” builds suspense through its narrative, and much discussion of plot will lead to spoilers that truly spoil an episode.
Let’s just say there’s nothing simple about the scenarios in the two episodes provided for preview. MTV calls the series “a roller-coaster ride,” and that’s unusually accurate, as the tone can be by turns creepy and almost sickeningly tense.
“Catfish: The TV Show” is riveting entertainment, but it’s also potentially the most important series MTV has aired.
“For today’s millennials, the challenges of romantic connection have taken on a dimension unlike any generation before them,” MTV boss David Janollari told TV critics meeting this summer in Los Angeles. “Facebook and other social sites are today’s singles bars. In that environment, romance can blossom, get deleted, and evolve in totally unexpected ways.”
Added production head Chris Linn, “This is an incredibly prevalent issue. It’s a very relatable issue, and it happens far more than, I think, anyone understands. So it’s important to us that we treat it properly.”
“Catfish: The TV Show” exposes both sides of the mess that social-media lies create. The person who was lied to feels betrayed, mourning the loss of something that never was. And the person who lied, who posted a picture of someone more attractive and imagined a life more interesting, may learn that the lies weren’t even necessary.
Not every tale has a crash-and-burn ending, producers say.
“I personally have been blown away by how many different stories there are to tell, and the different motivations people have for either initiating an online relationship or remaining in one,” Linn said.
Added Joseph: “We’ve seen everything from just long-distance lovers to revenge.”
That’s because lying is oh, so easy. As one young woman says in the series, “That’s the crazy thing about the Internet. You can be whoever you want to be.”
‘Catfish: The TV Show’
Three starsre--> (out of four)
When--><</strong>BC feature-->!--p:BC brief no indent--> • 10 p.m. Mondays
Wherep--><<!--p:BC feature bold bullet-->!--p:BC brief no indent--> • MTV