On paper, MTV’s latest pseudo-investigative television program about human interactions, Ghosted: Love Gone Missing, is basically a mundane version of Catfish. In reality, it’s not just a copy. The two-episode premiere on Tuesday wasn’t as eventful as the show made famous by Nev Schulman and Max Joseph (which became a national pastime), but it is similarly captivating.
The format is the exact same as Catfish: it has two hosts, Rachel Lindsay, the only black Bachelorette in franchise history, and Travis Mills, one-time MySpace rapper/Apple Music’s Beats 1 radio host who I know best as boyfriend to Madelaine Petsch (Riverdale’s Cheryl Blossom). The pair explain in the intro that they’ve bonded over past ghosting experiences and now aspire to help others navigate their own situations—Lindsay admits to not knowing that her ex had a child, though so maybe coming out of the gate with naive “experts” isn’t the best idea? But it ends up working. The hosts meet up with their subjects, nicknamed “The Haunted,” a melodramatic term for someone who has been ghosted, and ask questions, in earnest: “Can you tell us about the date of the ghosting?” and “Are you ready for us to track down your ghost?”
Lindsay and Mills then peel off from the Haunted after the initial meeting and brainstorm at least three theories for why the ghosting took place. From there, they migrate to a nearby cafe, break out computers, and do an extraordinarily brief social media scan. In the first two episodes, that entails nothing more than visiting the Facebook page of “The Ghost” and contacting people who have recently liked or commented on their posts. (It always seems to work, and since the Haunted has been blocked by the Ghost, all information gleaned from doing the absolute least is revelatory.)
For the bulk of the episode, Lindsay and Mills call and meet up with various figures in both parties’ lives. I tried to multi-task while this went down but found it impossible, which doesn’t bode well for the success of the show: How are people supposed to follow along while playing on their phone? If you miss a second, you miss a lot—the number of inconsequential leads that would crop up felt like trying to follow along with a story told by a drunk stranger at a bar. There are too many players, and very few of them are integral to the narrative.
Eventually, Lindsay and Mills meet the Ghost and convince them to meet up with the Haunted for an intimate one-on-one chat in a nearby studio—again, the same set-up as Catfish, but with a different aesthetic. The two parties sit on clear stools, where they’re asked to speak their piece, separate, come back together, say some more, and then text one another to decide whether or not they’d like to make up or stay spooky. This is where it gets good—more often than not, the reason the Ghost ditched their former friend, significant other, whomever, has not yet been disclosed, and they drop a juicy bit of new information during the chat. Do you have goosebumps yet? It is lowest common denominator television, a magic trick reveal, but delicious nonetheless.
Catfish loyalists may find the nearly identical format off-putting, but I found Ghosted to be more entertaining because of its lower stakes—no one is trying to move to Alaska from North Carolina for a supermodel they met on Plenty of Fish. That, and Lindsay and Mills are genuinely good hosts. They’re clearly empathetic and try to meet each subject where they’re at, even when there’s clearly a vindictive party unworthy of kindness—not unlike Nev and Max in the first couple seasons of Catfish. Guess the job hardens you.
But because the Haunted and the Ghost already have an established in-person relationship, unlike Catfish, there has been some public concern about the romanticization of stalking. I’d argue that there’s nothing romantic about Ghosted. There’s a more prevalent fear in the second episode, when Ghosted follows a Haunted character who proved to be some sad sucker who misread the relationship for something more than it was. In that instance, an aspiring comedian was dating a very hot woman extremely out of his league—she ghosted him because he used her familial trauma as part of his standup act, and he chose to stay ghosted to her because he didn’t see that as a big deal. Let this be a lesson against dating comedians.
These are concerns I’m sure MTV has found ways to address. I mean, this show wouldn’t work if the two parties refused to meet up (and appear on camera), and surely that has happened on more than one occasion. For now, I’m okay with watching this show and treating it as the temporary fix that it is.