In this weekly series, writers — and readers — weigh in on ways to rehabilitate much-maligned characters on some of our favorite shows.
First of all, a disclaimer: I know that Max Joseph isn’t actually a fictional character. He’s a living, breathing person, one with thoughts and feelings and an inner life of his own. He probably also has a Google Alert on his name, in which case: Hi, Max!
But here’s the thing — none of that really comes across on MTV’s Catfish, where Max plays sidekick to smiley, hairy, amateur Internet sleuth Nev Schulman, the show’s true star.
Each week, Nev and Max travel across the country to help naive people in long-term Internet relationships (the catfishees) discover whether their online paramours (the potential catfish) have been telling the truth about their identities. (Spoiler alert: The answer is usually “no.”) Generally speaking, Nev is the one doing most of the heavy Googling; Max spends his time trailing after his pal, agreeing with everything Nev says, and occasionally breaking out a video camera. Barely anything Max shoots actually makes it onscreen, which makes his presence feel even more superfluous.
Obviously, the show wouldn’t be very fun to watch — much less film — if it mostly showed a lone Nev talking himself through reverse image searches. He needs to be able to bounce ideas off of someone else, if only for expository reasons. That said, Catfish itself would be a lot more exciting if Max served more of a purpose — or at least if he were as fun to watch as Nev is. With that in mind, here are a few ideas for how Max could regroup and emerge as a more substantial presence — i.e. something more than “that other dude on Catfish.”
1.) Three words: Personality, personality, personality. IRL — that’s “in real life” to any Luddites reading a printout of this blog post — Max seems like a pretty interesting guy. He’s fluent in Portuguese! He’s into Nietzsche! He’s not afraid to speak truth to Internet dummies! On Catfish itself, though, he’s a total cipher: not likable, not hateable, just kind of… there. But if Max simply spoke up more — in English or Portuguese — and expressed stronger opinions, his on-screen persona would get a much-needed jolt of energy. Does he ever actually disagree with Nev? Does he do impressions, maybe? Great — just get that captured on camera, and we’ll be in business.
2.) Be the man behind the curtain. Considering that he’s a director by trade, Max could stand to have a stronger off-camera presence as well. Show us more of that footage he’s constantly gathering, and he’ll feel more like an integral part of the show — and less like some guy who won’t let go of the new toy he just got at Best Buy. Maybe Max’s footage could even be shown through an Instagram-style filter; it’d make it stand out from the other camerapeople’s shots, and it’d add to the show’s general Internetty vibe as well.
3.) Play the bad cop. A few paragraphs ago, I linked to a harsh truth that Max expressed via Twitter: “Giving someone your Facebook login and password is not a sign of love. It’s a sign of idiocy.” Bleak statements like this aren’t spoken very often on Catfish, which makes sense; nobody would volunteer to be on the show if they thought they’d just be treated like morons. But if Nev is already there to play the calm, patient, accepting former catfish victim — someone who always tries to break the truth to catfishees as gently as possible — why can’t Max act as his foil? He’s clearly thinking this stuff anyway; occasionally, it even comes out on camera, as when Max cautioned catfishee Lauren not to get her hopes up about possible catfish Derek last week. (He also seemed to be a little bit in love with Lauren, which is neither here nor there.) The Max/Nev dynamic would be exponentially more interesting if we occasionally saw some friction, and Catfish as a whole could definitely use some edge — maybe Max is just the guy to bring it.
Alternately, he could just go shirtless more. That might help, too.